CARMEL, IN — Dance can change lives, and it certainly changed Sean Gehlhausen’s.
After serving in Desert Storm as a medic in the Navy, attached to the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Corps Infantry Unit at just 18-years-old, he came back to Indiana.
With the difficulty of transitioning into civilian life, Gehlhausen saw an advertisement to be a dance instructor, and dove right into teaching. He has now been an instructor for 33-years.
His passion for dance is changing the lives of Hoosiers with his not-for-profit Benefits of Learning Dance (BOLD).
Inside the Carmel Ballroom Dance Studio, students learn to Fox Trot, Cha Cha and Hustle.
Gehlhausen teaches a group of 40 people every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m.
“I was born, and I’m living to do this,” Gehlhausen said.
Everyone taking the class either has intellectual and developmental disabilities or supports those who do.
Gehlhausen started the class as a part of BOLD at the end of January, and it’s grown through mainly word-of-mouth.
Gehlhausen says he started the non-for-profit after his nephew Leo was born.
Leo loves to dance and has Down’s Syndrome. Gehlhausen calls his nephew an absolute blessing.
Participating in ballroom dance combines the mental activity of memorizing steps, physical activity of executing the moves and social stimulation of building friendships and working with others.
“If you put those different kinds of therapeutic modalities together, this is the best therapy on the planet,” Gehlhausen said.
After returning from serving in the Navy, Gehlhausen graduated from IUPUI with two degrees in biology and psychology, plus a chemistry minor.
He calls BOLD a ‘dance therapy’ that’s backed by science, for a those who arguably need it most.
“Especially for a group that is so genetically predisposed to getting things like Alzheimer’s or dementia, this is really such a valuable, therapeutic modality to help slow any kind of progression like that down,” Gehlhausen said.
“It’s all about love, having fun and enjoying yourself,” BOLD student Alec Spaulding said.
The student’s parents and dance partners say they love the class too.
“For most of these kids, this is the highlight of their week. And now that I’m out here helping, I can see why. It’s kind of the highlight of my week too,” Kevin Batchelder, father of a BOLD student, said.
Many of the student’s parents told WRTV Gehlhausen’s patience breaks through any barriers of developmental delay.
“She’s flourished with him at her side,” Heather Batchelder said regarding her daughter who is enrolled in BOLD.
Batchelder recalled a time when her daughter performed a ballroom dance with Gehlhausen.
“I sat there and cried. I was so proud of her,” Batchelder said.
Mary Delaney says her daughter struggled after leaving high school without many opportunities for those with disabilities.
“I mean, there was nothing. There was adult daycare, and I said she doesn’t need adult daycare. She needs social interaction and a meaningful day,” Delaney said.
Through dance, Gehlhausen shows everyone just how many abilities those with disabilities truly have, and that makes him the perfect recipient for June’s Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good.
Gehlhausen says his goal is to make ballroom dancing a state funded physical therapy program, like equestrian riding.