After the death of his wife, Jacob Pitchon, 80, finds vigor and life in dancing

He approaches me with an open hand and says, “Let’s dance!”

Jacob Pitchon is an 80-year-old man with a good sense of humour and an enthusiasm for dancing that I bet any person would love to have.

He set the dance floor on fire while dipping his partners and shaking his entire body to the beat. Never did a smile leave his face as perspiration began to build – he gave it his all.

Pitchon was at Sonora Mambo Nights in the downtown area, and I was there as a reporter with my camera, but I set it down to dance with Pitchon.

He is unique. The only 80 year old at these dances; and after the night of our first dance I called him up to discuss doing a profile.

Me: Hi Jacob, how is it going? This is Michelle.
Jacob: Who is this sorry? And how do you know my name?
Me: Oh Jacob, I met you a while ago at Sonora.
Jacob: I’m sorry, but I have danced with so many girls that I can’t remember you.
Me: Do you remember the girl that had the camera and was taking pictures? And you asked me to dance too.

As soon as I refreshed his memory by saying I was the “camera girl,” he remembered me – and which songs we danced to.

We met up and upon seeing me he gave me a big grandpa-style hug and excitedly asked me to take a seat.

In his black outfit and the same huge smile as on the dance floor, Pitchon pulled out his digital camera to show me all the pictures and video recordings he had taken over the years of himself dancing with professional salsa dancers.

He energetically shared his experiences with me.

The meat cutter turned dancer

Pitchon was born in Greece and grew up in Israel. He immigrated to Canada in 1980. His daughter, Einat Hashman, was already living in Calgary when he came with his wife and son.

“I adapted to the culture right away, my English wasn’t so good…even now, but I managed (to survive),” says Pitchon.

Pitchon worked as a meat cutter, and was married for 50 years to his wife Ora until she died in 2003.

He told himself, “If I was living one month after that I will be very blessed.”

“I can’t wait for a minute to leave the house and go dancing,” Pitchon says.

Jacob Pitchon, salsa dancer

He says he felt very vulnerable without his wife.

A year after she passed away, he understood that “everything comes from God and we don’t have any control and everyone will have his day and I lost her earlier and I will live for 10 years more until today.”

“I loved my wife dearly and all the girls that I am dancing with I tell them that ‘I can hug you, I can kiss you on the cheek,’ but I have good intentions because I was with my wife, I am with my wife and I will be with my wife until I die and they know that.”

Pitchon considers himself a family man. He has three children and six grandchildren who he says he loves with all his heart.

Dancing means everything

Pitchon’s daughter, Einat taught him how to dance salsa in a very short time.

Einat jokes that he was a “very stubborn student.”

“I never learned Latin dance before,” says Pitchon. “[But] I learned how to dance salsa in 15 minutes.”

Sarah Bernamoff, Pitchon’s granddaughter says they grew up with music and dancing.

Sarah says, “My mom taught saba (grandpa in Hebrew) the steps and he has always been musical, having natural rhythm and movement of the body.”

“Saba is the king of salsa here in Calgary,” says granddaughter Mayah Bernamoff. “He is truly an inspiration for all of us and this has given him so much vida (life), spirit and energy and something to look forward to.”

“I get so much comfort knowing that he has an extended family in the salsa community,” Mayah says.Jacob Pitchon dancing with his wife Ora.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Bernamoff

Pitchon’s age is not an impediment, “he sees himself as young,” Mayah and Sarah say.

“Age maybe gives you more life experience, but other than that why does a number define how you should act and what you should do?” Sarah says.

Dancing has changed Pitchon’s life for the better.

Dancing is an activity that makes him feel alive and full of joy.

“I can’t wait for a minute to leave the house and go dancing,” Pitchon says. “I can dance all the dances to any music because I have a good ear – I can hear the rhythm and I can follow.”

Pitchon appreciates his friend Charles Ford, who taught him how to use the computer and understand Facebook. Facebook lets Pitchon stay up-to-date with all the social dances around Calgary.

Cookies, chocolate and dancing

Pitchon brings cookies and chocolate to share with everyone to every social dance he goes to. It has become a tradition for the people that know him.

“Everyone knows where I come to dance [and] they asked me, ‘where are the cookies and the chocolate?’” he joked.

He says he loves sweets and those treats are a source of energy for him as he spends hours on the dance floor without rest.

“In my lexicon, tired while dancing doesn’t exist and Michelle you know that,” says Pitchon.

Pitchon ended the interview by saying a few words in Hebrew. Those translated into English as, “if you are healthy and happy in life you can reach to everything.” He has certainly achieved happiness and health in life – just look for the passionate 80-year-old man having a good time on the dance floor.

mthomas@cjournal.ca