Carie Garrity and Roger Thaxton have been dance partners for two decades since they first met at the University of Michigan. But it wasn’t that first meeting that launched their dance career or their relationship.
Carie saw a sign, “Come Dance With Us,” in front of the building where she worked out. She thought dancing sounded fun, so she went the next week. “The ballroom was lined with chairs, and looked like a grade-school dance. All the chairs were full of people not dancing.” During the next few weeks she attended the dances, she began to notice Roger, and eventually, he asked her to dance. She accepted, they danced one dance, and he never asked her again.
She saw him dancing with a different woman every dance. “That’s someone I don’t really want to get to know, he’s just a gadabout,” she thought.
Attending the weekly dances at the university weren’t actually teaching Carie to dance, so she enrolled at a dance studio. Roger was taking lessons there. He was also entering dance competitions with one of the instructors as his partner.
The studio owner suggested that Carie dance with Roger. Carie politely says, no. She related her experience at the university dance. The owner says, “You don’t understand, that’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s not supposed to dance with just one woman, he gives everyone a chance to dance with him, that’s what the gentleman dancer does.” “There are ten times as many women dancers than there are men,” Carie says.
She not only danced with Roger, they began competing together. “We weren’t doing badly,” Roger says. “But we weren’t doing really well. We asked one of the Canadian judges about our dancing, he said, ‘you technically are pretty good, but it’s not going to happen for you because you’re trying too hard.’ It didn’t make sense. It took about a year before we realized we were approaching our dancing like we approached our work. We were attacking it, controlling it. Dancing has to be felt not just learned. It’s a lot like acting.”
Roger worked as a section supervisor of product development, power train testing. He retired after 32 years with the Ford Motor Company. Carie started out in the medical center at University of Michigan as a medical social worker and ended up doing more administrative work than direct counseling. She moved to the School of Public Health where she worked on educational research, taking abstract theoretical ideas and bringing them down to something practical in the community. She retired after 20 years.
Roger and Carie were consistently working to improve their dancing. At one point, they received advice from a three-time world champion dancer and decided to change coaches. National dance champions Igor Litinov and Yulia Ivleva agreed to coach them. There was one minor difficulty. “We’d get off work Friday night and start driving ten hours from Ann Arbor to New York for our coaching sessions,” Roger says. “Igor and Yulia were from Russia, and they really knew their dancing. Igor started late, he didn’t start dancing until he was five. Yulia started at three. They were both Russian trained in ballet and dance.”
“People who really achieve are not reasonable,” Roger says. “A reasonable person accepts the world as it is. It takes an unreasonable person to think they can change the world.”
“We didn’t want to change the world,” Carie says. “But we wanted to change our dancing.”
“I knew Yulia was the right coach for me at the first lesson,” Roger says. “I used to tell Carie, I know more what not to do than what to do. I would ask coaches to tell me how to do it the right way, and a lot of them couldn’t do that. They’d say try it again. The first session with Yulia she says, ‘That’s not right.’ I told her, ‘I know that, but I don’t know how to do it the right way.’ She walked over to a bookshelf, pulled out an anatomy book and pointed, “See this muscle right here,’ she says. ‘ You’re using this muscle. When you do this, I want you to do this with this muscle.’ I was ecstatic. That’s what I needed, because then I could figure out how to improve.”
Yulia and Roger competed as a pro-am couple, she the professional and he the amateur. They won three national championships. Yulia was precise in her dancing. After winning their first championship, as they were walking back to their seats, national championship trophy in hand, Yulia gave Roger a rare compliment, “Hmm. Must have looked better than it felt.”
Roger and Carie went on to win three more national championships of their own. “About 2011, we noticed the competition kept getting younger while we kept getting older. We had three U.S. Senior Dance Titles and decided to go out on top rather than fading away.”
“We miss competition dancing terribly,” Carie says. “It was a great adventure for us, and dancing has been extremely good to us. We wanted to give back, and one way to give back is to teach.”
“We are teaching dance lessons on Sundays at the SunRiver community center,” Roger says. “One of the reasons we are here is the ballroom,” Carie says. “The ballroom reminds of the ballroom at the University of Michigan. I took one look at it and said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is where we want to live.’ That ballroom is just magnificent, you guys don’t realize how fortunate you are. Wood floor, chandeliers, most dancers would die for that.”
Roger and Carie moved to SunRiver from Ann Arbor Michigan. “Cold, wet, snowy, very high humidity,” Carie described it. They found Saint George by accident. They were at a dance competition in San Diego and took a side trip to Zion National Park. “We drove through St. George, a very small town in 2005 or so. We thought ‘there’s a possibility,’ so we put it on our chart.
They developed a chart listing the characteristics they wanted in a retirement area. It included medical, educational, environmental, and cultural needs. “St. George was never number one,” Roger says. “San Diego has better weather, but the costs are horrible and the traffic is even worse. But if you look at St. George the way we did from our evaluation, it ranked overall high scores. You drive an hour to get to the Shakespeare festival in Cedar City, but that’s only an hour. You drive an hour-and-a-half to Las Vegas for shopping, but that’s only an hour-and-a-half. We don’t have the traffic. We have great medical, wonderful education venues, and there are a lot of cultural events right here in St. George; theater, arts, films, and community.”
“We didn’t realize how fortunate we were until we got here. We kind of fell into it,” Carie says. “St. George was better than we evaluated it. We thought we would be giving up instead of gaining.”
The cosmetics, perfumes, hair spray, and the chemicals in the costumes worn in national and international competition caused both of them to develop environmental allergies. Their doctor recommended they move to a drier climate. “We came very close to moving to Scottsdale,” Roger says. “But we didn’t like it much.” “The low humidity here is wonderful for us,” Carie says.
Roger went online from Ann Arbor and put a down payment on a home in Entrada. “It was a great deal,” Roger says. “But when I came down and looked at it, I says, no way. It was like being in a prison cell.” He drove around the area, Kayenta, Cedar City, Santa Clara, and met Peter Judd after looking at models in SunRiver. “I thought, with the ballroom, the view, and the activities,” Roger says. “This would be a place for us.”
“Everyone seemed very happy,” Carie says. “We had lunch in the River Walk Grill, and it just seemed a happy place to be. It reminded me of a ballroom dance competition. People were happy and smiling. Quite a few people we talked to are here because they want to be here, and that’s a nice place to be.”
“Everyone we met was active.” Roger says.
They found a lot, and the plan was to start construction in a year, and move to SunRiver in two years. That’s where their plans fell in place. “Our house in Michigan sold before we even put it on the market,” Roger says. “We were fixing it up and a realtor came by and says he had a client who wanted it. We talked to Peter and asked if they could move up the construction date on our house.”
“He was very good,” Carie says, “and they were wonderful about it. We moved in in December, months ahead of when we had planned.”
“We never realized the beauty of this area,” Roger says. “The hiking is amazing. How fortunate people are who live here. It is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The first thing we bought was a used four-wheel drive truck. Our neighbors introduced us to four-wheeling, and another friend is a geologist who comes with us and explains what we are looking at.”
“SunRiver and St. George have been way beyond our expectations,” Carie says. “
“There is so much to do here in SunRiver and in St. George,” Roger says. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we want to do.”
Article: Jon Thompson | Photography: Corey Barrick