Bill Kelbe is pushing. Pushing to keep his legs straight and his arms steady, pushing to make his reluctant body move in ways it doesn't want to go. His actions at the barre may not flow like the smooth, seamless moves of a practiced professional, but they're impressive for a dead man. That is, for a man who's supposed to be dead.
Nearly two years ago, Mr. Kelbe was driving with a friend to Sarasota, Fla., when a two-car collision left him brain-injured and in a coma.
He was 21 and one month away from performing his first major role with Ballet Florida. Doctors didn't think he would live, and when he proved them wrong, they said he wouldn't walk. He wouldn't talk.
Since then, Mr. Kelbe, who lives with his parents in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has moved from being a man poised on the edge of a promising ballet career to a man pushing for the chance to dance again.
A year ago, Mr. Kelbe returned to the rehearsal room at the headquarters of Ballet Florida, a West Palm Beach professional company.
As Mr. Kelbe rebuilt his body and his confidence, he began rebuilding his life. In April, he confronted the alcohol addiction that had surfaced before the accident. Last month, at age 22, he sewed up another loose end by earning his high school diploma through a Broward County adult education program. He wanted to prove he could do it. And more.
"He's a prime example of what you can do with determination," says Marty Dunne, a guidance counselor for the adult education program, "an example of what happens when you focus on what you can do instead of what you can't."
What Mr. Kelbe can do is spend four days a week in 3 1/2 -hour sessions, working out alone in a room empty of all things except a barre, a mirror that runs nearly the length of the room, and hope.
He lifts his right leg up to the barre and stretches his right arm to touch the toe. His arm shakes softly. It's a tremor, an effect of the accident that is with him still. He fights to steady the arm, his face a study of concentration and determination. Bending his knees and sweeping his arms low, he loses his balance and grabs the barre. He still has problems with balance, a constant reminder of the accident, of the damage done to his brain.
Though he knows his moves aren't those of the dancer he was before and may never be again, his eyes never leave the mirror.
"Now I can look in the mirror and see a nice-looking person, and four months ago I couldn't do that," he says, taking a break but still eyeing his reflection. "As a dancer, you totally live within your body; you're looking at yourself 12 hours a day. And for so long, I'd see myself and be repelled by what I saw.
"I remember the doctor saying that I wouldn't walk or talk again and now you can't shut me up or sit me down," he says. "It's all because I want to dance again. That's what I want. To show people and to show myself that I can dance again."