Some people watch Dancing With the Stars. Others see something on Youtube or admire those who can get out there and do it at a wedding. Yet for Joann Becker, her dance journey didn’t start like that. It wasn’t possible. She just wanted some type of physical activity to do for fun, something she never had in her life before. She first tried yoga, but they told her she needed basic understanding in order to attend the classes. So instead she wandered into Arthur Murray to see if they were willing to teach a blind person that had never danced before.
Ray Charles & Stevie Wonder, she remembers, were known for dancing in a way that was “weird” and abnormal, a style sighted people would not suffer from. But maybe they never learned. Maybe, with some training, she could dance “normal.”
The definition of “normal,” as most can attest to, has drastically changed for Joann since she started her journey into ballroom. “I had no idea what ballroom dancing was. The gowns. The performances. The body awareness required. I simply had no concept of what I was getting into. I had never thought about posture before in my life.”
Without sight, the level of awareness required to operate an independent lifestyle exponentially increases. Every time you cross a street, find yourself in a new place, or walk on a snowy sidewalk, you rely on your awareness to guide you through. “But that awareness is purely external,” she explains. “I am very aware of everything around me, but I have never in my life turned that same awareness to things like my posture, my head position, the way my feet are brushing together, or, most importantly, my connection with a partner.”
As she has immersed herself in the world of dance, Joann has found herself beyond the social floor and amongst the glitz and glamour that is the competitive world. “That is my one frustration,” she says somewhat sarcastically. “I didn’t realize that dance was such a visual sport, and not being able to see what I am aiming for drives me insane.” Without a visual measuring stick like that of her peers, she has to rely on other methods to keep up with those she is competing against. “Basically I learn when my teacher does it the way I am doing it, and then the way I should be doing it. Then I can feel a difference and at least can aim for the feeling that he gave me.”
How does it feel to be in the spotlight, unable to witness the cheering crowd around as she performs her routine? “Actually, I don’t feel confident when I am out there. I want the experience of feeling confident,” she says after a long pause. Yet here she is, traveling the world, attending Dance-O-Rama’s, and constantly challenging herself in the most extreme of ways in an activity that most people in her situation would not fathom to try. To the outside Joann isn’t just an aspiring dancer. She is symbol of hope when one is struggling. A symbol of perseverance when one wants to give up. For the mountain she has started to climb is steep. Dance is a visual sport, and she lives in, at least visually, an invisible world. But she keeps pushing on, as she always has and always will, and silently leads those around her to keep up with her.