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A Family Dance

story by Gabriel Scarlett

Music fills the ballroom at the Paducah Dance Academy as Jack Johnson, 59, and his wife Daniele, 54, waltz around the room. Their seven-month-old great-granddaughter, Rayleigh, rolls across the hardwood floor into the path of the dancers and begins to cry. Without missing a beat, Jack scoops her up, balances her on his right arm and the dance goes on.

Balancing many roles is a daily struggle for the two ballroom dance instructors who split their time between clients and a demanding family life. They watch their two youngest grandchildren and their great-granddaughter nearly every day after school.

"I wear many hats," Daniele says. "I need to have like four or five extra arms."

Elizabeth Farmer, 12, admires her grandparents and wants to follow in their graceful footsteps. Lately, she spends most nights practicing in the studio with Daniele to prepare for an upcoming charity dance. The tradition of ballroom dance has been in her family for four generations.

"Their dancing is beautiful and emotional," she says. "Everybody knows I'm going to take over the studio when I'm older."

Elizabeth, her brother and their mom live with Daniele and Jack in a small house adjacent to the dance studio. Most afternoons, Rayleigh is there too.  Although the situation is temporary, Daniele says it is like taking on a lot of the responsibilities of motherhood all over again.

Jack doesn't see it as reliving fatherhood. "It's not quite the same," he jokes. "Just get to spoil her and then she goes home." They try to split responsibilities evenly, but Daniele often takes the heavier load of chores. She cooks meals while running between home and the studio for classes. When the children need help of any kind, she steps in to provide a grandmother's touch.

"Sometimes I get tired of it. Sometimes I want to get to do things like normal people do. But for us, this is the normal," Daniele says. "I guess I have to remind myself that it's more of a blessing."

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Daniele Johnson feeds Rayleigh, while her husband Jack walks out the back door. Daniele assumes many of the responsibilities of motherhood for her youngest family members.

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Elizabeth carries performance dresses through the kitchen at her grandparents' dance studio.

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Elizabeth carries performance dresses through the kitchen at her grandparents' dance studio. Elizabeth, her brother, and her mother are temporarily staying with Daniele and Jack in the home that is attached to the studio.

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Jack instructs Serge and Jane Abratt in a dance at the studio. Jack and Daniele have taught the couple for over 13 years and are now preparing them for an upcoming competition in New Jersey.

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Elizabeth practices a dance with Daniele for an upcoming charity fundraiser. Having ballroom dance instuctors for grandparents has already shaped Elizabeth into an avid dancer with her hoping to take over their studio in Paducah one day.

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After preparing dinner in between practices with clients, Daniele relaxes with Elizabeth and her mother, Audrey Farmer, 36. Daniele assumes responsibility for most chores around the house including cooking, cleaning, and caring for two dogs and one cat.

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After a late night in the dance studio, Daniele cares for her grandson Elijah Farmer's hurt shoulder.

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Daniele takes a moment to herself after clearing the dishes from a meal with her daughter and granddaughter. She has learned to balance time between the ballroom dance studio and the chores of redoing motherhood. "If I sat down and thought about it, I'd probably feel sorry for myself," Daniele says. "I used to be like a Scarlett O'Hara about it. But I think this kind of stuff happens to everyone and they just have to deal with it."

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Jack dances with Elizabeth at Paducah Dance Academy on a late Friday night. "They're awesome dancers," says Elizabeth of her grandparents.