The Coastal Star

Coastal Star: Speed hones her quick-step for dance fundraiser

Marie Speed takes a moment from an hourlong practice session to pose with her dance coach and partner James Brann.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Ron Hayes
    Oh, the things a good woman will do for a good cause.
    For five years, Marie Speed maintained, “No, absolutely not.”
    She was honored to serve on the application review committee of the George Snow Scholarship Fund. Since 1982 the fund, named after the late developer, has donated $4 million to deserving students. Last year alone, 73 young scholars shared $500,000 in grants. Speed helped evaluate their applications.
    And then, in 2008, the foundation introduced a new fundraiser. “Boca’s Ballroom Battle” was a local version of television’s Dancing With The Stars. Eight local “stars” competing. Donors sponsoring their favorites. A night of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dancing at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. And a coveted “mirror ball” trophy to the first-place winner.
    By any standard, Speed is a local star. Since 1991, she has edited Boca Raton and Delray Beach magazines. She has served on the board of the Caridad Center, worked with the Boca Chamber of Commerce and edited Mizner’s Dream, its annual publication.
    But ... dancing?
    “I’m too shy,” she protested. “Too old, too clumsy, too self-conscious.”
    Actually, she’s 61 but doesn’t look it. Born in Virginia, she grew up in St. Petersburg and lived two years in London, where she saw the Beatles perform live before Americans had heard their name. And she’s very far from shy.
    This year, Marie Speed surrendered. On Aug. 16, the editor will dance. Or something like it.
    “I’m the oldest and the chubbiest, and I’m terrified!” she said recently, managing a resigned smile in the home office of her Ocean Ridge cottage. “I’m so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always loved to dance, but this is real dancing. With steps!”
    Fortunately, she’s been paired with a real dancer to help her learn those steps.
    For the past three months, Speed has been meeting three times a week with James Brann, a professional instructor at Boca Raton’s Fred Astaire Dance Studio.
    “You strap on your dance shoes, and then you strap on a guy like James and hope you don’t make a fool of yourself.”
    She remains silent on the dance itself, except to say it has a Broadway theme.
“I will say it’s totally age-inappropriate, overly ambitious for me and completely hilarious.”
    The entire routine lasts only 90 seconds.
    “My dance is so fast that if I miss one step it throws the whole thing off,” she says.
    For Speed, speed is of the essence. But she is resigned; she is rehearsing three times a week. And she is scared.
    “My greatest fear is forgetting my steps,” she says. “I have this image of myself freezing and having to be wheeled off like Hannibal Lecter on one of those dollies.”
    She sighs and tries to concentrate on all the young students those scholarships help.
    “I don’t hope to win the trophy, I just want to finish with my dignity somewhat intact,” she says.
    “And then I’m going to have the biggest martini ever known to man.”

If You Go
What: The sixth annual “Boca’s Ballroom Battle,” a local version of television’s Dancing With The Stars, to benefit the George Snow Scholarship fund
When: 6-9:30 p.m. Aug. 16
Where: Boca Raton Resort & Club
Cost: Seats are $150 each, or $225 for ‘preferred seating.’
Donations: To sponsor Marie Speed and meet her seven competitors, visit www.ballroombattle.com and click on donate

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