Wheelchair dancing or adaptive dancing as it is also called is growing rapidly in popularity and has been in existence for more than twenty years. There are many different forms. Sometimes it's a matter of two people doing their own spontaneous "thing". If the man is a wheelchair user his partner may sit on his lap and they dance seated. Then there is also line dancing when everyone executes pre-arranged moves or there is partner dancing with one or both participants in wheelchairs

Ballroom dancing is yet another form. Even such dances as the waltz, foxtrot and rhumba are possible.

Wheelchair dancing is an international competitive sport involving athletes with a physical disability that affects the lower limbs. There are classes for "combi -style" (standing) partner or duo-dance with two wheelchairs. There are also formation dances for four, six or eight competitors.

Traditional wheelchair dancing involves moving the wheelchair across the dance floor, while wheelchair tap dancing concentrates on the movements of the legs while in a seated position. People who have movement in their feet can tap dance wearing tap shoes. Those with no foot movement can clap their hands instead wearing gloves with taps attached.

Those dancers who have movement in their arms and legs but not enough strength to dance standing upright can do so seated on a chair or lying on the floor. Almost everyone with mobility disablities can do some form of dance.

Many groups exist to encourage people with disablities to dance. One such is Third St. Ensemble Co. Performers range in age from eight to twenty-three and include children from diverse backgrounds and with many different problems. Wheelchair dance usually is a part of their performances and all company members are skilled in dance chairs.

Another such programme is a community based programme at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. To quote "This program is for children ages seven years and up with mobility challenges whose primary mode of transportation is the wheelchair. The focus of the class is the development of a variety of locomotor, rhythmic and creative skills using enjoyable dance experiences. Children have the opportunity to explore a variety of dance forms such as ballet, jazz dance, and creative dance and to gain confidence through performances and workshops."

Very exciting developments are taking place in the world of wheelchair dance. In a project called Feileacan (Gaelic for "butterfly") a mixture of able-bodied dancers and the avatars controlled by children in wheelchairs create dance that combines complex machine interfaces and virtual-reality computer graphic tools.

These particular developments, wonderful as they are, will not form the basis for any further discussion of wheelchair dancing.

There are young people who are highly competitive and highly physical who will be attracted to dance as sport. There are others who want and are in a position to go to a class and learn regular Ballroom, Line dances etc.

Dance classes of any kind can be highly therapeutic but they do require that participants strive to attain certain specific standards of movement and technique. This can itself create tensions and anxieties for the person

. Dance therapy is different in that there is total acceptance, encouragement and no criticism. As a dance and movement therapist I am in favour of using inspirational or "free" dance as it is also known..

I constantly emphasize that my dance and movement therapy experiences have been with children who have very profound physical, emotional or learning difficulties. In some cases the children had all three.

Our sessions were limited to one hour once a week during term time.The children in wheelchairs were totallly integrated with those who did not have mobility problems. None of the children in wheelchairs were capable of manouvering them on their own. In fact, some of the children had no controlled movement. The children did not have special chairs for dancing. The chairs had to be manouvered by helpers. Depending on the weight of the child and the design of the wheelchair this could be very tiring indeed. But no matter the difficulties, fun was had by all!

If the dance therapy session at home consists of just you and your child then you won't have the opportunity to interact with a number of other wheelchair users. It will be a threesome of you, your child and the chair. Of course, any number of people can dance and interact with the wheelchair dancer.

As with any dance attention should be paid to choice of music and the dance itself needs to reflect the ryhthm and mood of the piece. The chair can be wheeled so that there are sudden punctuation stops, turns that are sharp, gentle, slow or fast, changes of direction at various speeds, changes of height by tilting the chair.

The wheelchair dancer needs to be encouraged to move as much as possible interpreting the music. Changes of facial expression are important especially in children who are not normally very communicative.

Adaptations of line and square dances are often easily undertaken or you can create you own. To start you off here is a simple little circle dance for approximately six wheelchair dancers.

1. The wheelchairs are positioned in a large circle at equal distances from each other.

2. Then the chairs are pushed clockwise around the circle until each person is back in his or her original position. The person pushing can skip, gallop etc.

3. Repeat same move counter-clockwise.

4. Facing forward the dancers are pushed to the centre of the circle. Stop. If possible the children then hold hands with the person on either side of them.

5. Repeat steps 1 and 2 in the centre of the circle.

6. Dancers are pulled out of the centre circle facing backwards until they reach their original positions as in Step 1.

7. Tilt chairs onto the rear wheels, then turn the chair to the left and drop it onto all four wheels.

8. Repeat move 7 to the right.

9. Repeat moves 1 to 8. You can count the steps, make sounds, or sing etc. while doing this dance.

I hope this sparks your imagination!

Author's Bio: 

Dzagbe Cudjoe has an MA in Ethnology and has worked in Ghana and Nigeria. It was while undertaking field research in these countries that she first became aware of the power of Dance as a healing tool. This realisation led her to train as a Dance Movement Therapist.Her main area of interest is children with special needs. She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance". For more Information visit Dance to Health