Sometimes, when Jean Woodruff hears the Big Band music that has been the soundtrack of her life, she remembers when she learned to dance. She remembers falling in love at age 22 with her sharp-dressed dance instructor at the Arthur Miller dance studio on Salt Lake City’s State Street.

In 1947, those classes felt like freedom for the young nursing student, fresh from Ohio, where she had been raised in a Protestant family that frowned on dancing. As a Protestant, she could drink coffee, she jokes. After she moved to a Mormon city to attend a Catholic nursing school, she could dance.

In 1948, Jean married that dance partner, who famously loved wingtip shoes. And throughout their 62-year-marriage, Jean and Bill Woodruff went ballroom dancing whenever they got the chance.

They raised four great kids and worked day jobs, he as a chemical engineer, she as a hospital nurse. But on evenings and weekends, they danced, teaching the waltz and samba at the studio in their Holladay home.

She has memories of years and years of dancing and teaching all over the state, at the Hotel Utah, at Lagoon and on the famous dance floor out at Saltair. “We just went everywhere,” Woodruff says. “We were awfully busy people. We had an exciting life. And when things weren’t going quite so well at home, you dress up and you dance your feet off, and you solve a lot of problems.”

But the music stopped for Jean when her husband and dance partner suffered a stroke, and then 12 years later, in 2011, he died.

A couple of years ago, it was a whim that brought her to Ballroom Utah, Martin Skupinski’s Main Street dance studio, thanks to an invitation from her daughter’s friend.

Woodruff was planning to watch. She didn’t have a partner, and she’d had her toes stepped on too many times dancing with beginners over the years. But the music changed her mind. “It does wonderful things for me,” she says.

With a dear friend, Molly Kimball, another retired nurse, Woodruff began taking weekly dance lessons and dancing her feet off at the studio’s Friday night socials. On May 5, she’ll don her new lime green sparkling formal to celebrate her 93rd birthday at the studio’s Great Gatsby party.

About three years ago, she and Skupinski began entering competitions and winning medals. Her vigor, and her core strength, impresses just about everyone. Last year on a weekend road trip to a Colorado competition, she competed in 16 dances. That’s a schedule that might tire out 18-year-olds, says Skupinski, who is himself approaching a milestone 50th birthday.

Woodruff’s beautiful posture, elastic movements and liquid elegance set her dancing apart, Skupinski says. At the studio’s weekly social dance night, she outdances just about everyone, dancing to 50 numbers over two hours in a variety of styles. “She is probably the most fun person to dance with, because she follows,” the instructor says.

The way she moves on the dance floor, Woodruff simply doesn’t look a day over 70, friends and family say — and they’re joking, but not really. “Everything you watch on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ she can do better,” Skupinski says.

Dancing and competitions bring back scores of memories for Woodruff. Through the years, she and her husband taught dance to just about everybody in Utah, it seems, from teens at church in their neighborhood to kids who came from around the world to Salt Lake City to perform at dance festivals that filled the University of Utah’s football stadium.

“We taught a lot of people,” is how Jean understates it, as the couple served for three decades in various dance callings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including on the General Board Dance Committee.

Their soundtrack played on the family’s fabulous jukebox, as Bill’s record collection was packed with ballroom and Latin dance records. “Somewhere My Love” was one of her parents’ favorites, says daughter Sally Ostler.

In the 1970s, when Donny and Marie Osmond were popular, the Woodruffs hoped their children would become ballroom dance kids, but that didn’t happen. Ostler was more interested in disco music and tap and jazz dance; her parents’ Viennese waltz steps seemed old-fashioned.

More than dance steps, Ostler came to realize years later, her parents were teaching people to feel good.

Woodruff says she’s grateful for the genes that have helped her feel good, although she has worked hard to stay active. She retired from hospital nursing at 62, and again from her part-time job as a nurse at a doctor’s office at age 84.

She wishes insurance wellness programs recognized what good exercise ballroom dance can be, she says, admitting, modestly, she doesn’t know anyone her own age who dances at her level. “I’m grateful every day I can get out of the house,” she says, to do her own yardwork or to drive her friends to doctor appointments or to continue reading the books she loves.

And then there’s dance. Sometimes Woodruff worries she’s losing the strength in her legs, but then “I get on the dance floor and hear that music, and I can do anything.”

Ballroom Utah Dance Studio

3030 S. Main St., Suites 200 and 300, South Salt Lake