Dance of courage

• Peter Hegarty and Rona Gartner in action. Photo supplied.

SPEARWOOD dance veteran Rona Gartner overcame life- threatening illnesses to compete with her dance partner of more than 40 years at last weekend’s Australian dance championships.

Ms Gartner and Peter Hegarty’s twinkle-toed partnership first started in 1974, when they met as high school students at a social dance class.

Life inevitably got in the way and they stopped competing together in 1977, but amazingly they rekindled their partnership some 30 odd years later in 2009.

“It was at Peter’s 30th wedding anniversary that we got back together and did a little ad lib dance together,” Ms Gartner says.

Since then they’ve performed exceptionally well in competitions and are ranked 7th in latin, 7th in new vogue and 9th in standard ballroom.

But it all nearly came to a dramatic halt earlier this year.

“We had a big competition in Wollongong on 1st of July and on the 5th of July I was in hospital,” Ms Gartner says.

A throat operation resulted in serious complications and she spent three days in an induced coma and nearly died.

“I could barely stand, I lost a substantial amount of weight and had to learn how to eat and drink again; eating pureed food and adding thickeners to all of my liquids just to get something down”.

But that didn’t stop the plucky Spearwood primary school teacher.

“I did not want to lose all the progress that my dancing partner and I had been making. Going back into it kind of gets you sucked in. If you stay off the floor, you decline. That was the driving force behind getting better.”

If wasn’t long before the pair were tearing up the floor at the WA Dance Championships, and at the Australian Dance Championship in Melbourne last weekend.

The pair have also competed in international competitions in England, New Zealand and Singapore in a range of styles.

They train at DancePower studio in Myaree, and are one of the few masters couples who compete in standard ballroom, latin and new vogue.

by ALEX MURFETT

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