By: Susan Russo

I have always been intrigued by the grace and agility of ballroom dancers. In fact, the movie “Mad Hot Ballroom” is one of my favorite films. If you’ve never seen it, please do so… it is about an amazing ballroom dance program introduced to fifth graders in New York City.

So… when I read an article in one of my professional journals about ballroom wheelchair dancing, I knew that was a topic I wanted to learn more about!

Wheelchair dancing has grown immensely since the early 1970’s and is presently widespread throughout the world. Surprisingly enough, wheelchair dancing emerged from ballroom dancing associated with dancers who were NOT disabled!

Holland is credited as the birthplace of wheelchair dancing. It was started in the early 1970’s by Evert Castelein and gained momentum during the 1980’s when two championship level ballroom competitors performed the rhumba during an international dance championship in London, England. The audience was both amazed and impressed.

Wheelchair dancing may be a part of a rehabilitation program, a recreational activity, or be done competitively as a sport. In the United States, there are a number of organizations which provide dance instruction for individuals with disabilities. Some of these organizations align their programs with the competitive opportunities sponsored by the International Paralympic Committee.

There are three ways that wheelchair users can enjoy the social interaction of dancing:

  • Dancing as a single person – the wheelchair dancer moves alone/independently
  • Dancing as a pair – wheelchair dancer moves together with another wheelchair dancer, or with a non-disabled dancer
  • Group dancing – several dancers with or without wheelchairs dance together in a choreographed piece

There are many different techniques and issues when beginning to learn to dance with a partner in a chair. In fact, several of the top performers offer instruction and training for those interested in learning how to partner. The article I read was written by Judy Kimmons and her partner, Dale Watts. Their company is based in Colorado.

We are fortunate that here in the United States there are many dance companies comprised of dancers with and without disabilities. In addition to performing, many of these companies provide training, workshops, and dance instruction. When I looked through the list of companies, I was pleased to see that our very own Theresa Award Recipient, Sidiki Conde , and his company, Tokounou Dance Company, were listed!

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