They are, with little debate, the coolest couple on the dance floor.
That’s certainly true of RiverEdge Park in Aurora, where for years Dennis and Millie Shea have been entertaining concertgoers as much as the music itself.
As one spectator told them, “We came to hear the band. But we could not take our eyes off you.”
Which is “always the case,” says Paramont Vice President Jim Jarvis, who has become familiar with the couple over the years they have been coming to concerts at Aurora’s music pavilion.
“They are so engaged with each other. It is obvious they enjoy each other’s company, the crowd and the music,” Jarvis adds. “When I see them out there, I know all’s right with the world.”
That’s because the Channahon couple cut quite a figure as they cut the rug.
Denny, decked out in chains and bracelets and sporting a Bailey of Hollywood black straw fedora, has all the moves of a dancer a couple generations younger, as does wife Millie, who sports about a dozen tats and prefers a more casual Stevie Nicks look, with scarves and short punk hair.
“I like to mix it up,” she says, noting tomorrow her hairdresser will “shave me down to nothing, leaving a little on top with a couple of sprigs of hair over my eyes.”
Seriously, can you get any cooler than that?
The fact both are nearing age 80 – he is 78, she a year younger – only adds to what Jarvis describes as the couple’s “It factor.”
That might be a cooler term than “cool,” which some would say is as dated as the ‘61 Grand Prix convertible owned by Denny’s friend that first brought Millie and Denny together in a Joliet neighborhood back in the summer of ‘62.
Millie was born in England to parents who met on a ballroom dance floor during World War II, and whose G.I. dad eventually moved the family to his home state of Texas before winding up in Joliet after their car broke down on an intended move to New York City.
It was no conventional childhood, but “we were raised with music,” she recalls of her mom teaching her at a young age to foxtrot and tango, and of neighborhood kids who “grew up literally dancing in the streets.”
Denny was a dark-haired psychology major who likewise came from a musical family – his sister toured worldwide with Bob Dylan as a violinist – and who became the drummer for a popular local band called the Velveteens.
They married in 1968 and have been dancing through life ever since.
The couple tell me they go to enjoy live bands every weekend, including festivals in a five-state area, as well as indoor and outdoor music venues like Two Brothers Roundhouse or the Venue in Aurora and Pollyanna Brewing Company in St. Charles.
In 2016, the Sheas attended 224 live shows, “with “95% the same high quality as RiverEdge,” says Denny.
The couple’s history with Aurora goes back to when Blues on the Fox was held in the casino parking lot, he adds. And once RiverEdge opened in 2012, he and his wife became the park’s biggest fans, attending nearly every show, including most recently the concert by the Bee Gees tribute band Stayin’ Alive that drew a crowd of 4,223.
Many of those eyes were on Denny and Millie.
“You see the crowd looking at them … they love them,” says Jarvis. “And why not. They look cool, they act cool, so they must be cool.”
The Sheas enjoy all kinds of music – jazz, the blues, hip hop, classical, opera, old school country, bluegrass or “any music that is expertly played and executed in an ensemble group,” notes Denny.
And, while they certainly appreciate traditional dances, they prefer their own style, which depends on “how the music moves us,” explains Millie. “We dance with our soul.”
Denny, who describes their movements as “romantic, sometimes a little sensual … but never dirty,” insists it’s “all about listening to the drummer. And if he stays in the pocket of the beat, we let the emotion of the song direct us.”
That way, he adds, “we don’t have to think about it. We let our bodies move to the rhythm of the song.”
Which has to be second nature. And physical, especially for great-grandparents nearing the octogenarian mark.
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Denny, after a long career teaching social studies in Romeoville/Bolingbrook, now works in a gym as a fitness instructor for post-rehab patients.
Millie, a former dental assistant and stay-at-home mom to their two children, now ages 54 and 44, keeps in shape doing housework, tending the couple’s huge garden and getting rid of rocks on their large property.
“If I find a boulder, I figure out a way to get it out,” she says. “If it’s too big, I roll it. Otherwise I will try to carry it.”
The couple credit exercise and a healthy diet with their good health, but also realize it all comes down to the ability and desire to “keep moving” because that’s what the body was made to do.
“I’m going to rock until I drop,” declares Millie, who is convinced age has only made them better dancers over the decades.
“We do have to pace ourselves,” adds her husband. “But we have great endurance … we just keep going.”