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Dancing with the Streaks

Alissa Widman Neese • Apr 23, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Sandusky Schools student Keisan Armstrong stretched out his arms and grooved to the beat — one, two, three four.

His dance partner, teacher Lisa Cooper, guided him through the basic steps of swing dancing.

The two amateurs could easily pose as pros but still welcomed a refresher from a seasoned veteran.

“Remember, girls start with your right foot, guys with your left,” retired dance instructor Joe Santoro advised from nearby. Santoro won’t reveal his age but will proudly boast his dancing prowess — 57 years of experience, dating back to 1955.

His latest endeavor: teaching two classes of Sandusky Schools students the basics of ballroom dance this year. The junior high and high school students are part of a community-based instruction class for students with special educational needs.

Want to dance?

•Call Serving Our Seniors at 419-624-1856 to get in contact with Joe Santoro, a retired ballroom dancing instructor from Sandusky.


Dance instructor Gail Fenn, as well as some volunteer helpers, assisted Santoro. Their final dance lesson was this past week.

Santoro has taught classes in Chicago, Cleveland, Mansfield, New York City and plenty of places in between, including many years managing Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Sandusky, alongside his wife, Marilee.

The pair were married about 60 years before she died two years ago.

Joe has continued dancing for her, and for the people he’s met in the many classes they taught together.

“This is my life, and it’s been a wonderful life” he said. “There’s nothing better than being around people who are having fun. As long as they’re enjoying it, I am, too”

Sue Daugherty, executive director of Serving Our Seniors, recruited Santoro to teach at Sandusky High School this spring to offer students a new perspective on aging and older adults. A $1,000 grant from the Erie County Community Foundation funded the program.

Often, when students interact with elderly individuals, it’s in a less than-ideal setting, such as volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, Daugherty said.

“Our population is aging, and we want to help students see that in a different light, without those negative stereotypes” she said.

The classes and the message were well-received, Cooper said.

“It’s been a great blending of generations, and I think both sides learned a lot,” she said. “The students had a blast, and they’re excited to try out their new steps soon at prom”

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