In 1929, young John Stanzel began tap lessons in Carleton Place after he learned to jig from his father Fred. Stanzel was born in our fair town on May 1, 1923. Despite taunts from the neighbourhood kids, who called him Shirley Temple, he paid for his lessons delivering newspapers. His father was also a caller for square dancing at functions such as our local fireman’s ball. His Dad worked at odd jobs, and his mother, Elizabeth, ran a fast-food counter. John’s brother, and one of his sisters, died when they were teenagers, and both his parents had passed away by the time he was 18 years old.
When John was 7 his father sent him for tap dance lessons with Eileen Snowdon. Lessons were 25 cents and when he had the money he would get his lessons, and when he didn’t, he still got them. There wasn’t much you could do as a tap dancer in Carleton Place, so he made his move to Ottawa.
When he lived in Ottawa he worked as a civil servant and later he gave tap lessons in his spare time. John also began a small tap dance studio and did character roles with Nesta Toumine’s Classical Ballet Company. He appeared and assisted in the 1968 production of Maggie Flynn on Broadway starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy. The Carleton Place native taught tap dancing at Les Ballet Jazz to classes of over 250 people. Monique Leyrac, the famous actress and singer from Quebec was a special student of his. In 1978 he toured Europe with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.
The dancer, choreographer and teacher was a founding member of what is now Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal and worked extensively with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Despite his longstanding connection as a character dancer with ballet and jazz companies, he considered himself to be first and foremost a tap dancer.
“He was a consummate actor/dancer,” longtime friend Brydon Paige said, “closer in style to the elegance of Fred Astaire than to the athletic style of Gene Kelly.”
(John-gray beard and hair next to girl with white socks)
He attributed his huge success to watching Fred Astaire movies on the family couch in Carleton Place. “I could have watched movies all day long”, he said. When Stanzel suffered a stroke in 1983, his friends looked after him and bought a house in Carlton Place so that he could recuperate in his hometown.
He died in 2003 at the age of 80. Someone who has been long overlooked from the town of Carleton Place.