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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette Olympia Harris, left, and Hannah Macavage dance Saturday at the Special Ballroom Dance Competition in the Walb Classic Ballroom at Purdue Fort Wayne.

  • Rachel Von Stroup | The Journal Gazette Sean Gehlhausen spins Amanda Fox during their dance at the Fort Wayne Dancesport Special Ballroom Dance Competition in the Walb Classic Ballroom at the Purdue Fort Wayne campus on Saturday.

  • Michael Paff and Sheree Blasius dance during Saturday’s Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana ballroom competition.

Sunday, August 11, 2019 1:00 am

Swinging good time at USA Dance/Fort Wayne Dancesport contest

Dancing competition draws 70 to PFW

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Zena Kaley wore a short gown of red glitter and bronze ballroom slippers as she sat outside the ballroom at Purdue University's Walb Student Union waiting to compete. 

Kaley and more than 20 other dancers representing Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana at the Special Ballroom Dance Competition on Saturday were vying for medals, and she'd already won a couple.

It was her mom, Mary Colley, who suggested she try ballroom dancing lessons offered every Wednesday by Easter Seals Arc.

“Sometimes I'm lazy,” said Kaley as she waited for the rumba competition to start, “and I don't want to do nothing.” 

The idea for a special needs ballroom competition originated with Stephen L. Hinkle, former CEO of Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana, who's been dancing since he took up swing dance at age 5. 

Now he's one of about 40 “unified” dancers who partner on a volunteer basis with the special needs dancers as they show off their waltz, foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha and swing. The competition was sponsored by USA Dance/Fort Wayne Dancesport. 

The Easter Seals students, who take dance instruction from Patric Didier, owner and manager of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Fort Wayne, learn so much more than dance, their mentors said. 

“Exercise, enjoyment and get-togethers,” said Hinkle, and the benefit goes both ways. 

“All of the unified dancers never knew a person with a disability,” Hinkle said, adding that this special ballroom competition held for more than 10 years is the template for other such competitions springing up in the U.S.

About 70 dancers came from Indianapolis and surrounding counties as far away as Elkhart and Hendricks. 

“I think friendship is one big thing,” said Colley, whose daughter Julia Bridges worked with ballroom gowns and gentlemen's attire donated by the Northrop High School Show Choir, altering the clothing to fit. “In our little group we connected several people who didn't know each other and now call each other friends.” 

Lisa Booth, winner of gold medals for foxtrot and waltz, was part of the Easter Seals athletes and could hardly wait until it was her time to shine while dancing the cha-cha.

She wore a purple sequined gown and professional character shoes, tapping her toes until she pulled Hinkle to the side of the dance floor for a little practice. 

Hinkle, wearing special black and white spats, gladly obliged.