Locals show there's life after spousal death in dance documentary

  • By
  • | 3:00 p.m. November 12, 2013
  • Ormond Beach Observer
  • Neighbors
  • Share


‘Ballroom Confidential," a documentary filmed in Ormond Beach, will be screened at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center Nov. 21.


When Brian Lilla visited his mother in Ormond Beach last year, he could see a change. She had been going through the grieving process since losing her husband in 2008 but, when he saw her this time, he knew she was doing much better.

“Her posture was more erect,” he said. “She looked more fit. She no longer had the physical characteristics of sadness.”

He discovered the reason for her improvement when he went along with her to her new favorite activity, taking dancing lessons at Absolutely Ballroom Dance Studio.

“When I saw her dancing, I could see it was the happiest moment of her week,” he said.

His mother, JoAnn Lilla, told him dancing had also improved the lives of a lot of her friends who were dealing with being alone in the latter stage of life.

Brian said: “That’s a beautiful story,” and his mother responded, “Yes it is, and that should be your next movie.”

Brian Lilla, a documentary filmmaker, had just finished a film in Chile called “Patagonia Rising,” about the global impact of dams. He said it was physically demanding because of the required travel through remote areas. The idea of making a more intimate, personal film was very appealing.

“I wanted to do a film that was more emotional and character-driven,” he said.

For plot, he showed the dancers preparing for a performance. He spent 16 days filming them in rehearsals and at their homes, where they talked about their lives, losing life partners, aging, relationships and the challenges of perfecting their dance routines.

Lilla said the film is about the aging process and how people deal with it.

“Several of the women are in their 80s,” he said. “We all face age and death, but we can handle it with grace. These women are using dance, something so graceful, to deal with aging. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Caleb Young, owner of Absolutely Ballroom, said the film shows the reality of life in a studio.

“You forget the cameras are there,” he said. “It was amazing how much we learned about each other.”

He said seeing the film, and how dance affected the women, reminds him of why he got into the business.

The dancers, the stars of the film, also had positive comments about the experience.

Making the film was a dream, according to Lois Carter, of Holly Hill.

“It was the best thing I’ve done in my life,” she said. “He came to our home and filmed us. I was a little nervous because you don’t want to say the wrong thing. It was fun. Now we love each other like a family.”

Jean Bell, of Ormond Beach, said she has found a whole new lifestyle through dance.

“We keep our weight down and get exercise,” she said.

The women all became close during filming. Jennifer Stogner said, adding that the other women are a “great group of people” who provided a lot of support.

“One of the last things my husband told me was to keep dancing,” she said.

Lilla said he has learned that people who maintain their mobility tend to age gracefully.

“We need to keep moving,” he said, “whether it’s with our brains or our legs. ... I was intrigued by how invested some were in ballroom dancing. For some, their lives revolve around it.”

The inspiration for the film, JoAnn Lilla, 71, said she and her husband moved to Ormond Beach in 1992 from Oregon. They had danced during their 45-year marriage and, after he his death, she didn’t want to dance with another man.

“I had always danced and felt a void,” she said. “You’re married and then, all of a sudden, you’re alone.”

A friend suggested she take ballroom dancing lessons, so she started at Absolutely Ballroom in 2010 and started to feel more confident and comfortable.

Although she says she doesn't enjoy seeing herself onscreen, she is impressed by her son’s filmmaking and enjoyed getting to know the other women.

“There were so many stories to be told,” she said.

She is now working as a real estate agent in Ormond Beach after working at Granada Travel for 17 years. She served as producer for the film, coordinating the interviews with the women, along with Young.

"Ballroom Confidential" will be shown 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Ormond Beach Performing Art Center, 399 N. U.S. 1. Tickets are $12. Call 676-3375.

The film is also available on DVD, at ballroomconfidential.com. Lilla's “Patagonia Rising” is available on Netflix.


Latest News


Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning local news.