Born in 1925, Ernie Spence grew up in Milton, MA. After graduating from Milton High School, he enlisted in the US Navy AirCorp where he served from 1943 to 1946 as an Aviation Ordinanceman Second Class. He attended Boston University, graduating in 1950 with a BS in Education and in 1951 with an M.Ed. While at school, he met Joan Harlan and they were married in 1952. In 1954, they moved to Reading, MA where three years earlier Ernie had begun his 35-year career in the Reading School system, teaching science at Parker Junior High. In 1957, he became the first principal of the newly opened Birch Meadow Elementary School, and in 1960 he became an assistant principal at Reading Memorial High School, where he remained until his retirement in 1986.
From the time he met Duke Miller in the late 1940s at Sargent Camp in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire, Ernie became a fixture on dance floors all over New England. He and Joan made regular trips from the Boston area on weekends to dance to Duke’s calling in Fitzwilliam, NH. Many dancers, callers, and musicians credit Ernie with introducing them to contra dancing.
In his later years, Parkinson’s disease forced Ernie to cut back his dancing to just one or two nights a week. Even though his mobility then limited him to a much smaller space on the dance floor, Ernie was still among the best dancers to be found, never at a loss for a partner. David Millstone, a caller and dance historian, said of Ernie: “I loved watching his graceful carriage, his exquisite timing, the attentive smile bestowed on his partners, and the omnipresent twinkle in his eye.” Ernie died aged 85 in March 2011.
Ernie Spence was a former NEFFA board member and founding member of the Thursday Night Dance Committee. He was also an avid photographer and took hundreds of images of dances over the years. His collection, which includes 1000 slides, 80 prints, 70 film, video and audio recordings, and a few posters and dance periodicals, was donated to the University of New Hampshire in 2011.