Tucson’s dancing man on the north side spreads smiles

Dancing out of depression

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -You may have seen his moves, or at least a video. He’s known as the “dancing man” on the north side.

“I dance like I don’t care everybody’s watching, and I dance as if no one is watching,” said dancing man Rex Wilkins,

Hundreds of cars, bikers and walkers pass by him every day, including Roger Post.

“I’ve seen him out here a couple times, and a lot of the other walkers and bikers…we talk about him,” Post said. “I thought he was trying to be funny and make people laugh, and I was kind of curious if he had headphones, and what he was listening to.”

Wilkins’s dance moves are as varied as his music.

“I like rock and Brazilian music, and Weird Al,” he said.

From metal to jazz and everything in between, as long as it gets him in the “groove,” he’s plugged in. Some stare as he dances on the corner, some laugh and take a video. Whatever their reaction, he hopes his dancing doesn’t end on this corner.

“I have never seen it in person,” said Aylea Wilkins, Rex’s wife. “I think he gives the public his best work.”

Always known to be the life of the party and make others laugh, his dancing is no different.

“Maybe I make their day just a little bit brighter because I kind of understand how difficult it can be,” said Wilkins.

He didn’t always dance on the corner or run. As a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, stress piled on stress and depression sank in.

“It kind of came to a head somewhere around the fall of 2019,” he said.

Instead of running on roads like he does now, he’d walk by them to and from class. The deeper the depression—the darker the thoughts.

“I wonder(ed) really what it would be like to walk in front of an oncoming truck,” he said. “…because maybe I’d feel something.”

The person who was known to light up any room, slowly faded.

“It was very hard to know how much he was hurting and that he felt so alone,” Aylea said.

After having suicidal thoughts, he knew he needed help. Wilkins opened up to his wife and sought professional help for his depression, with counseling and medication. He eventually picked up some shoes and started running.

“I honestly thought it was going to be a temporary thing,” Aylea said.

Running along Oracle while seeking professional help, he slowly began to shed not only his depression and those thoughts but weight as well. At the start of his journey weighing about 280 pounds, he looks back on pictures of himself not with hate or negative emotions, but compassion.

“That guy in that photo is not a bad person, he’s not stupid, he was going through a lot, I was going through a lot,” he said.

Every run feeling more like himself, and happy, he started to dance overwhelmed with joy, and hoping others might feel some of it too.

Whether it’s more confidence and compassion toward their body, a laugh to stop negative thoughts for a second, or inspiration to try something new—he hopes with his silly moves, people understand their individual worth and see vulnerability is not a weakness.

“The worth of every soul is great,” he said. “If I can put a smile on at least one person’s face today, I’ve made a difference.”

If you or a loved one are in crisis—please seek help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline by clicking here.

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