Sense of Duty: Immigration attorney had knack for helping


 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
While slight of build, attorney Bill Dance possessed a certain stature in his professional and personal life that was undeniably impressive.

His passion for the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of immigration law may have been a byproduct of his youth in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was a standout hockey and lacrosse player, two sports generally in which only the strong survive. He later would become an all-conference hockey player at the University of Michigan, where he earned his law degree in 1949.

“Bill had a lifelong love of hockey and used to joke that football was a sissy game compared to hockey,” said G. Wellington Smith, an immigration law attorney in Austin, Texas and a longtime legal admirer of Dance. “It’s probably why he was drawn to the practice of immigration law. He wasn’t one to shy away from a battle, especially when it was a matter he truly believed in.”

It would be a character trait that came to define his life, which ended January 15 at age 92 following months of declining health after Dance suffered a broken neck in a 2012 fall at his home in Grosse Pointe.

A memorial service was held Thursday, Jan. 23 at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. It was a time when family and friends remembered a man “who made a difference” in many walks of life, according to his son, William Dance, a products liability attorney in Cleveland.

“He was attracted to immigration law because it afforded him the opportunity to work with people who had a definite and specific need,” his son said. “There was something tangible about the practice that really appealed to him, especially knowing that he was representing a client for the right reasons.”

A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Dance served as a lieutenant on the USS Siboney, an escort carrier, during the final stages of the war in the Pacific theater. The ship spent time in Tokyo just weeks after the war ended, “and his observation of the destruction there influenced his pacifist and internationalist beliefs,” according to his three children, Bill, Betsy, and Ted.

Some five years after the war, Dance was married to Elizabeth Ellen Cadwell of Grosse Pointe. The wedding took place on his birthday (October 21) in 1950, and was the start of a treasured marriage that ended in 1993 when his beloved wife died.

The early stages of their marriage were spent in New York where Dance practiced in the field of intellectual property law. After a stay in Paris, the couple returned to the U.S. and settled in Grosse Pointe where they began raising their family. It was then that he began a general law practice, focusing on international and admiralty law. He represented the French government for many years, founding the Alliance Francaise of Detroit, later receiving the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France for his distinguished service.  

In the 1970s, he “blossomed as an immigration and naturalization lawyer,” according to his children, and founded the Detroit chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, serving as its president and as a board member of the national organization. His expertise in the field led him to teach immigration law for many years at Wayne State University Law School and the former Detroit College of Law.

“Bill was a much sought-after speaker at conferences on immigration law,” said attorney Smith. “He wrote many treatises on the subject and was a mentor to many immigration law attorneys. He was a tremendous credit to the profession.”

An avid writer, Dance was a popular columnist for The Detroit Legal News for many years, regularly contributing his views on sometimes controversial subjects in immigration law. 

“He could be fiery at times,” said his daughter, Betsy. “He wasn’t afraid to stir the pot.”

Dance actually began his career as a part-time columnist while an undergraduate at the U-M, writing opinion pieces that were published in The Ann Arbor News, said his son, Bill. His love for writing would be a lifelong passion, as was his willingness to help others, according to his children.

“He particularly loved representing pro bono clients seeking political asylum,” they said. “He received many awards and honors for his work in immigration law.”

A longtime trustee of the William L. Clements Library of American History and Culture at the University of Michigan, Dance was a humanitarian as well, regularly traveling with his wife to the impoverished country of Haiti to lend a helping hand.

“He was an enthusiastic champion of the Haitian people throughout their ordeals,” his children said.

Memorial contributions may be made to Sigma Gamma Foundation, P.O. Box 36373, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236. Funeral arrangement were handled by the Verheyden Funeral Home in Grosse Pointe Park, where memories can be shared at