“I do the white man’s rock,” joked the president and chief operating officer of J.J. Keller and Associates. “That’s about it. I’ve had no formal dance lessons, not even a polka. So this is raw.”
Come May 1, when he and a group of other community-minded executives take to the dance floor at the Grand Meridian in Appleton, Keller will no doubt do just fine. He’ll be doing something he and his family are especially good at: supporting a good cause.
Keller will take part in the second annual “Shall We Dance?” gala fund-raiser for the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of the Fox Cities. He’ll be dancing with his daughter, Angela Gillitzer, who co-owns Absolute Danz in Menasha with her husband, Frank. Both professional dancers, the couple opened the dance studio last summer, and it now boasts the state’s largest studio dance floor, at 62-by-40 feet. Besides private lessons, Absolute Danz offers open dances monthly on Saturday nights and Angela teaches Zumba, aerobic fitness classes with a Latin dance twist.
“People don’t realize how big the ballroom dance community here is,” says Frank Gillitzer, who was a United States amateur champion for six years and named the sixth top ballroom dance teacher in the nation in 2002. “We have people from Milwaukee, Madison, the Fox Cities and Green Bay who come here to dance.”
Frank and Angela compete about twice a month, in American Smooth style (fox trot, waltz, Viennese Waltz and tango). At a recent competition in Montreal they took third in the “Rising Star” and fifth in the Open category.
“It’s constantly a learning experience, getting out there and letting the judges see us as pro,” Frank says.
The SACC gala will feature a dance showcase by instructors from Absolute Danz, Valley Social Dance and Adagio Dance studios, followed by a friendly competition by dance professionals paired with guest dancers. Besides Keller, guest dancers include: Melinda Tempelis, Karen Laws, Cindy Berton, Patti Habeck, Paula Morgan, Greg Bell, Dr. Steve McIntyre and Peter Gianopolis. The audience will “vote” by donations to the SACC in the name of their favorite dancers. After the competition, the dance floor will open up to the audience.
As Jim and Angela went on with their rumba lesson, Jim’s wife Rosanne watched wistfully on the sides.
“All those years when she was really tiny we would go to the dance recitals,” Rosanne recalls. “They don’t do a lot when they’re so young; their attention span is real short. So she would go tap-tap-tap, heel-heel-heel, side-step, side-step and walk in circles. And Jim would say, ‘Oh my gosh, I paid a whole year for – this?’” She laughs. “But it’s her passion; it’s her love.”
When he paused to take a break, Jim admitted that another charitable event was actually top of mind for him during the week of his first dance lessons. J.J. Keller and Associates was sponsoring a racer in the Iditarod dog-mushing race in Alaska. He and Rosanne were due to fly to Anchorage for the start of the race that week, return to work in Neenah for a week and then fly to Nome, Alaska, for the end of the 10-day, 1,150-mile race. J.J. Keller, a Neenah-based publishing and printing organization that services the safety and regulatory compliance industry and employs more than 1,300 associates, sponsors Iditarod racer Mitch Seavey. Jim keeps a blog and 2 million school children worldwide follow the race online every day.
Upon their return, Jim expects to get right back into the dance lessons. He felt confident he was in good hands, since Angela has taken dance lessons all her life, even as she worked toward her degree in interior design.
“My daughter has been dancing since she was 3, and Dad is 60 and he’s on his second lesson,” says Jim. “I’m way behind her!”