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Hiram S. ‘Steve’ Dance, celebrated Towson auctioneer who could sell anything, dies

Hiram S. "Steve" Dance was a collector and rider of BMW motorcycles.
Hiram S. "Steve" Dance was a collector and rider of BMW motorcycles. (handout)

Hiram S. “Steve” Dance, the celebrated Towson auctioneer who sold everything from pots and pans to multimillion-dollar mansions and was an avid collector of BMW motorcycles, died May 25 of a heart attack at his home in Jarrettsville. He was 78.

“Steve could pry your fingers off because he knew the value of things and he knew people,” said Josh Pons, noted Maryland horseman and co-owner with his brother, Mike, of Country Life Farm in Bel Air and Merryland Farm in Hydes. “He was just a naturally good auctioneer who had a big heart and would help anybody. He never took advantage of people.”

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Rick Opfer, owner of Richard Opfer Auctioneering in Timonium, began working with Mr. Dance more than 50 years ago.

“He was influential when it came to my training,” he said. “He was very mechanical when it came to selling and he was very diverse, plus he knew a lot of people and that was important. He was both a good people person and businessman.”

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Hiram Stephens Dance, son of Shearman Scott Dance, a farm manager, and his wife, Helen Brown Dance, a registered nurse, was born in Baltimore and spent his early years in Glen Arm.

In 1952, he moved with his family to Kent Island, where they lived for four years before settling in Owings Mills. In 1960, his family moved again to a home in Lutherville.

After graduating from Towson High School, Mr. Dance, who was known as Steve, attended and graduated from the Reppert Auction School in Auburn, Indiana. He also attended the Certified Auctioneers Institute at Indiana University, from which he obtained the Certified Auctioneers Institute designation.

In addition to owning and operating the Milton J. Dance Auction Co., founded by his grandfather, Milton J. Dance, in 1912, Mr. Dance began working as a young man as a spotter for Fasig-Tipton Co. Inc. in Timonium, which deals in thoroughbred and Standardbred horses, and later became an auctioneer there.

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Family members said Mr. Dance did not miss a single Fasig-Tipton auction in a career that spanned more than 50 years.

“We bought a lot of horses that he brought the hammer down on at Fasig-Tipton,” Mr. Pons recalled. “Because he had started working there as a teenager, he knew the horsemen personally and their needs.”

Mr. Pons praised Mr. Dance’s enthusiasm in auctioneering. “He worked just as hard to sell a $2,000 horse as well as a $200,000 one,” he said.

When William M. Rickman Sr., a wealthy Montgomery County developer and co-owner with his son of Delaware Park racetrack, put Merryland Farm up for auction in August 2001, Mr. Dance conducted the sale.

“Mr. Rickman insisted that the new gates he had installed were not part of the sale. It was Steve who stepped in. He knew we couldn’t have a horse farm without gates, and he knew how to handle Rickman, who could be difficult,” said Mr. Pons, who with his family successfully acquired the 159-acre farm, founded by noted horseman Danny Shea in 1939.

“It’s just a treasure,” said Mr. Pons of the Long Green Valley farm, which is home to mares, foals and yearlings.

While at the helm of Milton J. Dance Auction Co., which now trades as Steve Dance Auctions, Mr. Dance presided over auctions as diverse as pots and pans to livestock and antiques, art, multimillion-dollar mansions and commercial real estate.

Andy Cashman, who as a kid began working for Mr. Dance, is now general manager of the Maryland State Fair.

“I was 9 years old and he had me carrying boxes and setting up sales. I went to auction school because of Steve,” Mr. Cashman said.

“I learned a lot from him, and I think he was one of the best auctioneers in Baltimore County. Steve could really sell, whether it was real estate, farms, livestock, motorcycles or houses. He’d sell everything from the washer-dryer in a house to the trash cans in the garage. He was also well regarded in legal circles, where he handled foreclosures, appraisals, estates and property sales.”

Spencer Davis is another who fell under Mr. Dance’s spell as a teenager.

“I started working for him in 2008, and he taught me the business,” said Mr. Davis, who with Mr. Dance’s support established Davis & McKee, a Towson auctioneering firm.

“Steve brought history, knowledge and plenty of stories, all of which he tried to instill in me,” Mr. Davis said. “He was never selfish with his knowledge and was a commanding presence when conducting an auction. He never used a microphone and he could talk in a normal tone and everyone could hear him. It was a gift.”

One of the auctions the two men worked on was the selling of the chattels of Oden Bowie, governor of Maryland from 1869 to 1872, who resided at Fairview Plantation in Prince George’s County.

The governor, who was a noted horseman, had been president of the Maryland Jockey Club and was the prime mover behind the building of Pimlico Race Course and what became known as the Preakness Stakes.

“Bowie’s desk alone brought $50,000,” said Mr. Davis, who added that the former governor’s home is now “surrounded by McMansions.”

Mr. Dance also traveled throughout the country selling and bid-spotting motorcycles while indulging his passion for collecting BMW motorcycles, of which his knowledge was encyclopedic. At one time he owned more than 20 of them, which he enjoyed riding all over North America.

In 1969, he was the founding member and president of the Baltimore County Trail Riders Association and was a life member of the American Motorcyclist Association and the Potomac Vintage Riders.

“He could fit in with motorcycle riders or multimillionaire horsemen in Baltimore County,” Mr. Davis said. “It was him.”

A celebration-of-life gathering will be held at 1 p.m. June 16 in the sale pavilion at Fasig-Tipton on the grounds of the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Those planning to attend must enter through the south gate on York Road near the intersection of Timonium Road.

Mr. Dance is survived by his wife of 10 years, the former Nancy Crist, a retired postal worker; a son, Lee Hopkins Dance of Waco, Texas; two daughters, Whitney Blake Dudley of Towson and Erica Stephens Dance of Reisterstown; a stepdaughter, Layne Hockaday of Baltimore; three brothers, Anderson Weller Dance of Chase, Shearman Scott Dance Jr. of Las Vegas, and Thomas Milton Dance of Corpus Christi, Texas; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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