Sawchuk, Cook will perform for Dancing with the Stars - April 19, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Veteran Les Cook and newcomer Julie Sawchuk are preparing to take part in this fall’s Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for Victim Services of Huron County and it has not always been easy.
Cook, who has been part of the event for years, since he first was one of the “stars” and then returned to be one of the professionals, says that dancing with Sawchuk, who is in a wheelchair, has been hard for him to wrap his head around.
While Sawchuk has proven to be a very quick study, for Cook, he says it has almost been like learning to dance all over again.
“She’s doing great. She’s a workhorse,” Cook said of Sawchuk.
Because her injury line is just below her armpits, Sawchuk has had to muster up a tremendous amount of co-ordination and core strength in order to dance waltz and swing numbers with Cook. However, once they found themselves on the same page, the dancing began to come naturally.
Cook says that Sawchuk has had to evolve as a dancer faster and in a different way than most participants. Usually, he said, the steps of a dance are a natural way for a dancer to keep time in his/her head. With Sawchuk unable to step and gliding through her dances, she has to keep time in her head without the aid of stepping, making it much more complicated.
The idea for Sawchuk to participate first arose when she was speaking with Melissa Boven one day. Boven danced with Cook at the event last year and her experience made Sawchuk want to get back into dancing and she felt as though Cook would be the perfect teacher.
Cook said that Sawchuk had wanted to come into East Side Dance Studio for lessons before her accident. She had even bought dance shoes, but was unable to use them after she was hit by a car while cycling and paralyzed from the chest down three years ago.
However, Cook has been keen to help Sawchuk learn how to dance now post-injury and felt the competition would be a perfect way to take it even further. Cook suggested that she be a “star” in the upcoming Dancing with the Stars competition. Sawchuk said she was instantly excited about the prospect.
“I thought it was a fabulous idea. I love to dance and this was something to shoot for,” she said.
The pair began practising once a week, which is a schedule that will have to be “beefed up” according to Cook as the event approaches, and Sawchuk said she began to make progress very quickly.
“At first it was really just him directing me around in my chair, but now I have learned how to really use my core muscles, some of which have returned because of hard work, to push against Les’ hands and respond to his lead, just like someone who is dancing using their feet,” Sawchuk said.
Cook said that dancing with someone in a wheelchair has been a completely new experience for him and there has been very little precedent for the pairing for them to research. His movements have had to change completely, and he is largely responsible for supporting Sawchuk during many of the dances’ moves, which is something he always has to keep in mind.
Anne Elliott, Cook’s partner, said it has been amazing to watch the two figure out how to dance together. The progress they’ve made in just a few months has been staggering, she said.
What has been thrilling for both Cook and Sawchuk, however, is that, in a way, they are both starting at the beginning. Unlike the usual Dancing with the Stars relationship of pairing a professional with an amateur, both are learning the ropes in the unique situation together.
“The challenge is that neither of us really know what we are doing,” Sawchuk said. “Yes, Les knows how to dance, but he has never danced with someone who uses a wheelchair and I have never danced with my wheelchair before. So, we really are both starting from scratch.”
Both Cook and Sawchuk have likened Sawchuk’s style to that of an ice dancer, with an emphasis on gliding rather than the steps of a dance.
And while the early weeks of the process have not been without their challenges, both are confident they will be major players by the time the competition is here.
“Les and I are going to learn to dance like professionals,” Sawchuk said, “and we are going to blow away the competition.”
This year’s Dancing with the Stars event is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20. It will feature, in addition to the pairing of Sawchuk and Cook, JoAnn Robinson and Wayne Bos, Jessica Carnochan and Herb Runstedler, Pete Albers and Reanna Ramaker, Matt Hussey and Bonnie Walter and Mike Dirkson and Patty Coulter.
For more information on Victim Services, visit its website online at www.victimserviceshuron.ca.