Tuesday, June 21, 2011
People in wheelchairs can do almost anything able-bodied people can do. Even dance. In fact, wheelchair dancing is starting to catch on in San Diego.
What do you do if you have a passion for dancing, but you’re a wheelchair user? You do wheelchair dancing.
It’s an up and coming activity in more than 40 countries. And wheelchair dancing is starting to take off in San Diego.
You don’t have to be able to walk to trip the light fantastic.
Inside a hall in San Diego’s Balboa Park, seven people in wheelchairs move counterclockwise around a big circle. Seven able-bodied dancers are by their sides. Instructor William Valencia stands in the middle and barks instructions.
"One, two, three, keep going, nice. Don’t forget to look at your partner, don’t look at their feet!"
Today, Valencia shows them the waltz.
He offers pointers to the wheelchair dancers.
"Don’t let the wheels go, so use your abs," he said. "Good, now your arms so far, you’re too tight in your arms."
And he gives their partners some feedback, too.
"Left foot. Sharon? Left foot. That’s your right foot," he reminded her.
All of the dancers look like they’re having fun. Especially Isaac Whiting.
Whiting lives in El Cajon. He discovered the class about a year ago.
"I’ve always wanted to go out into the public and meet other people like me," Whiting said. "I knew in the back of my mind that obviously people in chairs can do more stuff than people say they can do, but, I’ve just never heard about wheelchair dancing, so I wanted to go out and try it."
Wheelchair dancer Beverly Weurding co-founded this program with Valencia. She said it’s the first one of its kind on the west coast.
Unlike some of the others here, Weurding used to be able to walk. In fact, she used to love to go dancing.
But about 15 years ago, Weurding was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. And that changed her life.
"I found myself not able to go upstairs," Weurding recalled. "I was falling. Life became so uncomfortable. And finally, I had to find myself in a wheelchair, and for a year I stayed at home. It was like a tomb. And I didn’t want my able friends to see me in a wheelchair."
Weurding said she snapped out of her funk when she came up with the idea of starting a wheelchair dancing class.
It took her a year to find a dance teacher willing to take on the task.
That was William Valencia.
He spent months figuring out how to apply dance techniques to people in wheelchairs. And he learned how to move around in one, himself.
With the support of Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Valencia launched his first class in February 2009. Since then, Valencia figured he’s taught about 250 wheelchair dancers.
"And so I enjoy teaching them, I enjoy working with them," he said, "I love learning about their personalities, their experiences, how they do certain things, and the courage they have. So that they’re very strong people.
Liz Clarno is the lead recreation therapist at Sharp Grossmont Rehab Center.
She said through dancing, people in wheelchairs can increase their strength, endurance, and flexibility.
"And then just people that are able bodied, that are volunteering to dance with them, they interact, and they begin to see people in wheelchairs, as people," Clarno explained.
As the dancers move around the room, they execute spins and turns. They look graceful, even elegant.
Beverly Weurding said that’s what it’s all about.
"And when people see us dancing, they forget that we’re in a wheelchair," she said. "So we’re dancing on our wheels, but it’s beautiful. And it’s so wonderful for people like myself. It gives us a whole new feel of confidence, and something different in our life."
A new cycle of wheelchair dancing classes gets underway in late July at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.