Jack Burton has
always enjoyed dancing. As a boy growing up in St. Louis he recalls,
"We all danced. It was part of gym class. We had partners and
we learned all the basic steps right from the beginning- the waltz,
the fox-trot and the rhumba. There was no such thing as standing around
at a dance, there were no wallflowers- that was unheard of. In the
forties we danced to the music of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
In the fifties we had Bill Haley and the Comets and the beginnings
of rock and roll. Dancing was a big part of our lives then."
the advent of his career, first as an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese
of Southern Ohio for ten years; later he would serve the County of
Dukes County as our probation officer for twenty-seven years; and
raising a busy family, which included three boys, each two years apart,
he hung up his dancing shoes.
Burton, priest, probation officer and dancer, though of retirement
age, is himself boyish in his appearance. He is often seen riding
his bicycle, an older model with fenders, around Edgartown on his
daily errands. He runs five days a week, and maintains a regular fitness
program. Jack has a kind smile and a gentle, almost shy manner that
makes him approachable and easy to talk to. When he takes his turn
filling in for Father Bob Edmunds in the pulpit at St. Andrew's, there's
an authenticity, an innocence in his voice that is both reassuring
and welcoming. Jack lives in a gambrel-style house near an overgrown
apple orchard that was once part of Orin Norton's farm. He has been
retired from his probation officer's job for a year and a half. In
retirement, Jack tries to "keep life simple." He attends
a regular Bible-study group, works in his garden, tinkers with an
old sports car, and is building a screened-in cabin in his back yard.
He says he doesn't need a lot of "things" in his life. He
doesn't have a computer or a microwave, and only recently started
using a touch-tone telephone with a built-in answering machine, a
gift from his boys. He says his true treasures are his relationships.
About ten years
ago, with his family grown, and with much more time on his hands,
and feet, for that matter, Jack returned to the dance floor, joining
dancers at the Piatelli Studios in North Tisbury. His dance partner
then was Carol Carrick, a friend and fellow parent with two sons the
same age as his. It was at this time that Jack and Carol began a weekly
Sunday night ballroom dancing class in the parish hall of St. Andrew's,
later to be joined by dancers Ted and Christine Box and Tom and Dorothy
Newton. "About 15 people came to the class every week. We took
turns teaching. Occasionally one of us would go off to Boston and
learn something new and bring it back to the group. I even went to
Albuquerque, New Mexico and learned country-dance. Most people know
basic dance-steps, and sometimes people know nothing and need to start
from scratch. Sometimes couples about to be married would drop in
to brush up on their dance-steps for their wedding reception."
These classes have continued to this day, and are offered at no charge,
though they have moved to their summer home at the Nathan Mayhew Seminars
in Vineyard Haven.
another passion in Jack's life is traveling. He has traveled all over
the world, sometimes alone with a backpack, sometimes with his sons,
or with Carol, who has become his steady dance partner and traveling
companion. He has been to places such as Eastern Europe; Paris; Italy;
Austria; the Greek Islands; Japan; China and has traveled throughout
Four or five
years ago Jack was on a Hawaiian cruise, where he was introduced to
the concept of dance hosting. "A dance host's job is to dance
with women on the cruise ship. I thought it looked interesting. I
could already dance, and I loved to travel. I thought it would be
a great way to see the world." When he got home he signed up
for a "gentleman host program." His training took four months,
and involved a couple of trips to New York City for an audition and
an interview, learning the rules of the game, and finally for certification
as a dance host.
of all, there's no romance involved, that's a very strict rule. We
only dance with women who are obviously traveling solo. When the band
plays, we dance, and we don't leave anybody out. It's not a time for
lessons, though occasionally someone will say, 'will you show me a
new routine?'" He loves getting dressed up in his tuxedo, or
in his casual dance clothes- white slacks, navy blazer, red tie and
white dress shoes, and he meets many interesting people. He tells
one story of a woman who, as he was about to turn her around on the
dance floor, gave a high kick that went clear over his head. She turned
out to be a retired Rockette from Radio City Music Hall.
Last spring Jack
was a dance host on a fourteen-day cruise that began in Osaka, Japan,
and sailed to Hong Kong, and back to Osaka. The cruises always include
tours on shore, and he had an opportunity to see the Great Wall and
visited Shanghai and Nagasaki. He recently returned from a cruise
that originated in Rio de Janeiro, cruised down around the Cape, up
the West coast of South America, past Argentina, Peru and Ecuador,
and through the Panama Canal back to Rio.
a fascinating trip. I saw the Southern Cross-something I thought I'd
never see. We went through locks in the canal, which was an interesting
experience." Jack went on seven cruises this past year, two at
a time, back to back, and says, "Every cruise is a new beginning
with new people, new dynamics and new countries." He says the
people are an "older crowd," with an average age of 67.
"They love to get dressed up and dine and dance. There are lots
of sequins. I've never seen so many sequins." Jack Burton has
a good life, and he knows it.
a pleasant life. I'm still working with people, but now instead of
the intensity of working as a parish priest, or with people in crisis
in the court system, I'm dressed up in a tux, dining in style, and
dancing every night. I meet wonderful, sociable people, and of course,
I get to travel around the world. This fits in with my retirement
very nicely." After 35 or 40 days on a cruise Jack is ready to
come home-to small town life, his bicycle errands, his yard projects,
and to the quiet. "The cruises are fun, but we all need a little
quiet in our lives. I'm always glad to come home."
article was originally printed in the July 8, 2000 edition of the
Martha's Vineyard Times.