Just one day after he turned 102, Hugh Barnett Jr. dusted off his dancing shoes and hit the floor with his friends and fellow members of the Fort Mill Ballroom Dance Club Friday.
Barnett began ballroom dancing more than 70 years ago, shortly after enlisting in the U.S. Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into World War II. While attending officer candidate school for the Army Signal Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., Barnett had free time at night, so he decided to take up dancing.
“I had never done any dancing and the schools I had gone to didn’t allow it,” Barnett said. “So I signed up for a series.”
Although he learned his steps in Massachusetts, Barnett didn’t get to attend his first dance until he was transferred to a base New Orleans. About 10 years later, Barnett married his wife Juliet, who was also a fan of ballroom dancing. As the couple moved across the country as military couples often do, they were able to dance in officers clubs and ballrooms from Virginia to California.
Barnett and his wife moved to the Westminster Towers in Rock Hill 17 years ago, before her passing in 2007. When the couple moved to Rock Hill, they never had the chance to dance like they did in their younger years.
“My wife and I, she had quite a bit of arthritis, we hadn’t done any dancing really since we’d been in Rock Hill,” Barnett said.
At the age of 95, Barnett rediscovered his passion for dancing when he met Cynthia Ditursi at the Sheppard’s Center. Ditursi was a member of the Fort Mill Ballroom Dance Club and needed a dance partner. When Ditursi found out Barnett knew how to ballroom dance, she asked him to stand up so she could see how tall he was. When she saw that he was taller than her, she immediately asked him to be her dance partner and Barnett accepted.
The two have been dance partners ever since and have now formed a close friendship off the dance floor.
“We’ve been having a lot of fun together,” Ditursi said. “I go over to the Towers, where he lives. He invites me over to dinner. I meet a lot of his friends there so I feel right at home.”
To celebrate Barnett’s 102nd birthday the two ate with friends at his place and went to the movies to see “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”
And as if ballroom dancing at 102 wasn’t enough, Barnett is an active member of the Tega Cay-based Carolina Copy Cats, a lip-syncing group, and he bowls a couple times a month. Participating in so many organizations keeps Barnett on the move constantly, especially with the Copy Cats.
“The association of the Copy Cats takes a little bit of time,” Barnett said.
“We have a practice usually on Wednesday mornings. That pretty much kills half the day. Over the period of October through April we do about 30 performances. We go up as far as Gastonia and Belmont and the other direction to Chester and Lancaster.”
Barnett believes staying active is part of the reason he has lived such a long life and he has no plans to slow down. An avid golfer in his younger years, Barnett hopes to pick the sport back up when he manages to find time.