Student Spotlight: Leif Andersen

When dancing helps the mind and the body.

Leif Andersen, 25, is a PhD candidate in programming languages at Northeastern University. Even though he very much enjoyed spending time with his fellow PhD students, Leif felt the need to get out of his comfort zone.

“I wanted to dance for a while,” he said. So he started ballroom dancing with the Northeastern University Ballroom Dance club in January 2015.

Various aspects of ballroom attracted Leif. “I like the movement, the way the body flows,” he said. Leif couldn’t find a partner right away, so he decided to take lessons with George Cometa.

“Group lessons were not enough and didn’t make me quite as comfortable,” Leif said. Indeed, a more personalized lesson was more appropriate for Leif as he suffers from Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH). ONH highly affects his vision; he has no peripheral vision and no perception of depth.

Even if ONH doesn’t make getting around a crowded dance floor easy, Leif has never perceived it as an obstacle to reaching his goal of being a dancer.

“Leif doesn’t make his vision an excuse. He always wants to know more and tries to get better every time,” George said.

At first, he was a little worried about learning steps, but he immediately felt comfortable with George. “I know I can get close to him to see better,” Leif said.

Leif suspects that he had trouble finding a partner because he has trouble understanding body language because of his lack of vision. But then, he met Amy Yi from Boston University.

“Amy talks a lot,” Leif said, laughing. According to Leif, that’s what makes them good dance partners. By saying out loud what she thinks, instead of giving him a look, Amy communicates perfectly with Leif.

Ballroom dancing has helped Leif in his everyday life. “I tend to hunch over a lot because I am trying to get closer to see stuff,” he said. And ballroom is helping him standing more straight.

He has also noticed that he feels more connected to his body, and his balance has significantly improved. “It helps me get in tune with my body,” Leif said. Dancing also helped him with his self-confidence and interact with different types of people.

As every ballroom dancer, Leif admits walking in reversed or natural turns down his hallway. And his favorite dances waltz and samba.

Leif doesn’t consider himself a role model for people with disability. “I encourage people to go for what they want. It is sad to let the disability limit yourself,” he said.

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