Photo by Chris Casella

Don’t Look Away

Kevin Schroeder is the CBJ’s biggest fan.

It says so on the back of his custom made Blue Jackets jersey (which the organization gave to him), but beyond that, it’s a literal fact; Kevin will tell you he’s a big guy and his true sentiments about his fanhood are undeniable.

Right now, the Big Fan is watching his beloved team lose to the Washington Capitals from a sports bar stool in Hilliard, donning a backwards ball cap adorned with faint autographs from Blue Jackets past and present. You may not recognize all the names, but Kevin, though, might be the most recognized person associated with the Blue Jackets.

Better known as “Dancing” Kevin, the overweight dancing shirtless fiasco of fun has been gaining national notoriety thanks to the video footage of his provocative-dance-grinding-session with a beer promoting bear mascot. Its one of hundreds of times since 2001 that Kevin, unofficially cued, would rise from his seat, and strip off his shirt, unleashing an avalanche of skin and team spirit. His comical gyrations have become the hockey team’s version of OSU’s dancing Neutron Man, an unofficial mascot that has become as much an integral part of the game experience as any goal or sponsored promotion.

And to think, this all started just because his girlfriend wanted desperately to get on the arena’s Jumbotron. You really want to get on? Kevin asked. Fat guy dancing will get you on. He was right. The cameraman had no choice but to aim at the most energetic thing in the arena. Kevin laughs about that first time, claiming comically to “black out” and forget about the original purpose altogether.

“So I get up, I start dancing…she gets up to dance with me and I push her out of the way. I just danced,” he said.

Kevin has been dancing for over a decade, his appearances unexpected, but his painted flailing stomach yearned for. (614) was able get the future Hall of Fame Fan to sit still long enough to talk nerves, belly paint, and why he can’t choreograph his dances.

Are you writing things on your stomach every time you go to a game?  Absolutely. Different stuff all the time.

What are some of them? It depends. My belly is a special place. It’s called, ‘Belly Love.’ What I try to do with Belly Love is give it to players who deserve some recognition if they’re doing something well, or if the team is doing something well, or if someone like [Columbus General Manager] Jarmo Kekalainen or [owner] John Davidson does something well, I like to give them Belly Love. So I come up with different sayings.

How many times have you danced at games? I don’t even know. I’ve lost count.

Kevin starts to ponder the question and does the math.

We can work this out. I do 15-20 a year, times that by a few years – it’s been a couple hundred times.

What one was the most memorable? It had to be the home opener this year because that one went totally crazy and viral and I didn’t know what to expect with the bear and while the bear was kind of grabby, it was OK. That one was a really good one.

You dancing with the Labatt bear was random? I’ve danced with him before; it was the last game of the 2013 season. The day before the game, the Jackets got in touch with me and said to me, “The Labatt Bear wants to really dance with you, would you mind?” So, before the dance actually happened, people would go, “Was it planned? Did you choreograph?” No. What really happens is that before every dance, I’m scared to death. Every time. Scared to death. I’m too nervous to even think. It was right before I was about to dance, I saw the Labatt guy standing over there and I say, ‘What’re we doing?’ And he says, “Just start dancing—[the Bear] will come out.” So I just start dancing, he [the Bear] comes out. And we just grinded and went crazy.

Kevin really is nervous before every dance. He has this idea of choreographing specific dance moves for each game, but they quickly crumble and become a series of improvised gesticulations. He used to revert to nipple rubbing in years past, but with the backlash that it presented, he’s kept it simple with quick movements and pouring beer on himself. “I’m so scared that people will say, ‘Kevin, you can’t be scared,’” he said. “Sometimes I sit there and I think, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ No, I just blackout and what happens, happens.”

Were you scared the first time you did it? No, because I was just being stupid and didn’t think of the ramifications of it. I was just acting like a dweeb that day, trying to be funny, and trying to get my girlfriend up there. Now, I’m totally afraid, because that’s a lot of people. Also, people expect it. People go, ‘There’s no stress.’ And I’m like, ‘No, there’s stress.’ Example: last season, the very first home game I’m at and I’m nervous and this lady shows up and goes, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad you’re here. I live in Chicago and I came last year to a game and I saw you dance and I loved it so much that I drove down here for the home opener knowing you were going to be here.’ And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God. You drove six hours just to see me dance for a minute? No pressure there…’ And I also think, what about people who’ve never seen me before? I don’t want to let anybody down. I don’t want to let the team down. So, it builds on me and I get all stressed out. But then afterwards, it’s fun.

Do you cope with it by pouring beer on yourself?

I don’t always pour beer on myself, but it’s turned into a thing where people like it so much that people literally hand me beers and say, ‘Here, pour this on yourself.’ And I’m like, OK? I don’t always do it. I don’t always plan it.

Would you compare yourself to a streaker going across the ice?

Probably so….

Kevin rethinks the question.

No, no, because I would never streak across the ice because first off, they’re going to tackle me if I do that. And I don’t want anything “important close to the ice—you know what I mean? I compare it to a car wreck you just can’t turn away from.

So you’re just the big, giant car wreck? It’s mesmerizing—I’ve been told that. People say, “I want to turn away, but I can’t. I can’t turn away.”

If you want to get a look at Dancing Kevin in person, the CBJ have home games on Dec. 9, 13, 18, 20, 22, 27, and 31.