Correction: In a previous version of this article, it stated that Bill Ament began the Creative Summer Camp for children which celebrated Native Americans, however, the camp was actually started by Bill and Rita Ament, together.
The sound of his laughter is etched forever in the memory of those who knew longtime islander Bill Ament, and the impact he had through dance for children locally and around the world will not be forgotten.
“My dad was a magical person – always making jokes, and keeping things light, a man who touched many lives,” wrote his daughter, Vanessa Ament, adding that as a child, she wanted to be funny just like her father.
Bill passed away on April 23, but his legacy of love, laughter and compassion will continue on through the islanders whose lives he touched. A “Celebration of Bill’s Beautiful Life” will be held on Saturday, June 16, 2 p.m., at the San Juan Community Theatre.
“Bill lit up any room he entered. He radiated joy, love and happiness,” said Jennifer Horn, whose two daughters took part in the Dance Happy classes, which he taught with his wife Rita.
Bill and Rita were inseparable from the moment they met.
“He is half my soul,” she said. “He was a precious and unique man.”
The two lived in San Francisco when they first set eyes on each other. Bill was already an avid dancer and teacher.
“I was at a party. Bill was dancing on stage and that was it,” Rita said. “I had never seen anyone dance as well, or move their body the way he did.”
She explained that as a child she believed in magic, which was another reason she was drawn to Bill.
“He believed in magic too,” Rita said, explaining that together, she and Bill completed each other, and created an enchanted world, which spread to those around them.
Together the couple embarked on an ambitious mission to bring joy to everyone they encountered.
“People fell in love during our ballroom classes,” Rita said, adding that couples who had taken classes due to bumps in their marriages often found the spark of love rekindled.
The couple then moved to Friday Harbor where for over 30 years they have been teaching a wide variety of dance, including tap, salsa, merengue, foxtrot, cha-cha, jazz and hip-hop to children, teens, adults and seniors.
“There really was no opportunity for children to learn dance when we first moved here,” Rita said, explaining why the two of them began their summer camp, Dance Happy, so many years ago.
Bill was a master teacher with the ability to transfer his knowledge with laughter and joy. Children learned the beauty of music, as a result of their Dance Happy classes, and other workshops, and frequently would become dancers later in life.
“Bill’s positive energy was contagious. My children were so blessed to Dance Happy with him,” Horn said, adding that her 11-year-old daughter Lila told her Bill was always willing to lend a helping hand. Horn added that Bill offered support for parents as well. Each week, Horn explained, he would call her Jen-Jen endearingly, and encourage her to let go of whatever nonsense might be bothering her, give her a knowing look and tell her she looked fabulous. He also never failed to compliment her shoes.
“No one ever left him without smiling and laughing out loud,” Horn said.
Bill and Rita also began the Creative Summer Camp for children which celebrated Native Americans. Participants were taught re-enactment and storytelling among other art forms, Rita said.
Rita expressed gratitude for the support the community has given her, through their words, showing up at the benefit for Bill, in March, which raised funds to help cover his medical costs, and for the generous donations given at that fundraiser, as well as through the GoFundMe site set up by Horn.
“This amazingly beautiful community has been so supportive, and has carried me during this time,” Rita said.