Dancing in Wheelchairs

November 20, 2015 by
Filed Under: Blog, Dance Styles

Dancing in Wheelchairs

On a recent web search for ballroom news, I discovered an interesting event that took place in October in Traverse City, Michigan.  The Life Beyond Barriers Rehabilitation center sponsored a wheelchair ballroom dance clinic.  The free program was supported by a grant from the nonprofit foundation of Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan.  Cheryl Angelelli and partner Sergio Sancez, co-directors of the Dance Mobility program at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills, taught the program. Angelelli is a former Paralympic swimmer and she and her teacher Sanchez are competitive dancers and winners of the dance competition at the Fred Astaire Megadance Dancesport Championships in Washington, D.C.   They provided a dance demonstration before teaching particpants the waltz and the rhumba to other wheelchair users and their dance partners.

dancing in wheelchairs Upon learning about this inspiring event, I became curious about what other programs are offered to teach ballroom dance to those who use wheel chairs.  I discovered the American Dance Wheels Foundation.  This organization is based in Pennsylvania and appears to be the most prominent of it’s kind in the United States. The executive director Melinda Kremer shared that her experiences of dancing with her first dance partner in a wheel chair and that of having a daughter with a disability lead her to realize that ballroom dancing had an amazing opportunity to bring the able-bodied and disabled worlds together.  A curriculum was established so that wheelchair ballroom dancing could be done socially.  The Wheel One Wheelchair Ballroom and Latin Dance Curriculum was created and Kremer co-funded the non-profit organization American DanceWheels Foundation to promote the dance in the United States.  Today the dance curriculum is used socially and competitively.

The American Dance Wheels Foundation offers both group and private dance classes.  They also offer training for professional ballroom dancers to get certified in the Wheel One syllabus so that they can teach and participate in Ballroom Wheel Chair dancing. They also offer training for physical and occupational therapists because dance has been used as therapy to improve strength, coordination, posture, head control, and more.

In 2012, American Dance Wheels Foundation partnered with Minna Hong, PT, PhD, to conduct a research project named “So You Think You Can’t Dance.”  The study was conducted to investigate the therapeutic effectiveness it may have on those living with spinal cord injuries.  The study found that the participants who engaged in wheelchair dancing using a manual or power wheelchair with their standing partners over a six week period experienced an improvement in their bilateral range of motion, strength, 6 minute wheeling distance, reaction time, wheelchair skills, upper extremity coordination, and community participation.  The participants also demonstrated loss of weight and reduction of resting pain.   I’m not surprised that dance has proved to have such a positive effect on those dancing on wheel chairs considering the positive benefits reaped by dancers without disabilities.  The study received an award recognition at the 2013 Academy of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals Conference.

After learning about the American Dance Wheels Foundation, I got the suspicion that there are even more foundations and events evolving around dancing in wheelchairs both nationally and internationally.  Sure enough, there are several wheelchair dance teams in the United States, one based in Southern California.  Internationally, I discovered that Germany hosts the IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport Competitions, which includes waltz, tango, Viennese, waltz, slow foxtrot, quickstep, samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive.  The competition’s freestyle showcase can include any of the standard dances of any style for presentation including folk, hip-hop, Latin, standard, ballet, contemporary, street dance, salsa, Argentinean tango, cumbia, belly dance and more.

It seems that the world of wheelchair dancing is growing and there are continually more opportunities for those using wheelchairs to dance.  It’s fantastic that wheelchair dancers have more and more resources to reap the benefits of ballroom and partner dancing, as well as other dance styles.

Article by Ziva.