East Ridge resident Marilyn Bischoff, believes her life has been filled with serendipitous moments.
The most recent occurrence is meeting her neighbor Gary Sisler.
At age 82, Gary hadn’t danced in over fifty years. When he read that Marilyn was formerly a professional dance instructor, he found the gumption to give her a call.
“I just wanted to learn general Latin dancing steps so I could go to weekly dances and thought maybe she could be of help. Nothing fancy like the ballroom dancing that you see on TV just some basic salsa and merengue,” he explained.
What he didn’t realize was how illustrious and quite remarkable was Marilyn’s dancing career.
Living in New York City, she frequently passed an Arthur Murray Dance Studio and despite being deaf wanted desperately to learn dancing. Her hearing deficit did not hinder her desire.
She finally summoned the courage to inquire about classes.
“From the beginning I loved it,” she said.
The desire to dance coupled with the motivation to quickly learn propelled her. She became not only an accomplished dancer but an Arthur Murray instructor.
The pretty blond who was so talented was soon noticed by Murray and when one of his regular partners died; Marilyn was asked to become a replacement. “It was another serendipitous moment. I was just at the right place at the right time.”
The forerunner to today’s TV “Dancing with the Stars”, Murray’s national TV show, “Arthur Murray Dance Party” was televised from the 1950’s to 1962 and Marilyn often danced with him on TV while she was an instructor with the school.
Having dropped out of high school, she knew she didn’t want to be a dance teacher all of her life. Her desire was to return to school and earn a high school diploma. When one of her dance students told her about an accelerated program, she decided to pursue this route and further her education.
Later, attending City College of New York where coincidently Colin Powell was a classmate, she received a Bachelor Degree in psychology and decided to pursue counseling.
“The direct route to become a psychotherapist was to obtain masters in social work from Columbia,” she explained.
At the same time she earned her master’s degree, she married and moved to Providence R.I. and later earned a PhD from Boston College in clinical social work. This allowed her to be a psychotherapist.
It was serendipity that her first job in Providence was working with a doctor who was involved with the Head Start program for children. She began working in his office with children and gained a reputation appreciated by local pediatricians. Their continual referrals helped her launch her own practice in counseling.
“Social work was certainly far different than dancing,” she explained. “I had learned to listen through nonverbal communication.”
The slightest body moments or watching and reading someone’s lips offered her the skills needed for counseling. Being deaf was not a hindrance.
She retired from counseling when she was 82 because her eyesight was limiting her ability to read lips as carefully as she once had.
When her husband died, she knew she had two options of where to live: either near her son in Massachusetts or near her daughter in Miami. The warm climate won her over and her daughter researched East Ridge for her.
Gary hadn’t danced since 1961 but when he watched the Netflix movie, “Shall We Dance”, it renewed his interest.
Marilyn explains that she feels the beat as it comes up from the floor. After her husband died, she felt she would never dance again but Gary has renewed her interest.
He brings a CD with music to the East Ridge Lifestyle Center and Marilyn is a patient teacher as she dances with him.
She says he’s doing quite well.