Philosophy, flyin’ and the tango

Admit it. We all picture our teachers spending their weekends grading our papers and coming up with next week’s grueling assignments. But from flying high to cheek-to-cheek soul-soothing dancing, philosophy professor Robert Johnson’s weekend life may be just as exciting and crazy as ours!

“If you look at how much you spent on renting, you can probably buy one,” a close friend of Johnson’s told him years ago. 

It was those words that encouraged and aided Johnson in the final decision to buy a Piper Cherokee airplane 10 years ago, which he still continues to fly several times a month.

            When it comes to flying his plane, Johnson practices regularly and takes pride in the skills and techniques he has learned.

            He also remembers one interaction with an instructor particularly well.

             “He looked at my log book to see how many hours I had flown, and I was pretty new at the time so it was only a couple hundred hours or something.  But he said ‘Oh 150 hours that means a lot of decisions.’ And I thought, that’s a really interesting way to look at what flying time is. It’s time making decisions because whenever you’re up in the air you’re constantly making decisions. You’re not just fiddling around,” Johnson said with a serious look on his face.

            Looking back, Johnson also remembers how what was supposed to be a relaxing trip with his wife ended up pretty harrowing due to bad weather.

            “We got into a really bad storm and we ended up having to call air traffic control and had to ask where the nearest airport was. We were flying through the clouds getting bumped around,” he said.

            After flying around in a sea of clouds they finally came close to a landing sport.

             “I was just so impressed. Here we are going through the clouds and they are getting thinner and thinner as we were descending. And we were hoping we would see ground soon, and there it was just growing. The trip was supposed to take us 5 ½ hours, but it ended up taking three days and 10 hours. It took only five hours to get back,” said Johnson.

            Philosophy colleague Brendan Lalor and his two kids have flown with Johnson and got a special treat.

            “Bob lets you steer! He will take his hands off and say ‘give it a try you won’t crash,'” Lalor said.

            With the fuel prices on a constant climb, flying is not a cheap interest, he said. He has flown to Keene, N.H., Bar Harbor, Maine and Burlington and in general, often finds himself headed toward the coast at about 5,000 feet. .

             “Reality is you can only go to an airport,” Johnson said

            Once he lands at his final destination, he could either rent a car or walk.

            But when he isn’t flying, few probably realize that Johnson often can be found elegantly swaying and twirling his partner around while dancing the Argentine tango. Learning to dance six years ago “satisfies his desire,” he said.  Johnson said the tango is a smooth social dance that he can improvise and change with each partner and song. You can find Johnson and his partner, Beth, in Rutland on Friday nights when they are teaching a group called Rutland Tango.

            “Periodically we would fly down to Keene because there is a really good teacher down there, a friend of ours who teaches tango. We would land at the airport and then do a lesson there in the lobby. And people would gather to watch us. The people that managed the airport were really happy about that,” said Johnson.

            Although dancing in lessons can be fun, the decorum at a dance hall, known as a milonga, is something completely different.

            “There is certain etiquette there … That if you come with a partner and you sit together, then you will dance together. If you want to dance with other people, then you will sit at a separate table rather than with your partner. Then what you do is look around the room and you look for people who you might like to dance with. And if you catch their eye, you go like that,” Johnson said jerking his head in the direction of an imaginary dance floor. “Then the two of you get up and meet up out on the dance floor.”

            When Johnson first began dancing outside of classes, he was not eager and quite ready for what was in store for him.

            “I was looking around and I notice this women just staring at me and I thought ‘Oh my God, I think this is that thing they are talking about. I was really embarrassed; I didn’t know what to do. I just wasn’t ready. So I just got up and left. I felt horrible. I knew how it worked, but I just wasn’t ready to get out there and do it,” said Johnson.

            Little did he know, he would spot the same women staring at him the next night in another club. This time he was able to muster up the courage to dance with her.

            Although he has been doing these activities for years now, it sometimes difficult for people to picture him dancing and flying.

“It was a surprise to me! I think it’s awesome that he does it. You would never know, but I can see him doing that,” said student Erica Bilodeau




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