Being blind hasn't stopped Mullumbimby's Bruce Mitchell tripping the light fantastic on the dance floor.
While there is a bit of a buzz around the first blind dancer featuring on the TV show, 'Dancing with the Stars', Bruce has been stepping out in style all over the district for the past few years.
Bruce began to dance as a young man when he still had his sight, meeting his wife on the dance floor, and going on to coach debutantes and their partners in the finer points of dancing style in the hey day of the debutante ball.Compatible
“I was never a teacher,” said Bruce, “but they asked me to teach the local debs and I just loved it.”
Bruce lost his sight at the age of 40, then lost his wife nine years ago, and dancing no longer figured in his life until Dot Simpson started up classes for U3A in Mullumbimby three years ago.
“As soon as I knew about it I was there,” said Bruce.
Frequently partnering Bruce at the U3A class is Elestial Lindenberg, who was immediately drawn to dance with him because of a compatible dancing style.
“He is one of the best dancers there,” she said, adding with a laugh that she has to “fight all the women there for him.”
Elestial also began dancing as a teenager, but gradually shyness made it all seem too confronting and she stopped, until an illness forced her to look at making changes in her life, and a friend told her about the dancing classes.
“I went to keep her company,” she said,. "but once I started I thought, I should have been doing this all my life. I find an hour on the dance floor is as good as a workout, and moving to music is so uplifting.”
And Bruce echoed the sentiment of Elestial when he said that “aches and pains go away when you dance - you just forget about them.”
Teacher Dot Simpson wasn't fazed by having a blind dancer in the class, instructing him by dancing with him, though for Bruce himself the challenge was learning to dance without always being the leader.
“I used to be very good at leading,” he explained, “and still do at times much to everyone's horror.”
But Elestial disagrees, pointing out that after an initial phase of a bit of hitting the wall, they worked out a good system.Classes
“The thing I like about dancing with Bruce is that he leads, and my job is to make sure we're lined up.
“I don't say anything, just move his body a bit - he's good at following those subtle leads, though sometimes in the quickstep he wants to go off and I have to say no.”
Bruce sums up the situation neatly with, “I've got the accelerator and she's at the wheel.”
Bruce reckons he knows about 60 dances now, after three years of classes, and attends all the social dances around the district that he can get to.
The U3A dance classes are held every Monday from 2pm to 4pm at the Uniting Church hall in Mullumbimby, and anyone can come along - U3A membership is not necessary.
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