The Dresser

With his snappy threads, fancy footwork and sordid past, Vance Thompson has cut a swath through St. Louis

"Years later, I think about it," says Valvero. "'Wow, wasn't that silly!' Sometimes men can be hardheads, and maybe Vance is a little more hardheaded than usual. It took him about two years to get over it. But that's over and done now. I see him at Tully's on Tuesdays. We still dance socially."


Vance Thompson puts the final touches on the carved parrot, filling in the gaps of his checkered history as he works. "I had prostate cancer three years ago," he blurts. "They found it on a digital exam. I was in for a physical, and some nurse had her finger up my butt when she said, 'Mr. Thompson, you have a knot on your prostate.' Then the urologist, Dr. Arnold Bullock, comes in. Now he's got his finger up my butt, saying, 'Boy, you do have a knot there.' They do a biopsy. Two weeks, I had cancer. I was kind of pissed off for a month or so. I was one of those people that said, 'Why me?' Here I'd been living pretty good, gave up cigarettes. I was exercising, trying to live right -- I get cancer! Where the fuck did that come from?"

Jennifer Silverberg
Vance Thompson has taught dance for 45 years. Says one partner, "Wonderful timing, wonderful lead, but he doesn't like to be restricted to a routine."
Jennifer Silverberg
Vance Thompson has taught dance for 45 years. Says one partner, "Wonderful timing, wonderful lead, but he doesn't like to be restricted to a routine."

Cancer humbled him. "It really did give me some thought," Thompson says. "'What if I can't get it up anymore?' I was only 59 years old, and I hated to think that I'd have to do without sex except with a pumper or something." He lowers the front of his sweatpants to show a 2-inch scar running down from his navel. Then, as if to deflect any expression of pity, he adds, "Yeah, they cut it out of me, but they did the nerve-sparing operation. I beat the odds. I've still got the feeling and the urge."

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