Don Prosch grew up in an incredibly chaotic environment. But instead of envisioning his life through the lens of what he lacked, Prosch — through his raw skill and intelligence, the generosity of strangers, a curious spirit and several lucky breaks — constantly asked the question, “Why not me?” before jumping into his next adventure.
Prosch was born in 1952 in Birmingham to parents who had 8th-grade educations and alcohol addictions.
“My father had been in the Navy and had picked up some habits there — he was a heavy drinker, smoker and gambler, and we moved around a lot because of issues with the police and his violence toward my mother,” Prosch says. “We moved back and forth between south Alabama, coastal Mississippi and Detroit. She would get physically abused, and we’d escape to live with family down South for a while, and then all of a sudden, my father would want us back and we’d return to Detroit.”
Prosch excelled in school and was popular with his peers. Late in junior high, he scored well on standardized testing and was selected for a scholarship to The DeVeaux School, a prestigious boarding school in Niagara Falls, New York.
“I ended up getting a superior education there,” he says. “I also played football, baseball and was captain of the swim team.”
Prosch attended Wittenberg University in Ohio a year before his father became terminally ill from cirrhosis at age 46. The family moved to Mississippi to live with his older brother, a holiness minister.
“The youth leader at my brother’s church was drum major for the Ole Miss marching band,” Prosch says. “He talked to the band director and got me a band scholarship even though I didn’t play an instrument. I got to be the Rebellettes’ personal attendant. I was enamored with all these beautiful women and just had to attend to their pom-poms and all. I thought, ‘This is the best scholarship I’ve ever had.’”
Prosch eventually learned to play the tuba and continued marching at Ole Miss while he earned four full majors in psychology, philosophy, sociology and anthropology. His first exposure to dance was during his senior year.
“I had signed up for a wrestling class,” Prosch says. “But the wrestling coach came to me and asked, ‘Are you the guy they call Don the Dancer?’ I told him I liked to party dance but had never danced seriously. He invited me to join a new dance group instead of wrestling.”
Prosch’s goal was to become a teacher and a coach at a private boarding school after serving in the Peace Corps, but his mother died suddenly just as he had the honor of being the first in his family to graduate from college. His younger brother was beginning his junior year at Satsuma High School, so Prosch agreed to become his legal guardian.
During that time, a girlfriend from Ole Miss invited Prosch to a dance concert at LSU.
“I had never seen a dance performance like that — I was blown away,” he remembers. “It was athletic, required a lot of specialized training, and the music was beautiful. That was the single moment I decided I wanted to be a dancer.”
One of Prosch’s high school teachers was working at a private school in Buffalo, New York, and Prosch reached out to ask about securing a spot for his brother’s senior year. He got Prosch’s brother a scholarship, offered the brothers an apartment on campus and found Prosch a job on the maintenance staff at the school.
“That’s when I started taking formal dance classes,” Prosch says. “I even got into a ballet company and, to my own surprise, got a yearlong job as an actor with a salary and benefits.”
Prosch, 24 at the time, was hooked. He began to dream about dancing professionally. He won a scholarship to the Jacob’s Pillow summer dance festival and then decided to take a three-week course at the Martha Graham School in New York City. Graham was a massively influential dancer and choreographer who developed her own style, the Graham Technique, which elevated modern dance in the U.S. and beyond. Her technique, designed to reflect the contraction and release of the breathing cycle, is known for powerful emotional expression. The technique is still taught worldwide.
“I wanted to see what it was like to learn a specific technique,” Prosch says. “I took two or three classes there a day for three straight weeks. On the very last day, I took an intermediate-level class, and the teacher asked me if I was interested in dancing professionally and offered me a scholarship. I was shocked — I’d barely been dancing for two years.”
Prosch says he’ll never forget his very first rehearsal with The Martha Graham Company.
“Martha herself was in the studio and selected me to do a special part,” he says. “At one point, she stood up, walked toward me and without notice fell into my arms to demonstrate what she wanted from the female dancer in that role. I was stunned! Here I was holding the matriarch of dance in my arms. A good ole boy from Alabama no less. Who’d a thunk it?”
Prosch toured with The Martha Graham Company for two years. He then participated in three European tours with The Murray Louis Company before a knee injury ended his professional performances.
Prosch remained interested in movement, athletics and health. He became a fitness instructor and personal trainer, working with clients like Gloria Steinem before finally achieving his original goal — becoming a teacher. For four years, Prosch taught dance and physical education as well as coaching baseball at an elite private school in Manhattan. During this time, he earned a master’s degree in dance education from Columbia University, where he met his wife, Candice.
“She is a far superior dancer to me,” Prosch says. “I knew I wanted to marry a dancer — I wanted someone who would understand me as a dancer. She was everything I dreamed of and more.”
The couple lived in Vermont for many years, establishing a dance company and school there. During this time, Prosch discovered the human gyroscope, which propelled him into entrepreneurship.
“I had back issues all my life,” he says. “I saw an article about this human gyroscope, and I had imagined such a thing in the past and sketched it out. I bought one and rode it religiously. Within two months, I had no back or knee problems.”
Prosch spent many years manufacturing and selling gyroscopes. In his early 50s, Prosch moved with his family to south Alabama to escape the harsh New England winters and the high cost of living. Candice ran Alabama Contemporary Dance downtown for many years. Prosch danced well into his 50s in addition to running his GyroGym business.
Prosch, now 68 years old, is finally slowing down. “Eventually, gravity and age caught up to me,” he says.
Although he can’t dance these days, Prosch says dance shaped his entire outlook on life and changed him forever.
“I just had confidence in myself,” he says. “I knew I was a good athlete, and I knew I was smart. Why not try?”
He describes himself as an independent thinker, unafraid of trying something new, even if it didn’t make sense to other people. Knowing his father was never able to use his natural talents and intelligence inspired him to never stop exploring the limits of his capabilities.
“I got two things from my father: good genes and intelligence,” Prosch says. “He wasted his, and I was determined not to waste mine. I just always put one foot in front of the other and marched forward to see where it would take me, and I am glad I did. To have danced with Martha Graham — even holding her in my arms — is my greatest achievement as a dancer.”