Friday, March 10, 2006

Ballroom Dancing--More Amazing Than You Thought!!

This article is a little bit lengthy, but I thought it definitely worth the time it takes to read. If this man can learn to ballroom dance, none of the rest of us have any excuses! He should serve as an inspiration to anyone who has procratinated about taking lessons because they think they can't learn! I particularly love the way he handled his buddies who were giving him a hard time about ballroom dancing...see the next to the last paragraph...and go dancing this weekend!

Monday, July 4, 2005

Dancing helped put man once paralyzed back on his feet


Daryl Schmidt doesn't look like a man who some doctors said would never walk again.
He's not only standing on both feet, he also was twirling his partner in practiced routines around a dance floor as they prepared yesterday to compete in the Northwest DanceSport Championships in SeaTac.
"I can't walk, but I can dance," quipped Schmidt, 46, who strolls with a slight limp but is as smooth as any other dancer on the floor. "Dancing was physical therapy for me. It makes me want to constantly work out my legs." He dramatically lowered himself in a sweeping motion, his stronger left leg extended nearly parallel to the floor. "Now I can get down," he said, as he rose up to his full upright posture waiting for his partner, Michele Boyer. "But this is the key part -- I can get back up."

In April 1993, the Boeing customer engineer (a liaison between customers and engineers) herniated a disk in his back as he put away some binders above his desk. A few months later, the disk ruptured, causing first his right leg to shut down and then his left. The internal explosion squeezed his spinal column and pressed on his nerves, damaging but not severing them. But the two-day delay between the initial onset of his condition and surgery was enough to paralyze him from the waist down.

For Schmidt, a Montana native who grew up playing football, basketball and gymnastics, it could have meant the end of a big part of his life. But Schmidt refused to stay down. He poured all his energy into physical therapy to work his thigh and calf muscles, and after six months progressed from a wheelchair to crutches and eventually a cane 16 months after his surgery. "I knew I could get those muscles to work," he said.

He also found a way to speed up his recovery. A former competitive equestrian who rode for 15 years, Schmidt rode on horses trained to respond to the most subtle of weight shifts and found he could feel the buzz in his legs getting stronger every time he was able to put pressure in the stirrups.
But he wanted to try something different to further his progress. He quickly realized, however, that bungee jumping and running were not options for him and his back. Then an ex-girlfriend who happened to be a dance teacher sold him a package of lessons, and soon he was hooked.

Dancing also gave him someone to watch his back. Or, at least his feet. "Dancing's relatively safe," Schmidt said. "Especially with someone to keep him from falling down," said Boyer, 41, a psychiatrist who had a year more of ballroom dance experience than Schmidt.
"When we started, he could barely stand on his right leg without collapsing. When we first learned the quickstep, he went down and I'm strong, so I picked him up -- all 190 pounds of him! Because his legs were so weak, he had to stand perfectly vertically, so he actually stood better and helped us get further."
"The problem is at the higher levels, everyone stands better," said Schmidt, whose jokes with his partner are as routine as their dance moves.

The two met in January 1997 at a social dance (versus a competitive event) at DanceSport International, the same Lake City studio where they have practiced two or three times a month, nearly every month for the past seven years. The two were looking for dance partners and they hit it off, even though it meant Boyer would have to fly in for them to practice. While Schmidt lives in Bothell, Boyer calls Boise, Idaho, home.
"We joke that Southwest is our third partner," Boyer said, referring to the airline. She considers the trips mini-vacations.

Her husband back in Idaho has also recently taken up ballroom dancing, but the two prefer to keep their dancing separate. "If Daryl and I have a dance fight, we can at least go our separate rooms," she joked.
For the four days she visits Schmidt or he visits her in Boise, they practice four to five hours at the studio, nailing down routines that cover more than a dozen dances, including the tango, foxtrot, swing, rumba and Paso Doble. Since 1998, they've danced in an average of 12 competitions a year, most in the United States but some in Canada and one in England.

Their favorite dance is the waltz and their favorite category is American Smooth, where strictly ballroom gets thrown out the window for often-improvised versions of moves Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made famous.

Schmidt -- who wears two types of flexible braces on his weaker right leg for walking and dancing -- adapts by choosing flat-footed moves and pivoting on his heels. They're considered novice class -- a misnomer because it's the fourth level on a difficulty scale of six leading up to the champion level. This is their second major competition at championship level. In one night's event, they will dance nearly 30 times for an average of two minutes apiece, a pace that gets the heart going as fast as any workout.

Co-workers once razzed Schmidt when they spied him on headphones practicing the tango in a conference room on his lunch break. But once he pointed out the advantages of dancing (like holding beautiful women in your arms in a lovely ballroom) over their recreation, racquetball (getting sweaty with another guy in a small room), they shut up.

"Dancing is about staying young and healthy," Boyer said. "It's truly good for the soul. It's inspiring to see how Daryl gets other couples to get over what they think are handicaps. If Daryl can dance, they can."
P-I reporter Athima Chansanchai can be reached at 206-448-8041 or