Dancing On Wheels  permalink

Wheelchair Ballroom: My Story

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Messages: 1 - 4 of 4
  • Message 1. 

    Posted by WheeledTraveler (U14197717) on Sunday, 14th March 2010

    I said I'd do it at some point and I guess now is that time so here's my story of how I got involved in wheelchair ballroom.

    Background: I grew up pretty much non-disabled. I have some sort of unknown condition that may be EDS and/or may be neurologically based that showed symptoms when I was a kid (we just didn't realise it wasn't normal then and doctors blew me and my parents off when things came up). I came to become a wheelchair user gradually and still can walk a very little although I'm mostly a powerchair user at this point. My first wheelchair was a manual wheelchair that I got in March of 2005 when I was 20. At the time I had a fibromyalgia diagnosis (which has been thrown out by pretty much every doctor I've seen since 2006). Also somewhat relevant to this story is for anyone who doesn't know already, is that I'm an American.

    My Dance Story: The wheelchair dealer I dealt with was essentially one person who was a para. He also was one of the people who founded American Dance Wheels Foundation (ADF), a wheelchair ballroom charity in the US. Naturally his next thought after getting me into a (quite nice) manual wheelchair was that I needed to dance.

    ADF was founded essentially when the guy who sold me my wheelchair (Ray) and a friend of his (Melinda) decided they wanted to do ballroom dance. Melinda had I think a little bit of background in ballroom, but her husband wasn't interested and Ray was interested, but in a wheelchair. (Melinda's daughter also had Frederich's Ataxia and I don't know quite how that related to her knowing Ray, but I do think it had something to do with her interest in wheelchair dance.) I'm not sure exactly how it was that they ended up there, but they found Brian Fortune's mother Sandy's studio and after Ray built a ramp onto the side entrance so wheelchair users could get into the building, they started working with her.

    In the next few years they developed their own set of figures for wheelchair ballroom and their own style (American style ballroom is different from European both when it comes to AB and wheelchair and they were one of the first groups in the US to come up with a solid American style). Ray and Melinda won the one American competition that they were able to attend in that time (as far as I know, up until after I left dancing with them it was in fact the one American competition that happened for wheelchair ballroom). They started doing both classes and private lessons for people and couples. They also started creating a show team to do demos and with the hope that eventually show team members would be able to compete when wheelchair dancesport really started to have competitions in the US. Finally, they started developing a training program that could be used to teach other ballroom instructors how to teach wheelchair ballroom.

    I started off with a 2 hour "social dance" group class for 2 hours on Sundays and almost immediately was asked to start in on the extra time a week to be part of the show team. Had I been able to devote more time and hadn't left, I suspect I also would have ended up in private lessons.

    The social dance classes were run like any other ballroom class and were a mix of styles (ballroom & latin) and a mix of people with a range of disabilities. They focused on the basics so that you could put things together to dance anywhere. Generally the AB partners were either spouses or AB dancers from the school (some pro some not).

    The show team practices were closer to what the viewers saw on Strictly. We mainly worked on choreographed routines that were performed in demos. I was part of a tango that was 2 couples: me and my partner and another female wheelchair user and Brian. We danced to the first I think 1min30 of Tango Roxanne from Moulin Rouge. It was the most work I've ever put into 1min30 and I still don't think I ever got it perfect. I loved it, though. There were moments in that dance where all I can explain what I did is that I flew. All of the AB dancers with the show team were either serious students from the dance school/pros/former pros. We did demos at everything ranging from a medical conference to an abilities expo.

    I actually only danced for about 5 months. I stopped for complicated reasons that were both physical and mental health related, but I really miss it. It wouldn't be the same now, though, as the organization has moved schools (so I doubt you'll ever hear Brian or his mother mention it). There is a school in NYC (where I currently live) run by someone unrelated, however, I had an uncomfortable encounter with the guy who runs that school at an abilities expo and so am staying as far away as possible. If I was still in near ADF, I'd be back dancing as soon as I could.

    So that's my story. I'm open to questions anyone has.

    I should probably point out that when I wanted to dance as a kid, I always wanted to do strict forms of dance such as ballet. I like the structure and the rules of wheelchair dancesport and I think it has it's place. I also do think that there's a place for other types of wheelchair dance, it's just not for me smiley - smiley

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  • Message 2

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by salsaboy (U14166961) on Sunday, 14th March 2010

    Thanks fo that WheeledTraveller.

    It's interesting that Brian does have some solid credentials in wheelchair dancing. I'm afraid I find him pretty insufferable though. On the scale of instructor - facilitator he's very much towards the former, which would drive me bonkers if he was working with me.

    I'm non-disabled and my first introduction to wheelchair dancing was at the Gay Games some years ago. It was a revelation to me to see some of the manouevres which were possible. I was also very moved by seeing wheelchair users so fantastically challenging widely held societal views which say that disabled people can't be glamorous or (whisper it!) - sensual and sexy.

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  • Message 3

    , in reply to message 1.

    Posted by Julian Hall (U2873105) on Monday, 15th March 2010

    Thanks for sharing that WT And also for your reply to my thread asking about disabilities involved in wheelchair dance.

    My own involvement in wheelchair dance goes back over 20 years when I was in school. Undoubtedly pre-Wheelchair Dance Sport and there was no integration between ambulant and wheelchair users. The basic setup was formation wheelchair dancing, not the couples based dancing of the modern sport. As a result it wasn't based at all on traditional ballroom dances and every routine was specifically written for wheelchair formation dancing with obscure names like The Chicken Reel.

    Our crowning glory was in an inter-schools competition here in Wales where the team scored perfect 6s from every judge. That was *cough*quarter of a century*cough* ago though so I haven't had any active involvement in many years.

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  • Message 4

    , in reply to message 3.

    Posted by Glistener (U5249510) on Monday, 15th March 2010

    Thanks for the story Wheeled Traveller

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