Scraped and bruised, Chris Smith walks into the studio every Saturday morning.
He stretches along with the rest of the dancers, working out the stiffness that comes with dishing out hits and enduring the collisions on a Friday night as a member of the St. Stanislaus football team.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Smith is a junior linebacker/fullback for the Rockachaws.
He also happens to be a dancer who competes in a variety of styles that include tap, jazz, lyrical and contemporary.
“My favorite type of dance is lyrical because you show emotion when dancing,” Smith said Saturday while seated outside The Dance Company in Long Beach. “You really connect with the audience. Lyrical is a slower type, but it’s still powerful in movement.”
As for the rest of his football teammates, they’ve learned to take their teammate’s hobby in stride.
“They tease at first, joke here and there,” Smith said with a grin. “I’m bigger than most of them so they kind of shut their mouths.”
It was an injury on the football field that indirectly led Smith to dancing. He suffered a severe concussion as an 11-year-old and his parents prevented him from playing the sport for two years. His mother, Kim Mahony, owns The Dance Company and she encouraged him to give dancing a try during his time away from the sport he loves.
He returned to to the football as an eighth-grader, but he continued to dedicate time to dancing.
Smith keeps a busy schedule between dancing and football, but he decided to add one more event to his busy calendar this year when his mom came up with the idea of creating a dance class for children with special needs. Camp Able, an annual camp on the Coast for kids with special needs, served as her inspiration.
Smith was quick to jump on board with the project.
“’Somehow, I want to be a part of that,’” he recalled saying as his mom first pitched the idea. “We talked about it and she said, ‘Do you want to name it after you and let it be your your thing?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. That sounds amazing.’”
‘Dance is for anybody’
A small group of students and fellow dancers, who help conduct the class, showed up Saturday morning for the hour-long session this past Saturday at The Dance Company.
“The kids are amazing,” Mahony said. “You’ll see a lot of things that make you tear up. We have one with very limited mobility and they started moving better. That’s a moment that really touches you.”
The lone boy in the class, Tyler Price, is Chris’ shadow. Wherever Smith moves, he is close behind.
Smith has settled into the role of teacher with help from his mom. When the class first started in September, he admitted that he wasn’t sure how it would it would pan out.
“I was a little bit nervous because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Smith said. “You want a safe environment for them. In the first class, we were careful to figure out their limits and what you can do. After that, it becomes more fun. We’re very open with the kids now. We know how to act and we’re not worried at all. We’re much more friendly.”
The class is preparing the group to take part in a halftime show during a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game on Dec. 5 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.
“I just want the kids to understand that dance is for anybody,” said Smith, who hopes to see the class expand in size. “If it’s something they want to do, they can do it. They show it in the classroom. For me, I just want to give the kids the experience. Dance can make anybody happy. It’s a great thing.”
Recovery through dance
Smith admits that his time away from football was “horrible.” He constantly asked his mom for an opportunity to play football again, but she encouraged him to come to the studio and give dancing a try.
“When he couldn’t play football for two years, he gained 30 pounds,” Mahony said. “He was growing and he went from very physical to nothing. He came in, started stretching. It was awful to watch as a dancer because he was so stiff and out of shape.”
It turned out Smith is a natural when it comes to dance.
“Girls would ask, ‘How did you make this turn?’” Mahony said. “’We’ve been working on it for a year and you walked in here and got it.’ Things came easy. As he developed in the dance room, it started healing him from the physical aspect.”
Smith acknowledges that dancing and football are worlds apart when it comes to the mental approach.
“It’s two different modes,” he said. “I’m a very different person in the dance room that I am in football. Every once in a while I’m in a dance room, my brain switches and I go back to football and I want to hit somebody. Then I realize I’m in a dance class and not on a football field. It’s always a little scary.
“The only thing I can really relate to football is the competitive spirit. If I’m about to get on stage at a competition and dance, you want to beat other teams and show who is best. We really play as a team. It’s the same as football.”