Macky James of Monroe brought two things back from his service with the U.S. Marines in the Iraq War: post-traumatic stress disorder and a love of dancing.
Now, James uses one to help combat the other.
James, who will appear on the NBC talent show "Dancing With Myself" in an episode that will air Tuesday, spent some time at West Monroe High School but was mostly homeschooled before joining the Marines.
He said he never really danced seriously until he joined the military.
"I kind of picked it up when I was in Okinawa," James said. "We'd go out to the clubs when we were on leave, and I started looking up YouTube videos and learning how to do the dances. Then we'd go out and practice them at the club."
When James was deployed to Iraq, he fell in with others who loved to dance, and he just went along for the ride.
"It's a pretty stressful environment out there," he said. "I was just walking around exploring one of the bases during my off time, and they had this thing where you could learn salsa (dancing). I learned a lot of it while I was in Iraq; that's basically where I learned to dance."
After his tour of duty, James came back to northeastern Louisiana, enrolling in Louisiana Delta Community College and then transferring to the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
He has been diagnosed with PTSD, and said that he has found dancing to be therapeutic in dealing with his condition.
"Not only is it good exercise, but it allows you to get a mental break and kind of not focus on anything else but that one thing," James said. "I do things like that to take my mind of everything to de-stress and bring me back to center.
"Dance, to me, is kind of a way to relieve some of that mental stress and get some of those good endorphins going. Focusing on learning this one complex technique or movement is kind of like a little escape from my head sometimes. It's like a meditation almost."
'Anyone can get up and dance'
"The premise of the show is that anyone can get up and dance, just do it," James said. "It's a dance competition for non-professional dancers."
At the top of each episode, a total of 12 contestants go through six different rounds of competition, and the studio audience will vote for the most entertaining dancers each round, as well as who landed the moves best. By the end of the night, it will come down to the final two as they face off one-on-one to determine the winner.
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The episode in which James appears has already been taped, and the result is a closely guarded secret, but James said his experience on the show was "fantastic."
"It was so cool being around other people who love to dance," he said. "To have people of the same caliber, not that I'm the best dancer or anything, but we're all on the same wavelength. Having that like-minded group of individuals to be around in a collaborative way was really fun."
James said he will take more than just memories away from his time on "Dancing With Myself."
"We weren't there just to compete, we made friends that will probably last a lifetime," he said. "We stay connected through Instagram and all social media. We sort of shared that journey together, it was a really, really cool experience."
The episode of "Dancing With Myself" featuring James will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on NBC.
This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Monroe man on 'Dancing With Myself' learned moves while serving in Iraq