Ballroom and Latin dancing have become so popular in Sudbury, it’s keeping instructor Jan Fregonese on her toes.
Fregonese, a grandmother of six, teaches dancing day and night. Her schedule includes ballroom and Latin dancing classes at Cambrian College and line dancing classes for seniors at Lockerby Legion and St. Andrew’s Place.
She estimates she dances about five hours every day. And when she’s not dancing, she keeps busy with a part-time job as an interior designer at Paul’s Quality Woodcraft Ltd. Yet, she can’t remember being sick for at least 30 years and credits her good health to dancing.
Dancing can lead to long life. Dance teacher Arthur Murray died at 95, his wife and dance partner died at 93. Fred Astaire was 88 when he died. Ginger Rogers was 83.
“Dancing is a healthy exercise for body and mind,” says Fregonese. “You have to remember the steps and use your body.”
The American Einstein Aging Study reports ballroom dancing helps prevent dementia. Dr. Joe Verghese, an assistant professor of neurology, says remembering the steps, moving in precise time to the music and adapting to the movements of one’s partner are mentally demanding exercises as well as physical ones.
Born in post-war Italy, near Venice, Giovanna Fregonese fell in love with dancing watching her parents waltz around the dance floor.
“My parents were very beautiful dancers. They had a lot of parties with live bands, and always an accordion player.”
Fregonese studied interior design and architecture before she met her husband. Dino, an Italian-Canadian, was vacationing in Italy for three months when the couple met. They shared a long-distance romance for two years before they married in October 1968. A few days later, the new bride said goodbye to her family and left for Sudbury. Her sister-in-law was also named Giovanna, so the family began to call her Jan.
“I spoke a little English and French then,” says Fregonese. An optimistic spirit, she wasn’t depressed by the rocks and the wilderness. She loved the landscape and she enjoyed the snow and cold.
“When I came to Canada I left dancing; I got involved in raising a family.”
She and her husband, who worked at Inco, raised three children, two daughters and a son.
With her family grown, she started to make time for herself and she put on her dance shoes again. She now has 15 pairs of dance shoes and several pairs of comfortable shoes for teaching and practicing.
The petite, graceful woman is a member of four dance associations and owner of her own studio.
“I started my dance career with Prodance in 1995. In a short time, I was promoted to fill in the teacher’s position when needed. The love of dance enticed me to seek more training, specializing in different types of social and international figures from the bronze to gold level.
“A few years later I received multiple amateur’s certificates and I obtained my international diploma as a certified instructor in ballroom and Latin dance…I never want to stop (learning and dancing).”
Fregonese offers private lessons as well as group classes in different locations in Sudbury and area including Cambrian College, where during the fall and winter sessions, she teaches six classes every week from beginner to gold level.
Earlier this year she shared her considerable knowledge with participants in the Dancing with the Stars for Easter Seals. The event raised close to $50,000 for the charity.
Her Easter Seals dance partner, Norm Piche, sings Fregonese’s praises. “I think she is an amazing and accomplished dancer and instructor. She has passion and dedication and was very patient.”
“Amazing” is also how Jim Gordon describes his dance coach. Fregonese gave lessons to the former mayor and his wife, Donna.
“She is a fabulous teacher and person. I just can’t say enough about her,” says Gordon.
Although Fregonese’s life partner doesn’t dance, Dino supports his wife’s passion and applauds her success. “She is a perfectionist about everything and it shows in her dancing. She does everything well,” he says.
True to her Italian roots, Fregonese loves to cook and she keeps a vegetable garden. She travels to Italy every year to visit family. Her mother, Lucia, is 88 and still dancing.
Fregonese expects to follow in Lucia’s footsteps. “I never want to stop dancing,” she says. “I teach three dancers in their 90s. You should see how good they are. They tell me, ‘Jan, when I am with you nothing hurts’.”