The Dancing Sister
by Suzanne Buzek
Jo Ann Recker, S.N.D. de N., has never stopped learning. Her eagerness to absorb the essence of anything that interests her—from the letters among founders of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to the intricacies of the foxtrot—has long been one of her defining characteristics.
Most at Xavier know Recker as a professor of French in the Department of Modern Languages. But others know her as a researcher with a passion for the history of her order or as a spiritual director, and still others recognize her as a facilitator of pilgrimages for those of her order to Belgium or France. Her philosophy of living is contained in part in her philosophy of teaching.
"My work in learning about the Sisters of Notre Dame adds an extra luster in that I see myself as part of continuing a great tradition of education," says Recker. "I see a student not as some disembodied head into which I have to stuff so many facts, but someone who I hope to ignite their love for learning. Why should school be drudgery? We are taught to help a person find what is in their mind and heart."
Reflecting on her own thoughts and feelings led Recker to pursue something decidedly less traditional than her other activities: exhibition ballroom dancing.
"In the early years of being in the convent, it was torture for me to supervise the student dances," recalls Recker. To be so prim and proper while everybody else was moving to the music—that was awful. I once read an article in the paper about a woman who was widowed, and she took up dancing to get her out of the house. I learned three things from the article: You don't have to sign up with a partner, you don't have to be a young chick to start it, and you could still be in competitions and dance with your instructor."
Recker initially put the article aside, promising herself to get back to it someday. Then she realized that there was no time like the present to start dancing, especially with a studio offering lessons in walking distance of her residence.
"Last fall I was on seniority sabbatical and had been talking to the doctor about blood pressure and exercise," says Recker. "I just hated going to exercise places with all of those repetitive machines, and previews for 'The Bucket List' were on television. I hadn't even finished formulating the question, 'What would be the first item on my bucket list?' when I knew the answer: ballroom dancing."
Recker addressed her new hobby with the same energy she applies in her other activities. She began dancing and now specializes in the waltz, the foxtrot, the tango, the rumba, the cha-cha and swing. Earlier this month, Recker competed in a winter showcase and won four gold medals, dancing the waltz, foxtrot, tango, and swing.
"I keep coming back to the quotation time after time, 'We bless life by dancing,' and have found that to be so true," she says. "I've always loved music, and moving to music is even better."