LARGO — Joan Neault, 91, twirls in her dance partner's arms. Even in the grainy video, taken last spring at a ballroom dance competition, her sparkly black dress can be seen twinkling as she swiftly dips all the way to the floor, keeping one leg bent.
But on Monday, firefighters found the dancer dead in her home when they were called at 11:15 a.m. to the Bel-Aire Mobile Home Park, 11300 124th Ave. N in Largo. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
Ruth Accolla, 71, her next-door neighbor and good friend, took that video. She remembers how on Wednesday and Saturday, after Neault drove home from dance class at about 10 or 11 p.m., she would come to Accolla's house to show off her hot-pink and lime dresses and her bright red hair, which she still had done every week. Sometimes she'd ask for help removing a necklace and unzipping a dress.
"There was nothing feeble about her," Accolla said. "One time I said to her, 'Joan … we're going to be walking around a lot. Are you going to be able to walk around?' And she got mad and she said, 'Of course I can walk!' And she could. She was more spry than me."
Neault had been a dancer when she was a child, and when she retired in her early 60s, she began to dance again.
Her son, Lenny Neault, 51, said dancing was her life.
"She danced because she enjoyed it, and I'm happy she got to live the end of her life doing something that she loved," he said.
His mother drove ambulances and did mechanic work during World War II. That's how she met her late husband, Raymond, who was an aircraft mechanic for Pan Am, in England. She had six children, three daughters and three sons.
She was always very tough, her son said. When she was in her mid 60s, she drove a 1987 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 IROC-Z, a banana yellow car with racing stripes.
"She was a very independent woman, and she taught us all the same," he said.