Wheelchair Dancing

By Zimmer, Markus; Krombholz, Gertrude | Palaestra, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Wheelchair Dancing


Zimmer, Markus, Krombholz, Gertrude, Palaestra


Throughout Europe

wheelchair dancing is a relatively new sport for disabled persons using wheelchairs. Organized wheelchair dancing emanated from ballroom dancing associated with dancing by people who are not disabled. The Wheelchair Dance Sub-Committee of the International Sports Organization for the Disabled (ISOD) (founded in 1991, in Munich, Germany) describs wheelchair dancing as "...dance in which a wheelchair user participates. This includes ballroom, formation, set, and creative dancing for singles, pairs, or groups." Furthermore, wheelchair dancing may occur competitively as sport, a recreational activity, or in an activity during rehabilitation.

This article introduces wheelchair dancing itself, discusses the motoric, medical, psychological, and social aspects of the dance, and gives information about the internatioanl organization for wheelchair dancing as a sport, including the classification system being utilized.

Different Ways, Types, and Levels of Wheelchair Dancing

Three ways of social interaction in dancing are possible: dancing as a single, in pairs, and in groups--

* Dancing as a single: The wheelchair dancer moves alone, independent of any partner, to music with rhythmic forward and backward rolling, turns of different speeds, and head, arm, shoulder, and upper body actions.

* Dancing in pairs: Can be practiced in two ways:

(a) the wheelchair dancer is with a wheelchair partner (called Duo Dancing); they both interact, with or without hand contact, in harmony with music; and/or

(b) the wheelchair dancer is with a partner who is not disabled (called Combi Dancing); the steps of the partner and the rolling of the wheelchair have to be adapted to each other to get harmonic dancing performance of the couple.

* Dancing in groups: Several dancers, disabled or not, cooperate in pairs or as a single unit in free or fixed formation; for example, in folk dances, in ballroom formations, or in freestyle dance performances.

Depending on the disability and on the level of training, different types of wheelchair dancing are possible. Usually, dancing in a wheelchair begins with stationary body movements. The wheelchair is immobile with only heawd, shoulders, arms, and upper body in motion. These exercises can be performed either imitating a teacher or in single or partner improvisation. Everything from simple interpretation of music to perfect synchronized performance is possible.

In a second step these movements are performed in locomotion. The steps of the dancers who are not disabled have to be coordinated with the rolling of the wheelchair, which is controlled by hand. The goal is to make optimal use of a given space as a single or a couple in coordination with the rhythm of music. A decision among four different types of wheelchair dancing shown in Table 1 has to be made. Which type is preferred depends on interests of dancers and knowledge of teachers.

In each of the four main types of wheelchair dancing it is a prerequisite to control stationary body movements and body movements in locomotion. In all types many different levels of performance are possible.

In communicative and creative dancing, facial expressions, gestures, and postures are examples of a common communication repertoire area, a precondition of non-verbal communication. By means of creative actions--single and partner improvisations--with and without objects, a dancer can gather body experience and learn different kinds of social interactions.

For wheelchair users, as for persons who are not disabled elements of disco and jazz dancing are a domain of recreational activities. In the relaxed atmosphere of a discotheque, dancers can acquire body awareness more than in any other dance situation. There are all kinds of interactions possible, mostly in action-reaction games in which partners creatively react to impulses they give to each other. …

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