USAF major morphs into dance instructor

By Carol Thompson

Kay Bryan is a force to be reckoned with … she has a black belt in karate! That’s just one of her many talents.

She grew up in the small town of Beloit, Kansas, and like most girls of the time, she went to school, learned to play piano, guitar and alto sax (well, that’s not usual!) and had a baby sitter every Saturday night while her folks went dancing. Kay’s jr high school sent their students one Thursday night per month to dance class, where the girls lined up on one side, boys on the other. It was just the beginning.

After high school, and two years of college, came marriage, then a baby carriage, son Jeremy. Soon after came the dissolution of her marriage and Kay was forced to make adult decisions on her own. She was faced with how to support herself and son with no clear direction of a career. Then came a defining moment in Kay’s life. The United States Air Force came to her rescue.

The Air Force offered Kay a real job. The job? Using the knowledge she obtained in two years at Kansas State University, she became an airman computer programmer at Lackland AFB. It was a special assignment bypassing the technical training school, and required passing written tests and an interview to get. The interview was tough. The gruff interviewer informed Kay they had an all male shop and weren’t about to change that. No pushover, Kay pushed back. The Equal Employment Opportunity Office would be interested in her case. Needless to say, Kay not only was accepted but after nine months was told by the interviewer that he would trade any two of his male airmen for another one like her.

To further her education she would apply for the Airmen Education and Commissioning Program, where they would pay her a salary, pay her tuition to complete her bachelor degree and send her to the Officers Training School upon completion. Kay was selected to get a degree in aeronautical engineering. After two years of schooling, she graduated with a double major in aeronautical engineering and computer programming at Wichita State University. She was the first female to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering from Wichita State.

After completing Officer Training School in San Antonio, she was assigned to the Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. While maintaining a full work load she also attended the Air Force Institute of Technology on a part time basis. There, she received her master’s degree in aeronautical engineering, again becoming the first female to do so. But wait, there’s more.

She was assigned to teach at the Air Force Academy and after two years was selected to go back to school for her Ph.D. At Texas A&M, Kay went on the become the first female to acquire her Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from that institution of higher education. In all, she taught engineering mechanics (aircraft structure) at the Air Force Academy for seven years as an active duty Major, then another three years as a civilian after retirement. After serving a full 20 years in the Air Force, Kay received a disability retirement based on a severe rheumatoid arthritis condition. She was unable to rise from a sitting to standing position at this point in her life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a crippling disease, affecting joints and muscles throughout the body. Kay received no physical therapy, only medications for the pain. Being Kay, she wasn’t held down for long. Long hot tub soaks eased the pain somewhat, and with the meds, Kay was able to return to social dancing in 1994, as a way to keep moving, keep her joints lubricated and fight the disease. Dancing became Kay’s passion and so, of course, she began to want to excel, to compete. By 1998, Kay began to compete in earnest, and over the ensuing years, won three world championships and numerous national ones.

Kay’s passion for dance is a walking advertisement for the advantages of country and ballroom dance. In addition, she does Zumba and line dance and teaches all categories. “Dancing is the best non-medicinal treatment for depression,” says Kay. It also aids in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and more recently Parkinson’s diseases, slowing the progress of these afflictions. In addition, dance is wonderful for increasing mental acuity, cardio responses for the heart, lungs, social and emotional well-being. Dance helps one to tone muscles and lose weight. Kay still relishes her long hot soaks in the tub, but no longer takes any medications for the arthritis pain.

In 2004, Kay opened her All About Dance studio at the northeast corner of Vickers and Academy (see www.AllAboutDanceCO.com or call 719-265-8000).

Kay offers a weekly Tuesday night practice session from 6-7:30 p.m. for only $5. Her second Sunday of each month dance is from 6-9 p.m. and is open to all dancers, country and ballroom.

In addition, Kay teaches dance classes at the Colorado Springs Senior Center on Wednesday afternoons (719-955-3400 for information.) For those preferring a nightclub environment, you can catch Kay or her dance partner John Sinnot, teaching Country two-step classes for free on Saturday nights from 6-7 p.m. at the new Whiskey Baron Saloon, on the corner of Vickers and Academy. Band starts at 9 p.m., DJ music from 6-9 p.m.

For those who say they can’t dance, two left feet, can’t learn, Kay says, “I can teach you” and you better believe her. She says, “no one is helpless, you have to keep practicing, repeating what you have learned in class, don’t give up.” See you on the dance floor!

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