By Staff Sgt. Lauren Penney, 184th Public Affairs
Twenty years ago, Senior Airman Steven Bohling, cyber systems operations, 184th Intelligence Squadron, fell from a three-story building, breaking his back.
“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. At best, I was getting around with a cane.”
During those years, he gained weight, lost mobility and he was searching for a way to get back into shape. With weight-lifting and running off the table, he 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.”
Fast forward three years to 2001. Bohling started teaching dance at his first studio. He toured around the country, entering 32 national competitions, from Savannah, Georgia, to San Francisco, California.
“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.”
Bohling trained with some of the top coaches in the U.S. and also competed with them, dancers from 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.
Swick found Bohling’s first professional partner and trained them together. Bohling drove to Oklahoma City about every week and worked four hours. He met with his partner other days at the YMCA in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and drove back to teach classes in the evenings.
In 2006, Bohling opened his solely-owned studio, and continued to teach and compete, working through the challenges that arise when running a small business.
“For me, the hardest thing about opening a small business was wearing too many hats. I was teaching, I was competing, I was paying the bills and I was cleaning the toilets,” said Bohling. “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.”
Bohling’s studio, Care to Dance, is downtown in Wichita’s Delano district with students ranging from eight to 80.
“I’ve taught bus mechanics and a NASA rocket scientist. I taught a blind man and deaf woman and people who didn’t speak English,” said Bohling. “In a way, dancing is kind of another language.”
In 2014, Bohling reached a level of success in the dance studio where it could be run without as much hands-on work from himself, with 16 people on staff and 400 students a week.
“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 enlisting in the Air Force, since he would come back and read about it all the time, getting his mind on something other than dance. He had his doubts, however, thinking he wouldn’t be let in because he was too old and had suffered a broken back.
His wife then suggested the Air National Guard, since he would be able to remain in Wichita and could work in the intelligence division, and that the cut-off age to join without prior service is 39.
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.
“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.”
“I know we can all get really focused on one aspect of our lives, be it family or some other hobby, but if we truly want to be more well-rounded individuals, we need to pay attention to both parts of human, the analytical and the artistic,” said Bohling. “The Guard satisfies a completely different need in my life. It’s a family-based business that provides my family security and benefits, and that really matters.”