By Air Force Staff Sgt. Lauren Penney, 184th Intelligence Wing
from Guard News
WICHITA, Kansas – Roughly 20 years ago, Senior Airman Steven Bohling, a cyber systems operations specialist with the Kansas Air National Guard”s 184th Intelligence Squadron, fell from a three-story building and broke his back. The fall would have a significant impact on his life, starting with just getting back into shape.
“I struggled receiving therapy or anything rehabilitative to get back to how I was before,” said Bohling. “The best thing to help heal and mitigate the pain was a corset that helped stabilize me.”
In the years after the accident he gained weight and lost mobility.
“At best, I was getting around with a cane,” he said.
With weight-lifting and running off the table, he said he was searching for a way to get back into shape and decided to try a ballroom dancing class.
“It was the first time I”d been asked to articulate my spine in new ways,” said Bohling. “I realized pretty quickly that rotational energy, where the muscles work against each other, rotated my spine and moved my spine in ways that I hadn’t been able to, and the pain was reduced, so I kept with it.”
But it was also the creative energy that kept him with it as well.
“I think we’re all creative, that’s a part of who we are,” said Bohling. “We will all eventually find a place of creativity, or an expression of creativity. For me it was dancing.”
Fast forward to 2001. Bohling started teaching dance. He toured the country, entering 32 national competitions, from Savannah, Georgia, to San Francisco. Bohling also trained with some of the top dance coaches in the U.S. – including dancers from TV shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
John Swick, a four-time national champion out of Oklahoma City, became his main mentor.
“He took me under his wing and introduced me to the top judges in the country so I could continue my training,” Bohling said, adding that he also met his first professional dance partner through Swick, who trained them both.
Bohling said he would make the two hour-plus drive to Oklahoma City about every week to work with Swick. Other days he met with his dance partner in Ponca City, Oklahoma, — roughly the halfway point between Wichita and Oklahoma City — and drove back to Wichita to teach classes in the evenings.
In 2006, Bohling opened a dance studio, and continued to both teach and compete, working through the challenges that arise with running a small business.
“For me, the hardest thing about opening a small business was wearing too many hats,” he said. “I was teaching, I was competing, I was paying the bills and I was cleaning the toilets.”
All common elements of working for yourself, Bohling said he came to find.
“I’ve heard that an entrepreneur will work 16 hours a day for themselves, so they don’t have to work eight hours a day for someone else,” he said.
Though the days were long, Bohling said he has enjoyed the challenges. The studio, located in downtown Wichita”s Delano district, has students ranging in age from eight to 80 and includes a cross-section of the community.
“I’ve taught bus mechanics and a NASA rocket scientist,” said Bohling. “I taught a blind man and deaf woman and people who didn’t speak English. In a way, dancing is kind of another language.”
In 2014, with 16 people on staff and about 400 students a week, Bohling had reached a level of success in the studio where it could be run without as much hands-on work from himself.
“Two things were occurring in my life at that time,” said Bohling. “I wanted to focus, one, more on my family, have more time with my wife and daughter. And two, I wondered if the studio was the only thing I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
His wife suggested the Air Force, since he often read about it to get his mind on something other than dance. He was drawn to the Air National Guard, he said, since he would be able to remain in Wichita and could work in the intelligence division.
But he had his doubts – his age and previous back injury were chief in his mind, Bohling said.
Neither turned out to be an issue. The cut-off age to join without prior service is 39. So, with medical clearing from an orthopedic surgeon and two months before his 40th birthday, Bohling enlisted.
He went on to be successful in basic training, finishing as an honor graduate. Dancing had kept him and his back in excellent shape over the years. He also found a similarity between dancing and serving in the Kansas Air Guard.
“I’ve found that with being in the Guard, I”m just as passionate about it as I am about dancing,” Bohling said. “There’s the other side of me that’s analytical and logical and wants to do great things as a team member, and the Guard allows me to do that in a way that dancing never did.”
Paying attention to both the creative and the analytical sides is important, Bohling said.
“If we truly want to be more well-rounded individuals, we need to pay attention to both parts of [being] human – the analytical and the artistic,” he said. “The Guard satisfies a completely different need in my life [than dancing].”
And it’s possible neither side would have been fulfilled, said Bohling, if it wasn’t for that fateful day 20 years ago and the fall that hurt his back.