Have you been sitting in your wheelchair watching Dancing with the Stars and yearning to sweep gracefully across the dance floor or join your friends in a night out on the town, dream no longer. Across the globe, dance studios offer people with disabilities the opportunity to learn the socially and physically beneficial activity of wheelchair dancing. If you’re a person with a competitive side, you might even find yourself competing regionally or internationally some day.
First begun in 1972, wheelchair dance integrates people with and without disabilities in a variety of dances and helps people with physical impairments restore a sense of normalcy in their lives. Depending upon your tastes, you can learn waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot, quickstep and Latin-American dances like the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble, and jive.While any dance that progresses around a floor, such as waltz and fox trot, is easier to accomplish in a wheelchair than some of the basically stationary dances, such as the cha-cha-cha and swing, with a good teacher, patience, and persistence, any dance can be mastered.In wheelchair dancing—also known as adaptive dancing—the wheeler usually propels the wheelchair while the able-bodied dancer leads. Both partners concentrate on keeping time to the music and both take an active role in what happens on the dance floor. Other styles of dance include duo-dance, which features two wheelchair dancers together, and group dance, which includes wheelchair users and able-bodied individuals dancing in synchronized formation, as well as participating with freestyle movement to the music. Individuals with varying levels of ability in either manual or power chairs can participate.
Besides helping to build confidence and reduce the sense of social isolation that sometimes impacts wheelchair users, researchers have shown that dance offers many health benefits. Mayo Clinic researchers report that social dancing helps to reduce stress, increase energy, improve strength, increase muscle tone and coordination—especially of the arms and shoulders—and maintain flexibility. Dancing can also lower your risk of coronary heart disease, decrease blood pressure, and help you manage your weight. Other touted benefits include building and increasing stamina, developing the circulatory system, and helping release toxins via sweating. Dancing’s social aspect helps you develop strong social ties and leads to less stress, depression, and loneliness. Since dance also requires memorizing steps and working with a partner, the activity provides mental challenges that are crucial for brain health—including reducing the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Once you become competent with social dance, you might be tempted to take it to the competitive level. Competitive wheelchair dancing has been around since 1977 when the first international competition in Wheelchair Dance Sport took place. So whether you want to learn to dance for a wedding, special event or parties, to compete, or for pure pleasure, if you have the desire to dance, go ahead.