Cheryl and Sergio glided over the parquet in perfect form, the emotion behind the dance emanating out and into the spellbound audience. When they finished, everyone around the dance floor rose for a standing ovation, even the judges.
That never happens. In 10 years of being in the ballroom dance business, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of love and admiration for a single performance.
The judges were crying. The audience consisted of individuals with glistening eyes, rapt in attention and applauding vigilantly.
Cheryl is in a wheelchair and determined to dance. She says she misses dancing more than she misses walking.
And so she came into our studio determined to dance.
This performance was Cheryl’s first competition, in Washington, D.C. this spring, with her instructor Sergio as her dance partner. While wheelchair dance is popular in other parts of the world, it has yet to take off here in America. And judging from the response after Cheryl’s performance, I have a feeling it’s on its way.
In our studio, wheelchair dance is taking off. Thanks to Cheryl’s eager determination, and Sergio’s teaching talent, we launched a wheelchair dance workshop in May, subsidized by a grant from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. It was such a success, it’s ongoing, as is the funding, giving people in wheelchairs an opportunity to fall in love with dance like Cheryl has.
Sergio has special training in wheelchair dance. From Quito, Ecuador, Sergio has been dancing since he was 14 and he wrote his master’s thesis on wheelchair dance. Like I said, it’s big sport in other countries.
Wheelchair dance was pioneered in Sweden in 1968; the first competition took place in Sweden in 1975, according to the International Paralympic Committee, which is based in Germany. The first international competition occurred in 1977, and wheelchair dance became a Paralympic sport in 1998.
Every two years, the IPC Wheelchair DanceWorld Championships are held. It’s an elegant sport, which can include one physically disabled partner or two. Wheelchair dance is practiced in 29 countries; participants use special wheelchairs with slanted wheels to allow for more agile movement around the dance floor.
It’s not about swinging the wheelchair around, Sergio says. It’s an integrated partnership between him and Cheryl, involving trust, choreography and a lot of core strength.