Sharon Strickler Sanchez is a grandmother who is dancing her way up the competitive ballroom ranks while manifesting some exciting opportunities.
"Ballroom dancing is so good for your mind, spirit and body," said Sanchez, 57. "You'll have a whole new circle of friends, you can do it forever, and it's not expensive." Her mission is to be an example for baby boomers and those older to be fit, look young, be sensual and always go after their dreams.
With a degree in dance from Florida State University, Sanchez taught ballet and creative dance for 20 years.
But life got busy for Sanchez while raising her three boys, and she stopped dancing for 16 years. The loss of a dear friend, who used to encourage her to take ballroom dance lessons, got her back on the dance floor in 2009.
"Ballet and ballroom are different. You have to connect with your partner, follow the man, the stance is different, and you're always moving," Sanchez said.
Her dance instructor, Joe Taylor, 52, is the owner of Suncoast Ballroom on Ulmerton Road in Largo.
He got Sanchez interested in competitive ballroom dancing and became her partner at the competitions.
She almost gave up the first time out and joked about taking up knitting until she thought about what she would tell her boys.
"That's when I threw myself into being at the studio as much as I could and learning as much as I could."
Her perseverance paid off. She won best bronze performance at the next competition and has since competed against gold level dancers — and won.
"When you get into the showcases and competitions, it makes you take your dance to another level. It pushes you beyond where you would normally go," said Sanchez, who does a mesmerizing Argentine tango that could make some people blush.
"She likes the challenge, she's not afraid of anything," Taylor said. "She allows me to push her to do things that a 57-year-old shouldn't be able to do. We want to be a force to be reckoned with out there."
Sanchez trains about 11 hours per week, including group lessons and public dances. "As you keep going, you get more confident.
At public dances, she advises, "tell people you're new, they'll teach you. People love to share dance."
Trying on high-end ballroom gowns sparked a new interest for Sanchez when she suggested that Elle Couture Dance and Evening Wear use an older model for its marketing. That landed her a modeling job. "I can't believe these photos are me," she said. "I had no idea that dancing would lead me to pursuing a career in modeling."
"Dancing is so joyful," she said. "There's a song from A Chorus Line that says 'Everything is beautiful at the ballet.' It's the same with ballroom, everyone is so happy," Sanchez said.
"I always say, if you have a beautiful waltz, you'll have beautiful dreams."