On an Unexpected Connection

Saturday is Dance Day and Down Syndrome Day – thus the perfect opportunity for a post about special people. After all, I imagine many may not see a link between ballroom dance and Down Syndrome.

I volunteer at a weekly dance event that is not only fun, but one with ample opportunities for smiles because it is for adults with Down Syndrome. Some of the attendees are functional enough to have a job, but others aren’t. Some a more coordinated and able to move better freely, but others physically struggle. Toss in a wide range of speaking abilities, it’s quite a gathering of about 30 attendees and numerous volunteers.

My smiles come from an action or something said. From a person running up to me for a dance to receiving a smile given by someone who has difficulty speaking. Simply put, the 45-minute session is a weekly delight in my life.

However, these events are not about the volunteers, but about the attendees. First of all, it’s a social event. They arrive with smiles and race to greet their friends they haven’t seen in a week. That is followed by the power of music and dance as it speaks to them just as it does to the rest of us.

Each week is the same. The 45-minute session starts and ends with the same song – the group’s theme song – a version of Over the Rainbow to which everyone dance a group routine. After a line dance or two, the instructor reviews the dance, and then a song plays for dancing. Another song for the same dance is the sign to change partners. The pattern stays the same through Rumba, Salsa, Waltz, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Tango, and Merengue – with the latter quickly morphing into a predictable conga line. After another line dance or two, the session ends with the same theme song that started it all.

I want to toast several of the attendees for the joys they give me.

  • To T, one of the better dancers, and one with an infectious smile and positive attitude
  • To K, whose quiet nature always answers question and giggles
  • To S, who is always smiling and laughing as she thinks I’m a bit crazy
  • To C, who best communicates to me through her eyes and smiles that make me melt on the spot
  • To J, who runs to me with a smile for a salsa or cha cha
  • To R, who insists on being a lady
  • To Teddy, one that I’ve written about here before, whose positive attitude about life is a role model for anyone
  • To the parents and caregivers for being supportive
  • To Mary, our leader (the blonde in the opening video), and the one who has made this happen

I close with a collection of clips for the competition held last October for these wonderful people. (Because you want to know, I’m in Foxtrot, Swing & Tango sections with contestants 35 & 54 – but I think that’s me in the center of the still)

Other Related Past Posts

On Cheers of Thanks

I’ve mention the Lauren Hill story here before, but it’s also became a national story than can touch the heart of anyone across the world. In short, Lauren is a college freshman on her college basketball team at Mt. St. Joseph University a small college on Cincinnati’s west side.

During her senior year in high school, doctors diagnosed her with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare inoperable brain cancer. Initially given up to two years to live, her prognosis change to only a few months to live, yet she wanted to achieve her goal to play in a college basketball game … and she did … and my eyes shed tears every time I see this.

Although DIPG attacked her brain, it aroused her heart and spirit, so she took it to our hearts. Through her battle and in spite of her weakness, she continues to hold her head high and focusing on others. She is truly an example for everyone in life, let alone someone who taken on the role of living, playing, and speaking for all those with pediatric brain cancer.

Lauren Hill is someone for whom we are thankful. In the spirit of Thanksgiving (this Thursday in the US) and in the spirit of Lauren, I want to extend other thanks around this situation that haven’t received as much publicity … after all, honoring others is in her spirit.

Cheers to the Hiram College Athletic Department (the opponents) for agreeing to and supporting a petition to the NCAA for changing the date, giving up a home game,and being willing to travel across the state.

Cheers to the NCAA for allowing the game to take place approximately two weeks before the official start of the season.

Cheers to Mr. Joseph University for honoring their commitment to Lauren.

Cheers to Xavier University for donating the use of their arena for the game.

Cheers to the Hiram players for doing the right thing during the game. Something that the videos here don’t show is how much of they reacted.

Cheers to the citizens of Cincinnati who purchased over 10,000 tickets, thus sold out the arena in 30-40 minutes.

Cheers to Mt. Joseph University for donating the proceeds from the game and merchandise sales to Lauren’s fund-raising efforts against DIPG.

Cheers to the people who lined the streets as the team bus travelled from Mt. St. Joseph’s campus to Xavier’s.

Cheers to Pat Summitt, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. Although fighting her own health battle (diagnosed in early 2011 with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease), she attended the game to award Lauren the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award from the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Cheers to Lauren’s teammates because Lauren impact on them will be forever.

Cheers to the national media for promoting this story.

Cheers to the Hiram players and coaching staff who embraced the moment with class and dignity … and I’m sure they will remember the day more than the game’s final result.

Cheers to Fox Sports Ohio for televising a game of a team that normally played before 100-200 people … and additional cheers to the broadcast affiliates from across the country who decided to broadcast the game.

Cheers to Devon Still, the Cincinnati Bengal who reached out to Lauren amidst his own strife … a 4-year-old daughter with pediatric cancer …. and for that special bond, Lauren signed her game-day jersey for presentation to young Leah Still.

Cheers to this touching segment by Tom Rinaldi on ESPN.

See, there are many shining lights in the world for which to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

On an Extra-Special Event

BallroomDecor

Decorations in the ballroom’s corner

We arrived at the suburban convention center, then followed the red carpet to the upstairs ballroom where we found soft lighting, decorations, and plenty of tables surrounding a large temporary dance floor. At one end and above the floor, on the platform the DJ was checking his equipment from his seat beside the emcee’s podium. The judges’ area was to the left of the platform with forms ready for their completion. The people arriving were nicely dressed … some to compete and others as members of the audience.

The event was a very special sanctioned dance competition with over 30 dancers competing in foxtrot, waltz, rumba, cha cha, salsa, tango, and swing. On this day, the competitors were adults with disabilities – primarily Down Syndrome.

Several weeks ago my wife and I asked the organizer if she needed more volunteers – and she quickly said, “two males to compete” because two contestants needed partners for several dances. I checked our schedule and then accepted … plus my wife volunteered to be on the makeup and hair-styling team …. and the next day I secured a second male.

I only had two short sessions to practice with my partners, but that was enough because the steps were simple and we were not to exceed outside the listed steps. At the competition, organizers placed in heats of 6-7 dancers that allowed plenty of room for both the dancers and the judges on the floor … just like in typical dance competition.

My partners and I competed in four of the seven dances, making the semifinals and finals on three … and even winning third place in one .. but this day was more than that. Yes, it was a competition … yes, there were medals … but everyone one of the dancers were big winners. They loved dressing up, they loved dancing, they encouraged each other, and they appreciated others who smiled, said hello, or shook their hand with a smile … and we support dancers made sure the day was about our partners.

The day was about the contestants, not the dancing pair. The emcee announced each contestant for every dance, but he never mentioned their partner. We were in the program, but after the contestants name. During the awards, contestants received the medals with great joy as the never-mentioned support partner proudly stood by them … and every support partner loved playing second fiddle on a day meant for others.

The story about the organizer and how this group of people came to be is a post in itself, but on this day, my wife and I were very happy that we asked that question several weeks ago about the need for extra help. We smiled a lot on this day and left with a warmer heart, plus I know some tears leaked out of my eyes when the organizer took the time to dance with each contestant.

The next step for me seems logical … that I continue participating as a partner at their weekly gatherings … after all, it’s about them. Through the magic of dance, they see themselves on an elegant ballroom floor … but they probably don’t know or realize what they give to the volunteers.

(Note: It isn’t my place to post a video on the dances, but if the organizer releases them for public viewing, I will share.)

On a Special Teddy

All of us place friends in groups as high school friends, college friends, work friends, neighborhood friends, church friends, and other … well, and not surprisingly, we have dance friends. Ballroom dance has introduced us to many good people, but Teddy is the one who stands out the most for me.

The first time one sees him doing something – you laugh, but with a smile. The more times I see him – I still laugh and smile – but the heart also glows. The more I watch him and now interact with him and learn more about him, I believe he is a special gift for all.

Teddy is a native Cincinnatian who has become a local celebrity, and has even received national exposure. However, through it all, he’s absolutely the same person that he was before the madness started.

From local articles, local television stories, and time with his (and my) favorite baseball team to attending the State of the Union as Speaker Boehner’s guest. From escorting two beauty queens (one on each arm) to speaking engagements and dance exhibitions. From a recent ESPN special segment to a shorter version ABC World News with Diane Sawyer (an America Strong segment), and to the latest as he’s now part of a Topps baseball card collection … and through it all, Teddy remains who he is … an example for everyone.

Teddy Kremer is not a kid, but a 30-year-old man. As a swimmer, ballroom dancer, and equestrian, he’s an athlete. Regardless how one knows him, all who he has touched agree that he is special because he demonstrates what we should be – kind, positive, appreciative, personable, loyal, joyful for life, and other characteristics.

I hope you take the time to watch this 12-minute story created by ESPN, and I have no doubt that Teddy will make you laugh and smile. After all, this video (just like Teddy) makes me laugh and smile, but in the end, I always shed a prideful tear … thus, I look forward to seeing him again on many Thursdays at the dance studio.

On a Joyous Possum

As the holiday season has many running around in a state of crazed madness, it is also a time to find good news – especially in light of the horrific, devastating news about the Connecticut school shooting.

As news organizations deliver us information about global conflicts, U.S. politics, Wall Street, violence, and more, this time of the year also allows these same newsrooms to give us positive stories – stories about the human spirit – stories of sharing and goodness.

I’ve never heard of Possum Trot, Texas – a small, incorporated town near the Louisiana border that is financially poor – but through love, sacrifice, patience, commitment, and genuineness, the members of this community demonstrate their huge heart of gold that serves a role model for humanity.

Follow the link to watch and see a proud side of humanity.

On a Wimpy Today

If you are a baby boomer like I, you probably associate Wimpy as a friend of Popeye the Sailor. Yep, that’s J. Wellington Wimpy to we cartoon enthusiasts.

Created by EC Segar for the original Popeye comic strip, the soft-spoken, kind, intelligent Wimpy was Popeye’s friend. When Fleischer Studios animated Popeye, Wimpy took a less prominent role.

Hamburgers are Wimpy’s favorite meal, and we know he can continuously eat them! Wimpy was also cheap, even a  moocher, thus known for his famous line, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Wimpy also inspired the name for a fast food restaurant in London (1954). The chain has been bought and sold several times, but we can find Wimpy’s today in over 20 countries. However, this story centers around Wimpy’s in South Africa.

The chain had an ad campaign promoting that it had Braille menus, but a promotion’s effort took a unique turn – they used sesame seeds to place Braille messages on 15 hamburger buns, and then served the hamburger to 15 blind individuals.

Whether a sincere small gesture or intentionally exploitive, this is a feel-good video. Have a good rest of the weekend.