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Phommachanh dances to Center Stage win

Former Turnstone client goes out of way to help organization

Sockie Phommachanh, left, won the second annual Center Stage talent show on May 9. Runner-up was Conner Johnson, right, and Ellise Young was third.
Anthony Gadson

Anthony Gadson

Whatzup Editor

Published May 10, 2023

When he first began dancing, he drew laughs. When he took the stage Tuesday night at The Clyde Theatre, Sockie Phommachanh drew rave reviews, taking home the $1,000 prize in the second annual Center Stage talent show.

“When I started, it was knocking ankles on coffee tables and just dancing in the garage,” Phommachanh said.

The Fort Wayne native says he began dancing as an eighth grader in 2008. And what else could have gotten him moving but, of course, a girl.

“There was the girl I really liked, and I asked her to a dance, and she said, ‘Yeah.’” he said. “Once she said yes, I realized, ‘I don’t know how to dance, and I’m going to a dance with this girl.’ So, I got on YouTube and learned ‘Crank That (Soulja Boy).’ The was the first dance I did in front of my brother and my cousin, and they laughed at me. They just busted out laughing. They did not let it go the rest of the night.”

It’s safe to say the laughter has stopped as the jaws have dropped.

Front and center

At Center Stage, a fundraiser for Turnstone, Phommachanh initially acted like his popping routine was finished after a couple minutes. However, after his music called him back, he donned a pair of LED glasses and continued to entertain.

His performance wowed judges Nick D’Virgilio, Julia Meek, Alicia Pyle, and Christopher Spalding enough to take first among the 10 performers.

Second place went to actor Connor Johnson, who has a multimedia presentation of a song from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Singing while signing the lyrics, he also had a video of himself singing the background harmonies behind him.

In third place was 13-year-old Ellise Young, who gave a raucous rendition of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.”

‘Anything for Turnstone’

As with all the contestants, Phommachanh praised Turnstone, a facility that is northeast Indiana’s “only free-standing not-for-profit organization providing a comprehensive continuum, of supportive services addressing the unique needs of people with disabilities and their families.”

Injured in a house fire as a youth, Phommachanh knows first-hand what Turnstone can do. With his passion for the nonprofit, he said half of his winnings will go back to the organization while the other half could be used help on his journey to get his doctorate in occupational therapy from Huntington University.

“I was a never walk or talk,” he said. “I wasn’t able to think, at least that what they said. My mom said, ‘No.’ They fitted me for a wheelchair, and she said, ‘No.’ She had me go through therapy and I ended up at Turnstone at some point.

“All the people there, I could just keep naming them. (Turnstone CEO) Mike Mushett was the one who got me into grad school. He wrote the recommendation letter. I ran into Nancy Louraine earlier. She was the CEO before Mike Mushett. (Director of Social Services) Kathy Baer was our social worker. My mom was going through so much at that time, so someone like Kathy Bear was an angel. She was there the whole time. You can imagine a single mom taking care of their kid with all these surgeries.”

The organization means so much to him that he was running on fumes on Tuesday night, having just returned to the States after a mission trip to Guatemala.

“Anything for Turnstone,” he said. “I actually have been crazy busy. We had finals, then I had a mission trip, and I just drove back from Indy last night after 10 hours of flying. I unpacked my bags, went to sleep, woke up this morning and made the music (for the performance). I was like, ‘If it’s for Turnstone, I gotta make it happen.’

Trying something new

Between his busy schedule of pursing his doctorate, going on mission trips, running a dance crew in Indianapolis, and volunteering as a counselor at Hoosier Burn Camp in Battle Ground, you can find Phommachanh wherever there is dancing.

Although breakdancing, popping, and krump are his specialties, he’s branching out.

“If there’s dancing, I’m there,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of popping going on in Fort Wayne, so I ended up joining salsa and bachata (classes at Unify Ballroom Dancesport Center in the Northcrest Shopping Center) because I want to keep dancing.”

Phommachanh pays his $7 to attend the class every Tuesday from 8-10 p.m., perhaps preparing for a whole new routine at next year’s Center Stage.

“I am a dancer, but I’m not a salsa dancer,” he said. “But they teach. It’s hard, but it’s nice when you have the guidance.”

And guidance by Turnstone has helped make him a guide for others.


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