ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He’s light on his feet and tough to beat. He’s Smith Weber.
Weber, 33, has Down syndrome, but that hasn’t kept him off the dance floor.
“I will tell you [Weber] is exceptionally talented, and he is very connected to the music. I think he dances better, and more technically, than what most people would expect,” says Patti Smith, Weber’s dance instructor of eight years.
Weber has won awards for dancing in competitions for people with special needs, and at the Special Olympics in 2011. Smith, who will be Weber’s partner in the Pro-Am division of this week’s New Mexico Dance Fiesta competition, believes Weber is more than ready to compete in standard events, and entered him in the number three level, Newcomer. “Most people would’ve expected me to enter him in like the lowest level, but he’s way more capable than that, so I was not about to do that,” Smith says.
Susie Sandager, Weber’s mother, says, “I want people just to know that people with Down syndrome can do things … He’s always lived up to our expectations, and exceeded our expectations. And I want people to have higher expectations of people with Down’s.”
About eight years ago Weber told his grandmother he wanted a girlfriend, and his grandmother told him that girls like a guy who can dance, and offered to buy him lessons.
“She tells me she wants to buy him dance lessons,” says Sandager, “and I’m thinking ‘What a waste of your money.’ I bring him in here and [Smith] gets a hold of [Weber] and within a couple weeks [he] is just dancing his little tootsie-toes off.”
Smith says teaching dance to people with different challenges helps her to be a better instructor. “I think a lot of people might be intimidated by the situation,” she says.
“She believed in him from the get-go,” Sandager says of Smith.
Smith says this competition is the next step in Weber’s dance journey, and adds, “I mean, ultimately, I’d like to see him be a world champion.”
Weber is a fan of music, and dancing is a part of that. “He takes drum lessons and piano lessons – he loves music,” Sandager says.
“Dancing is fun because music is fun,” says Weber.
Sandager says Weber’s dancing has changed her and her husband’s lives. “Wherever we go when we’re on vacation we get up and we dance, and [Weber] dances with everybody, and he’s not shy,” she says.
“And he’s usually a hit wherever he goes,” adds Smith.
Weber has many aspirations, and says he wants to be famous “for doing all these things I like to do, like dancing, painting and drawing.”
“I just like to have a fun time with dancing,” Weber says. “Good times, just celebrate.”