Tag Archives: Utah Ballroom Dance Company

Seeing Past THE FEVER: Inside The Mind Of A Mirror Ball Champion

It’s true. Everything you’ve heard? It’s all true.

I am the first and currently reigning Dancing With The Graham County Stars Champion.

Don’t believe me? Well, take a deep breath and gaze longingly at the picture below. Because I have an obnoxious mirror ball trophy sitting on my…I was gonna say mantle, but I don’t have a mantle. It’s really sort of a credenza type thing, but…saying I have a mirror ball trophy sitting on my credenza sounds sort of, I don’t know, stupid? I mean, who even uses the word credenza anymore? It’s too close to Costanza. Anyway, there it is, casting unwanted light reflections onto my television screen. But there it will stay, because I’ve come to accept that this is the type of inconvenience we champions must be ready to deal with.

Now I know the question that is undoubtedly plaguing each of you. I can practically hear your thoughts screaming to me through the computer.

Tell me, Oh Great Master of the Dance, how can I attain my own mirror ball? 

Well, the answer to 98% of you is…you can’t. So let it go. But to that 2% out there who have what it takes within you to bring home mirror ball glory, let me share with you my experiences of the last two weeks and present for you a path that could ultimately lead to fame, glory and a styrofoam ball covered in tiny pieces of reflective glass.

Okay, all kidding aside. For those who are reading this wondering, “WHAT THE *@&# IS HE TALKING ABOUT?” on Saturday night I competed in the first ever Dancing With The Graham County Stars competition. The basic gist of this competition is that six members of our community agreed to be paired with a professional dancer from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company, learn a 90 second dance routine, perform that routine in front of a paying crowd, take “humorous” flak from three judges also from our community who didn’t have to learn a 90 second dance routine and should therefore have been banned from speaking entirely, have our performances voted on by said paying crowd, and in the end try to retain half an ounce of dignity in the process. (Unless of course you are Jason Koutz and were not actually concerned with retaining that half an ounce to begin with. Just kidding, Jason.)

Now, to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. Truth be told, I don’t even remember what prompted me to say yes when Pat O’Donnell from the Chamber of Commerce asked me to do it. I don’t drink, so the only thing I can come up with is that maybe someone down the hall from my office was using an “experimental” (*cough* *cough* marijuana based) form of medical treatment that altered my normal state of cognizant thought. Anyway, as the days ticked away, I honestly thought about backing out. But then when my picture appeared in the paper without warning, I figured I was stuck.

So come the night of our first rehearsal, I will grudgingly admit that I barely avoided throwing up. I give a lot of the credit for that accomplishment to my partner, Alyssa Baccus. Alyssa is young enough to be my daughter (you have no idea how sad that makes me to admit that I’m that old), has an amazingly positive personality, and is exceptionally talented at both dance and not visibly grimacing when I attempted to dance. She quickly put me at ease, or least got me to a level of “this will not kill you so get over yourself” acceptance. I really can’t say enough about how much I appreciated her efforts, not just at that rehearsal, but all the way through every rehearsal and the final performance. She was amazing (as were all the dancers) and I owe her big.

I also have to give major kudos to one of the male performers who was so encouraging. Throughout the process, we all had to learn our dances in the same room. Oftentimes, Alyssa and I would be practicing next to Dr. Debbie and her partner Chris Rogowski. Several times when I was ready to look directly into the full wall mirror in the Safford High dance practice room and give myself the full single finger salute, Chris would offer supportive words. (May I take a moment for an aside and say how much I would like to strangle the person who invented the full wall mirror. I’ve heard it is very instructive for dancers, but all they ever did for me was reflect back inarguable verification that my dancing was as horrifying as I feared. Booooo full wall mirrors. Booooo!!!) Anyway, although it may not have seemed like a big thing to him, it was incredibly meaningful for me when after my performance during the show, he made the effort to come around the back of the stage and tell me how well I had done. That was cool, and I really appreciated it.

So, come performance night, I’m not gonna lie. I was nervous. Not, “Ooooh, I’ve got a little tingle of the butterflies in my stomach,” nervous. No, it was full on, “There’s nothing they can do to me if I make it to the Mexican border before they catch me,” nervous. But then I remembered I might have trouble getting back across with Trump’s border wall going up and all, so I stayed put.

Admittedly, to feel so nervous seemed insane. I get up in front of large crowds all the time. But this was agonizing. And then, all of a sudden, the lights went down and up came the intro video Alyssa and I had recorded a few days earlier. The next thing I know, I’m on stage and I am going through the pre-dance routine where I wear a tear-away janitor’s uniform. Then all of a sudden, the tear-away uniform is torn away and off we went. (Another aside. My wife informed me that she was very proud but that the next time two women tear my clothes away, they had better be some form of paramedics resuscitating me from a heart attack.)

I can’t remember the exact moment when I embraced that it was really happening. Throughout the rehearsals, one of my biggest problems was remembering to smile. Alyssa would always have a huge smile on her face with a look in her eye that basically said, “Hey, I can’t smile big enough for the both of us here, buddy, pull it together an do your part.” It always made me nervous because I knew I should think about smiling, but then I would think about smiling and forget about dancing. That never ended well. So I did the most mature thing ever and quit looking at her face. I started focusing on the point at the bottom of her neck where her collar bones come together. That way, I was facing the right direction, but I didn’t have to deal with the shame of being reminded of how bad I was at looking happy. Then, about rehearsal number four, it occurred to me how inappropriate that line of sight might appear to someone who didn’t have full access to my inner thoughts. From that point on, I just took my medicine and tried to keep eye contact with Alyssa.

Anyway, the night of the performance, I vaguely remember establishing eye contact with her as we started so I wouldn’t freak out (Think Runaway Bride type eye contact). But right after that, I don’t remember jack. I do recall having one thought which was, “Don’t forget the shoulder shimmy.” But other than that, my memory is pretty blank until we hit the final pose and a million pounds of stress exited my body like an exorcism. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that getting to that point didn’t require projectile vomiting of pea green slime all over the stage nor my head rotating 180 degrees on my neck.

Skipping ahead, they announced the winner (ME) and I strutted around for a moment like I had actually known all along I would do that well, and then it was over. For two full weeks it was the moment I had been praying for. And then just like that it was there, and I have to admit, I was kinda sad.

In fact, today I’m still a little sad. And it’s caused me to think about these unique opportunities we sometimes get in life. Those times when we get to experience something that has just enough intensity that it bonds people in a way that is really hard to describe.

Of the five other people who volunteered along with me, I really only knew one of them well. The others ranged from mild acquaintances to people I had not ever met. But now, even though we will go back to our separate social circles, we will always have this shared experience. Only the six of us know how hard this really was. How excruciating it was to step out of our comfort zone and do something that was, at least for me, somewhat terrifying.

And along with those five other individuals, there are six dancers who helped get us there. I think each of us novices will feel a slight connection with those six people who made this experience possible for us.

Now I recognize that these dancers do this all the time and it will not be the same for them. I imagine it would probably be impossible for them to feel that same type of connection with us since they were bouncing all over Arizona for six weeks doing this same thing with so many others just like us. But I feel excited for them because they are experiencing what I’m describing on a much higher level, just with each other. They will not be part of this dance troupe forever. But the connection they will have after basically living out of a van with one another for months on end will be timeless. I know it will. I’ve been there, and knowing what kind of ties they’re creating makes me just a tad jealous. Jealous that I’m not in my twenties anymore. Jealous that as much as I love my life and wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING, my carefree days of youth are over. Jealous that my chances to make these type of connections with people are fading.

Which turned my mind to Manchester, England, 1992-1994. What a great time. Yes, I was a religious missionary and so not exactly the picture of carefree spontaneity. But I was young, living in a foreign place, having intense experiences with people I would never see again. To this day I enjoy catching up with those guys. Not all of us are still practicing Mormons, but it doesn’t matter. We still share an experience that was bigger than we were. I miss them. I wish I could see them all again, each and every one. I wish I could eat chips and Chinese with Rob Taylor from Wales. I wish I could apologize to Jonny Harmer one more time for leaving my toast sweat on the counter every morning. I wish I could give Lars Holmboe a hug. He probably doesn’t remember, but I had only been in England for one month when we all met together for a group meeting. I was so incredibly homesick I wanted to die. As we closed the meeting with a song, I stood there and just cried uncontrollably. I barely knew Lars Holmboe, but he happened to be the guy standing next to me. Without saying a word, he reached over and put his arm around me. It meant the world to me because it helped me feel that I was not alone. I never told him thank you. I would love the opportunity to do so in person.

Which brings me full circle. Once again, I want to thank Royce, Tracy, Debbie, C.B. and Jason. It was an awesome experience partly because of the people I got to share it with. And I want to thank Alyssa, Chris, Anthony, Liz, Grace and Alex. Thank you for your time and effort. The entire experience is something I will never forget.

And to you dear reader, if you think I’m being way too melodramatic about a silly little dance performance, well…maybe I am. However, before you pass judgement, might I suggest you try doing it yourself. Then we can talk.

Nevertheless, today I am Mr. Incredible. I am King of the World. I…am the reigning mirror ball champion of Graham County.

And Pat? Could you please go back and recheck on whether that title comes with a lifetime supply of free Dr. Pepper. I’m fairly certain I saw that written in the fine print.




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