As we walked through the door my heart raced and my hands were sweaty. I entered a place that was strange, different, and uncomfortable. It was filled with people who I didn’t understand and a task that was daunting and scary. I had vowed at one point in my life that I would never step foot in this place. I had prior opportunities, but I always preferred to stay as far away as possible. This horrible place…….a ballroom dance studio. I had no rhythm, no soul, and absolutely no dance moves. I was not a dancer. My dance career to that point consisted of the worm, the moonwalk, a little break-dancing, and crazy mosh pits. So why, you might ask, was I walking into a professional dance studio? The answer is simple. A great cause.
Erica and I agreed to dance in the Special Olympic ballroom dance competition. We were given this opportunity by the great people of Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana. Easter Seals ARC has been providing services to adults and children with disabilities and special needs for more than 50 years. They provide support to families, find solutions to problems, and ultimately change lives. The recreational services offered give individuals of all abilities the opportunity to participate in and enjoy social, leisure activities. These events bring new challenges, social interaction, and a little friendly competition. Ballroom dance is one of the activities offered. In 2008, The Special Olympics of Indiana added ballroom dancing as an official event which gives those with disabilities the opportunity to compete at a high level. The opportunity to dance presented itself and I was hesitant. Like I mentioned before, I was not a dancer. However, this was another opportunity for me to step outside of my comfort zone. I preach the need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and this was a great chance for me to walk the talk. It was also a volunteer experience I knew that Erica would enjoy. She had asked me many times in previous years to take dance classes with her and I refused. I wanted to participate with her so we could enjoy it together.
Now, back to that first practice. I am not joking about being nervous. Most of the volunteers dancing were enrolled in the dance studio and knew what they were doing. Erica and I…not so much. We were introduced to our dance partners and class began. Somehow I survived that first class without destroying someone’s toes, falling down, or crying. The crazy thing is that I actually enjoyed it. It was fun. Thanks to the Olympians and the instructors it wasn’t so scary. For 9 weeks, we practiced every Wednesday for forty-five minutes. Each week brought new dance steps, new relationships, and new experiences. After practices, Erica and I would talk about the Olympian’s enthusiasm for dance, the competition, and life. We always marveled at the smiles we saw when new dances were learned and praise was given. They are images that will not be forgetten. We learned five ballroom dances during our training. The Waltz and Foxtrot made up the American Smooth category. The Cha Cha, Rumba, and Swing were dances in the American Rhythm group. At times we were confused, disoriented, and uncomfortable with the steps. Other times we questioned if we were ready for the competition. We wanted to do well for our partners. We wanted to do well for ourselves.
The day of the competition it all became real. I was actually going to get on a dance floor, in front of a crowd, and dance. I tweeted that morning on Twitter that I was “stepping outside my comfort zone today.” One of my friends responded “are you cross-dressing again?” For those that do not know, I wore a dress in a fashion show to raise money for a great organization in week 20 of year one. I think that was the ultimate uncomfortable moment so dancing should be a breeze. Seeing the excitement on the faces of our partners made it all worth it. Regardless of how we performed, we knew that it was going to be a great day. The event opened with an opening ceremony and the parade of athletes. As a lifelong athlete the Olympic theme song gave me chills as we marched through the ceremony. It again reminded me of what our partners, all of the athletes, had achieved over the last few months. They were champions before anyone stepped on the dance floor. Erica and her partner Jim competed in the Bronze Senior division and did extremely well in all five dances. Kolleen was a first-time dancer so we competed in the Newcomer group. She was amazing. Neither one of us completed every step to perfection, but we had a great time performing. Every Olympian received a ribbon for participation and each time was a memorable moment. The ribbon represented accomplishment, courage, skill, and joy. The day ended with the closing ceremony, the distinguishing of the Olympic flame, and the smiling faces of all in attendance.
I struggle to write words that can describe this experience. The feelings and the emotions are hard to put on paper. I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in this event. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and encountered something completely new. I would have missed out on a life-changing experience if I wouldn’t have embraced the uncomfortable. How many of these moments have I missed out on over the years because fear, perceptions, and misunderstandings have kept me on the sideline? I am sure many, probably too many to count. The world truly is beautiful if you choose to look around. We just need to make the choice. You can learn more about the great services Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana provides to those with the need in our community by visiting www.neindiana.easterseals.com. There are many ways to get involved. Take action. Maybe learn to dance. You just might realize that dancing can be a special experience.