There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for Jim Kobos to be dancing at this particular moment, much less to be having so much fun doing it.
The team he works as an usher for — the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets — is losing by two dozen points to the Dallas Mavericks. The 16,000 or so people in uptown’s Spectrum Center are growing more listless with each Hornets turnover, and many of the home-team fans in the lower-level sections (with the best view of Kobos) look as if only a miracle could cheer them up.
Yet in nearly every break in the action, the 56-year-old guy in the dark suit with a nametag that says “Jim K.” takes a designated spot on the landing, faces the crowd and starts a one-man dance party, while the arena DJ blasts everything from disco to Diplo.
Yes, it seems a little crazy — partly because absolutely no one else in his vicinity is dancing, but also because of the way he’s dancing: as if everything he ever learned about cutting a rug came out of a Jane Fonda workout video, circa 1986.
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Rest assured, it seems a little crazy to Kobos, too.
“If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d be doing this, I would have looked at you and said, ‘No way,’” he says.
But that was before.
The birth of a side hustle
Since 2008, by day, Kobos (pronounced “KOH-biss”) has worked out of an office at ArrowPointe Federal Credit Union in Fort Mill, S.C.’s Regent Towne Center, in a job with a title that doesn’t sound like an action-packed thrill ride: He’s the co-op’s director of asset liability management, investments and risk mitigation.
He has no background in performing arts, and in fact as a younger man was pretty shy — the last person you’d expect to be the first one on the dance floor at a party.
Kobos says he didn’t apply to usher for the Charlotte Knights (back in the Triple-A team’s last season at the old Fort Mill stadium) to crank up the fun in his life. He and his wife actually needed the extra income: They were bracing for four sons in college at one time, and he had some medical expenses looming.
Mainly, he’d suffered from back problems since the early ‘90s, when he herniated and partially tore a disc after finally getting around to removing an apple tree from his yard that was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Other chronic pains stemmed from diabetic neuropathy and inguinal hernias.
On top of that, Kobos had also let a sedentary lifestyle get the best of him, he says, and woke up one day weighing 265 pounds. So when his boys started pressuring him to do something about it, he decided to find an aerobics class, since he’d loved them when he was younger.
He quickly learned Zumba was the closest thing. So Zumba it was.
“My first goal was not to fall down,” he says of the classes, where he often stood out as the only male.
“I always had rhythm, but I was not a dancer. Eventually, I discovered ... if I couldn’t do the steps, I would just walk in place. And then after a few months, my goal was I wanted to be going left when everybody else was going left, and then going right when everybody else was going right, so I wouldn’t knock anybody over.”
As he was busy keeping his body moving, the Knights went on the move, too — into uptown’s BB&T Ballpark in 2014, where, suddenly, ushers had to figure out how to deal with sellouts of 10,000-plus fans.
And in a sport like baseball, Kobos says, without constant action like basketball, a full-house crowd might not get to release all the energy it builds up. He could feel that happening.
He saw it as the perfect excuse to come out of his shell.
Dancing through life
“So I started doing a little bit to help enhance their experience,” Kobos says of his first few games at the new stadium. “And it just sort of built from there. I would try things, and sometimes they worked, sometimes they wouldn’t.”
One thing that worked particularly well: Breaking into salsa- or merengue-style steps from his Zumba class when the stadium DJ played music. Maybe that’s because it’s hard not to be entertained by the sight of a middle-aged man dancing like he just stepped out of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
Since he started Zumba-ing and ushering, he’s lost about 40 pounds. Yet at times, it’s been tough. In 2015, he had a problem using his left leg — couldn’t lift it — and found out he had some arthritis in his knees and hips being caused by his back injury. He had surgery, but it wasn’t a cure; his doctor said he probably would benefit from a spinal fusion down the road.
At some point, he developed a limp, and got to where he couldn’t get more than around the block without needing to stop and stretch. Sometimes just standing for a few minutes hurt.
But he kept on dancing through the discomfort.
And in 2017, a Hornets staffer approached him at a game and encouraged him to apply to be an usher for that team. So he took his act to the NBA, too.
What do his bosses at the arena think? They love it. With a caveat.
“People watch him dance, and I think a lot of ‘em think the same thing: ‘What?? What is this white guy doing?” says one of Kobos’s supervisors, Theo Goodman, laughing. “But I mean, he is doin’ his thing, and folks enjoy it.”
Goodman says he stations Kobos between Sections 115 and 116, at the bottom of the aisle steps that lead to the floor, because he says that side of the arena is “my fun side.”
Still, he concedes that not everyone finds Kobos entertaining.
“Some of the security people, you know, they’re a little more stoic. Some of them don’t like what he do,” Goodman says, “so they’ll actually kind of whisper stuff to me. I just always say, ‘Hey, look, as long as he’s doing his job first, I don’t mind if he dances. As soon as he stops doing his job, then ... I’m gonna whisper in his ear, ‘Alright, now look, I need you to get focused, OK?’”
Goodman can’t recall a time he’s had to whisper in Kobos’s ear.
So Kobos keeps dancing — even when he sees stray fans mocking him.
“Some people might look at some old, balding, overweight, extremely handsome and good-looking old guy,” Kobos says, flashing a smile, “and they’ll film me, and they’ll put me on (social media), and yeah, make fun of me. But look, if you want to laugh at me, that’s fine. ... Because if they’re laughing, they’re capturing a feeling of joy. And I take that as I am helping that person have a great experience.”
That’s all he wants: to show people a good time, the best way he knows how.
So despite his back pain and his other assorted ailments, he keeps dancing.
He keeps inviting young children to come down to dance with him, and they keep happily obliging. He keeps getting tapped on the shoulder and turning around to find someone telling him how much fun they have watching him. He keeps hoping people will feel the joy he’s putting out there and pass it on to others.
Because he says his dancing has taught him that love is energy, not emotion, and that people need it.
“I used to joke when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a philanthropist when I grew up. As it turns out, I don’t have money to give away to everybody — but I do have something more important to give, and something that’s...
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes