The Ballroom Dancer
By Suzanne Buzek
Christon Hurst enjoyed a long, successful career as a biologist, but he never lost sight of his first love—dancing. That, in part, explains why Hurst, an adjunct professor of music and dance in the Department of Music, now considers ballroom dancing his profession and science his hobby.
“Dancing as a teenager, the only dance that was available to me was the Native American dancing,” Hurst recalls. “I wanted to do ballet, by my mother would not have tolerated her son being a ballet dancer. So I sewed the beads onto my dance costume to do Indian dance, and it took a whole year.”
Hurst had his initial exposure to North American Indian dancing at age 15 with the Order of Arrow, a Boy Scout Fraternity. By age 18, he found himself as a dancer-in-residence at the 1972 Ohio State Fair. But Hurst quickly discovered that, while he could get paid to dance, opportunities were scarce.
“The last time I did Indian dancing I actually got paid, like a professional dancer. To dance like that paid a dollar a minute, which, in 1972, was good money,” he says. “The problem was, though, if you could only find 20 to 30 minutes of work in a year, you couldn’t make a living doing Indian dancing.”
With that realization, Hurst earned a degree in biology at the University of Cincinnati, eventually earning his PhD in virology and epidemiology from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He studied water-borne infectious diseases for 27 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, which took him abroad to teach and live in Latin America. Hurst has a lifetime appointment as visiting professor at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia.
“Colombia, while it is not a safe country, has the warmest, most friendly people you will ever meet, or hope to meet,” he says. “If you know one for five minutes, it’s as if they’ve been friends with you your whole life.”
Along the way, he started doing ballroom dancing with his then-newborn daughter, Rachel.
“How do you start a six-month old on ballroom dancing? Well, I picked her up in my left arm—as you always lead the lady on your left arm—and I told her, ‘This is a waltz,’ and she would just look up at me.
“When she was 15 I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said, ‘Ginger Rogers,’” Hurst continues. “I told her there wasn’t much market for that anymore, but that if she wanted to learn ballroom dancing, then I would. So she and I started as dance partners.”
Hurst and his daughter started going to lessons and became dance partners. When he got divorced, he started taking dancing more seriously, going to three lessons every week. After retiring early from the EPA, Hurst switched his priorities to focus on ballroom dancing.
Now, with his Tuesday nights booked with his ballroom dancing classes, Hurst teaches ballroom dance at Xavier and offers lessons for the Anderson Township Park District and the Jewish Community Center. While he is weathered in experience teaching what he loves, he never forgets his dramatic entrance the evening of his first class.
“My first class at Xavier, my first semester, I thought I would show up showing my students what a ballroom dancer actually looks like. So I came as Fred Astaire. I had my white tie, white silk vest, long black tails, top hat and a cane. Every student who was in the class that night dropped it. I had one student who started a week late who stayed. I had to beg to not have the class cancelled.
“I have since learned not to come into class in my white tie, tails and top hat to do ballroom dancing at Xavier. While I think it’s a travesty to do ballroom dancing in jeans, clearly a white tie and tails doesn’t cut it at Xavier, so I compromise.”
Dancing is not without its injuries. In September, Hurst damaged his knee teaching the foxtrot to Xavier students. This has not held him back nor diminished his sharp and poetic outlook on his lifetime profession.
“Ballroom dancing is a series of step-patterns, and they are like letters,” he says. “You put them together to create a short routine, and it’s like making a word. Then, the dance is the sentence or paragraph. When you get into a situation on the floor where you’re having trouble, you have to look smooth and dance yourself out of that situation, remembering the step-patterns you learned and putting them together to lead your partner out of that situation. That’s when you qualify as a ballroom dancer.”