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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
James Kaupert dances with Kristen Lutteringer on Saturday in heat 3 of the newcomer waltz at the Special Olympics Ballroom Dance Competition at Grand Wayne Center.

Special Olympians strut dancing skills

Peter Barlow dances with Christina Emilian in heat 6 of the fox trot.

It may not have had stunt doubles of James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II jumping out of a helicopter, but Saturday morning’s opening ceremony for the ballroom dancing component of the Fort Wayne region’s Special Olympics had its own version of pomp and circumstance.

The ceremonial cutting of a yellow ribbon. A parade of athletes – all decked out in ballroom finery. A (flameless) torch passed among them before a larger flame was lit. The solemn declaration: “The Games are now open.”

And a procession of dignitaries, including Michael Furnish, president and chief executive officer of Special Olympics Indiana, who confessed he didn’t quite “get” the elaborate pageantry of Friday night’s opening of the XXXth Olympiad.

“Today’s opening ceremony makes a lot more sense than the one I saw in London on TV last night,” he said upon taking the microphone to welcome athletes and spectators.

The approximately 50 couples who participated in Saturday’s Ballroom Dance Competition at Fort Wayne’s Grand Wayne Center certainly had caught the Olympic spirit, said Audrey Hindle of Fort Wayne, president of Fort Wayne DanceSport, event organizer.

“For someone who has worked all year learning to dance a box step and maybe learn to do a turn, this is very exciting for them,” she said.

To compete in the event, Hindle said, dancers with developmental disabilities are paired with dancers and instructors from several area ballroom dance studios.

The couples compete in waltz, fox trot, cha-cha, rumba and swing divisions and are further arranged by how long they’ve been dancing, she said.

Winners are named, but all participants get ribbons, Hinkle said.

Coming off the floor, Special Olympian in the newcomer waltz division Cristina Wagner of South Bend said she was satisfied with her performance with Doug Blasius of Fort Wayne.

“I was a little nervous,” said the strawberry-blonde 30-year-old, dressed in a short apricot dress with ruffles at its plunging neckline.

Ben Nicholson, 26, of Fort Wayne was happy with how his Special Olympian partner, Bethany Jewell, 21, of Fort Wayne, danced. She’d only been dancing for six weeks, he said.

In its third year, the event drew participants from Easter Seals Arc of Northeast Indiana in Fort Wayne, Pathfinder Services in Huntington and the Bluffton/Wells County area.

Officials said they’d like to see the event expand statewide and possibly become nationwide.

Roger Greenawalt, national director of competitions for USA Dance, Inc., commended the dancers for their spirit.

“In today’s world where many people are glad to simply get by, you have chosen to learn a new skill and … put it on the line in competition. That takes guts, and I want to congratulate you for it,” he said.

Added Tom Fryback, master of ceremonies: “This is a very special day. London has nothing on us.”

rsalter@jg.net

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