2002 "Person of the Year"
Benji Schwimmer - Champion in dancing and in life.
When setting the criteria for the USA Swing Net "Person of the Year" award, we sought candidates who, "because of their achievements, actions and example over the past year, demonstrated excellence and helped to enhance the image of Swing in a significant way." Based upon input from event directors, judges, competitors, and Swing fans around the country - Benji Schwimmer meets and exceeds that standard. He is our 2002 "Person of the Year."
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His talent is unquestionable. His creativity is exceptional. His work ethic is unmatchable. His character is impeccable. Not only is he a Champion on the dance floor but he is also also a wonderful role model for youth. And now, with his recent decision to forego dancing for the next two years to serve the less fortunate, Benji has made a "statement" that far surpasses anything he has ever done on the dance floor. But for a moment, let's first look back, not forward...
In 2001, Benji Schwimmer shocked the Swing World by winning the Showcase Division with his partner, Heidi, at the US OPEN at the young age of 17. In 2002, that feat was repeated - despite the fact that Benji had undergone major knee surgery just a few months earlier. Then, as if to add an exclamation point to cap off an already successful year, he and Heidi won the Worlds Invitational Showcase Championship in Nashville just one month later. The duo never lost a Showcase competition the entire year.
Benji's love of dance and his passion for excellence are two of the key ingredients to his success. He is intense and he is focused. Whether alone, or with Heidi, he generally practices his craft 5 hours a day, 6 days a week - and not just Swing, but also Latin, Hip-Hop, and dance technique. He also teaches / coaches another 20 hours a week. In fact, he helped guide two couples from his studio to Division Championships at the 2002 US OPEN.
Benji also produces the soundtracks for the music he dances to - often using multiple studios, making as many as 20 separate edits and adding additional audio tracks to enhance the impact of the song. He is an artist who is intent on achieving perfection in every element of the dance. The "best" are always driven that way.
In addition to all his dance-related activities, Benji also finds time to serve his community through the local church he belongs to. And now, despite being at the peak of his dance success, he has made the stunning decision to completely give up dancing, friends, family - and his lifelong partnership with Heidi - for a two full years in order to serve disadvantaged people at a Mission in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a sign of his character as well as his life priorities and we commend him for this marvelous act of caring and kindness.
Benji Schwimmer is widely respected by his fellow dance competitors, by event directors, by judges, and by dancers all across the United States. He is a credit to the Swing dance community and a symbol of excellence in every regard. Through his dance artistry this past year he raised the bar for Swing dance competitors everywhere; with his recent selfless act of volunteerism, he also raised the bar on social awareness and personal commitment for the rest of us in the Swing world. He is a special kind of person.
And so, not only for his wide-ranging dance and coaching achievements, but also for having triumphed over physical adversity, for setting a positive example his for fellow competitors, for inspiring thousands of social dancers over the course of the year - and most importantly - for choosing to give up his flourishing dance career and his beloved partnership with Heidi in order to contribute to the higher ideals of humanity, we are extremely proud to select Benji Schwimmer as the 1st recipient of the USA Swing Net "Person of the Year" award for 2002.
"The great thing about you is that it's not about your dance talent at all - it's about who you are as a person. It's about what comes from your heart and your soul. Dance is just the vehicle, but it all stems from the foundation of who you are as a person." - Robert Royston
"We have always admired his dedication and perfection of our dance. Benji doesn't do anything half-way. If he dances, he practices until it is PERFECT. He has been a true friend to us and we will miss him dearly. We know the entire dance community will be waiting with open arms for his return." - Jordan Frisbee & Tatiana Mollmann
"More important than the
dance is the 'quality of being' and Benji has that quality - always
courteous, well mannered, and the kind of young man that anyone would be
proud to have in the 'family'." - Skippy Blair
note: While this award spotlights Benji - primarily on the basis of his
unique humanitarian commitment - we would like to send out a special acknowledgement to
his partner, Heidi,
whose own talent, dedication, support, and character helped make it
possible for Benji to achieve much of the success he has shared on the
dance floor since
their partnership began more than a decade ago. As Benji always insists,
"We're not two separate dancers, we're 'Benji & Heidi' ".
And so, in honor of this remarkable partnership and out of abiding
respect for the wonderful person that SHE is, we'd like to publicly
salute Heidi Groskreutz, as well.
ŠUSA Swing Net