‘All She Wants to Do Is Dance’


[James Borchuck | St. Petersburg Times]

When I talked to Thelma Neely on the phone for the first time, I could hear the excitement in her voice, could feel the passion she exuded for life, could sense how much she loved to dance. There was a story there waiting to be told.

So I met with 86-year-old Thelma and her 89-year-old husband, Archie for an article I had pitched to the St. Petersburg Times. I sat with them and looked at their photographs, met their big black dog, Teddy Bear, and listened to them play Archie’s favorite dancing song, “Black Velvet.” I watched them dance at the Czechoslovakian Cultural Center in Gulfport, Fla., and visited them again at their home on several ocassions. All for the love of the story.

Part of the challenge in seeing Thelma and Archie so many times was figuring out which notes to use. My Steno pad likes to hold more notes than it needs. I wanted to include everything. I wanted to include the details about the two Dominican nuns who Thelma teaches dance lessons to, and I wanted to include details about Thelma and Archie’s prayer ritual. Every night, they hold hands and recite the Hail Mary and the Our Father. “Pray together, stay together,” Thelma says. But I couldn’t fit everything into the story, so I boiled my story down to one word: survival. It was then easier to figure out which details were most relevant. Through dancing, Thelma and Archie have survived. In many ways, dancing has kept them, and their relationship, alive.

So, here’s the story, which ran in Saturday’s St. Petersburg Times. Let me know what you think.

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “‘All She Wants to Do Is Dance’

  1. That’s a very nicely written feature, and post. Good job! I could hear her talking to you and see her dancing in the story. It would be cool to have an audio slideshow to compliment it.

  2. Thanks! I know, I actually recorded Thelma and Archie talking and ended up with some good audio, but I ran out of time and didn’t put together an audio slideshow. This would have been a perfect opportunity for multimedia storytelling, though. I’m hoping to write some other feature stories in the near future and am making it a goal to put together a multimedia component to go along with them.

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