More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Wheelchair Users Benefit From Dancing

Jan 2002
Edited by Caryn S. Kaufman

Dancing has long been thought to be therapeutically valuable for helping patients with some physical impairments restore a sense of normalcy in their lives.

For people who use wheelchairs, however, the act of dancing may seem an utter impossibility. Until recently, attempts at couples social dancing were usually limited to the person in the wheelchair holding someone on his or her lap and wheeling around the dance floor. The process was generally little more than a wheelchair ride in a somewhat unusual setting.

Today, however, the creators of Adaptive Dancing of Denver, Colo. provide a course that instructs both wheelchair users (wheelers) and their partners (walkers) in the art of dancing the Waltz, Two-Step and Cha-Cha and any dance that progresses around a dance floor.

The course is specifically designed to teach both wheelers and walkers to actually participate together in the execution of intricate dance turns and leading elaborate moves on the dance floor.

The dance program helps build confidence and reduces the sense of social isolation that sometimes impacts wheelchair users, say Adaptive Dancing founders, Judy Kimmons and Dale Watts, who have demonstrated their wheelchair dance and teaching techniques around the country.

Kimmons, the Adaptive Dancing walker, is an accomplished dancer in numerous styles of country and swing dancing. Watts, her wheeler dance partner who has spent the last 17 years in a wheelchair, has become skilled at dancing and leading complex dance moves.

The idea for such an instruction program began with a challenge from Watts. After Kimmons remarked to him that, "Anyone who can walk can dance." Watts replied, "What's walking have to do with it?" With those few words, Adaptive Dancing was born as was their slogan: "Can't walk? So go dancing!"

Kimmons and Watts teach their dance choreography to wheelers who have some use of their upper torso and arms. The resulting activity produces good physical therapy for the wheeler, enjoyment for the couple and culminates in dance moves that are both graceful and artful, and usually inspiring to onlookers.

"Our instruction focuses on the Two-Step and Waltz. They are progressive dances that move around the floor, and they are easier to accomplish than some of the basically stationary dances such as the Cha-Cha and Swing, which can be challenging but still can be mastered," Kimmons explains.

"I felt some trepidation when we first started," Watts said. "When you're in a wheelchair, you hear about a lot of things you can't do anymore. Dancing used to be one of those things, but not anymore." He lost use of his legs because of spinal cord tumors. Watts, 43, is a great fan of dancing and a proponent of its benefits for a large segment of the wheelchair population.

Watts is an enthusiastic partner, despite being overturned in his wheelchair on two occasions while attempting Swing dancing. When on the floor Watts leads dance moves just as any other traditional male dance partner would lead.

"I propel the wheelchair, but he leads," said Kimmons. "Like any other dancers, we concentrate on keeping time to the music. I prevent the wheelchair from running into anything and keeping out of the way of other dancers. This is real dancing. Dale does not just sit in his wheelchair and be pushed. He takes an active role in what happens on the floor. This is an activity that many people in wheelchairs can do," she said.

The two are accepted dancers at such legendary country dance halls as The Stampede in Aurora, Colo., and Denver's Grizzly Rose. They also have demonstrated their dance program at various hospitals and charity exhibitions.

"This is an excellent way to make sure that a friend, parent or grandparent who uses a wheelchair still has the opportunity to enjoy one of the great social functions," Kimmons said.

"Now wheelchair users can participate in every aspect of weddings, special events and parties. There's no longer an excuse to not dance. If you have the desire to dance, we can show you how," she added.

The Adaptive Dancing team is available for dance classes, instruction, seminars, and demonstrations throughout the U.S., and instructional videotapes are available.

Adaptive Dancing
(720) 870-3432

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