Para Dance Comes to Michigan

In late June, we hosted the first ever North American World Para Dance training, a two-day opportunity for American ballroom dance instructors to learn how to safely and properly coach and train wheelchair users. Participating instructors received certification of completion of the course from the IPC (International Paralympic Committee).

In partnership with World Para Dance Sport, we were honored to host the first U.S. training of Para Dance. Twenty-three instructors from across America flew into town for two days of fun and learning in an attempt to make ballroom accessible for all Americans. World Para Dance Sport is the Bonn, Germany-based global federation overseeing dance for individuals with physical impairments.

We already offer dance classes for individuals with physical limitations through our three-year-old Dance Mobility program, so it was a natural step for us to host an introductory course to Para Dance Sport.

The course taught ballroom dance instructors how to coach and train individuals with disabilities in the sport of wheelchair ballroom dancing. Para Dance Sport is one of several sports being considered to be added to the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

It has been a whirlwind journey developing Dance Mobility with my wife and business partner Lada, Cheryl Angelelli and the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation.

“It’s rare that we get athletes from the U.S. in our competition,” says Rosalind Dumlao, International Paralympic Committee Editorial Coordinator. “This sport is big in Asia and Europe.”

Cheryl is a four-time Paralympic swimming medalist who performs with our instructor Tamerlan Gadirov as her dance partner. The duo demonstrated Para Dance at the training. Lead instructor Maricarmen Legaspi helped develop the Mexican Para Dance team and led them to five medals, including one gold, at the 2017 World Championships, which featured 170 dancers from 22 countries.

“This training course is instrumental in growing the sport of wheelchair ballroom dancing in the United States,” Cheryl says. “So many individuals with disabilities ask, ‘How can I start taking wheelchair ballroom dance lessons?’ Right now, because of the lack of trained dance instructors in the U.S, resources are limited. This training course will open up more opportunities and possibilities for those interested in competing in wheelchair ballroom dancing or just learning social dancing.”

Since 1998, Para Dance has been governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and coordinated by the World Para Dance Sport Technical Committee. Wheelchair dancing originated in Sweden in 1968, led by Els-Britt Larsson, but it began as only for recreational or rehabilitative purposes. By 1975, the sport was popular enough to sustain a competition involving 30 dance couples.

In 2016, the sport was renamed from IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport to Para Dance Sport. The most recent world championships, which occur every two years, took place last year in Malle, Belgium.