Because she’s been a college athletic department administrator almost continuously since 1987, Chris Kuznar has always understood competition and the constant drive to improve. She just never figured she’d beat any of those she worked with to a national championship.
For Mother’s Day in 2017, Kuznar’s daughter Shannon gave her a gift certificate for ballroom dancing lessons. Kuznar and her husband Larry had always been Shannon’s biggest fans when she was part of the Purdue ballroom dancing team, but now she was moving on to grad school and was done competing. She played a hunch with her mom’s gift.
“Wow! I love this, I can’t wait!” Kuznar said.
It turned out to be the perfect idea, and four years later after starting at age 53, ballroom dancing has become her passion. Last spring, the Purdue University Fort Wayne senior associate athletic director for internal operations won a national title in her skill division dancing with Christopher Spalding, owner of The Fort Wayne Ballroom Company.
“Chris is so great as a student because she is a combination of artist and athlete that is hard to find,” Spalding said. “She loves the beauty, but understands what it means to train. She has grown very quickly because she has been willing to put in the work, both in lessons and on her own.”
In fact, Kuznar practices to make sure she can get the most out of every weekly practice session with Spalding. Often, she’s ready to go before he’s had a chance to catch his breath from the last lesson.
“If I’m going to do something I commit to it,” Kuznar said. “Like a lot of individuals in athletics, I think it’s part of our internal makeup. I’m passionate about anything I spend time doing, so this is something I am committed to and therefore am passionate about.”
She knows she’s effective when Spalding is sweating to keep up with her—and there are even times when she pushes him to another level.
A former high school gymnast in Pennsylvania, Kuznar has always been physically active. While Larry, a retired anthropology professor at PFW, prefers triathlons, her favorite pastime has been riding horses. As the horses aged, she wanted something a little safer with less injury risk. Dancing keeps her moving and in great shape with improved flexibility and endurance.
There’s also the artistic element to it, which she continues to explore with Spalding. Her goal is to keep going and compete at the next two skill levels.
“I will dance as long as I am able to,” Kuznar said. “It is so much about me learning the lessons that I talk about with my (student-athletes). They never think their careers are going to end, or if something is going to happen (like an injury). I ask them, ‘What is your next passion?’ that helps them to start to think, because it’s not something they want to think about. This is me walking the walk.”
Kuznar believes the best thing about dancing is that her drive only increases as she continues to improve. Just like an athlete who gets better through repetition, there’s more instinctual movement and less reacting.
Luckily, she’s never reluctant to go to practice or work hard.
“My practice is my opportunity,” Kuznar said. “Whatever I’m dealing with in my day, whatever I’m trying to solve or fix at work or with family or whatever, you cannot think about it when you are ballroom dancing. Maybe that’s one of the things about it I love so much, it’s an opportunity to shut out the rest of the world and focus on something that is positive and healthy and a good partnership with Chris. I can’t think about any of that other stuff.
“This is such a good fit for me right now. What a great opportunity ballroom dancing and other things like that can be for people to challenge themselves to grow. There’s no age that we have to stop growing. I’m living my life by example.”