Friday, Dec 15, 2017 | Last Update : 06:20 AM IST
Wheelchair dances in India are mostly group performances based on classical, Bollywood, creative movement fusion and folk dance traditions.
“Can’t dance, I have two left feet.” Said this or heard it? What does it take to be able to dance? What if one of those two left feet is doesn’t move at all or is missing?
These were my thoughts when I saw an event notice for dance performance by differently-abled artists on wheelchairs to mark World Spinal Cord Injury Day on September 5. There are so many causes limiting free use of legs and the complex of neurological and muscular control of our limbs. Perhaps less complicated is understanding the desire to dance, to move freely and expressively within in the range of individual capacity.
A bodily sensibility is one of the intelligences we all have to communicate feelings and ideas. If one’s /kinesthetic intelligence is more advanced than average, the result is dancing beautifully with whatever strength, flexibility and control you have.
An American documentary on the anticipated end of polio in India in the year 2000 placed me, as local producer or glorified go-fer, to make connections with scientists, Rotarians, film crews and and an excellent school for polio affected children in Delhi, Akshay Pratisthan. Founder Aruna Dalmia then asked me on several occasions to choreograph dances for her wheelchair and caliper supported students.
The energy, enthusiasm and abilities of the specially-abled children to dance was outstanding. Years later, I asked Akshay Pratisthan to create a Ramayana with their wheelchair and prosthetics and orthotics enabled students for the American Embassy School, New Delhi and discovered that their 2 choreographers, Manoj Baraik and colleague, had started their lifelong passion for dance from the first time I got them dancing.
Ability Unlimited is in the forefront, both in India and internationally, in training and performance opportunities for differently abled artistes. From Rastrapathi Bhavan, Delhi to the House of Commons, UK, as well as North America, the Middle East and Italy, their Bharatanatyam, Sufi Dance and even Yoga on Wheelchairs have been performed for stage, film and television.
Over 40 countries have social wheelchair dances for recreation and rehabilitation. Sweden appears to have started the trend in 1968 also held the first international competition in 1977. Since the first World Championship held in Japan in 1998, Wheelchair Dance Sport is governed by the International Paralympic Wheelchair Dance Sport Committee (IPWDSC). Though not part of the Paralympics program, it does incorporate the rules of the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF).
Wheelchair dances in India are mostly group performances based on classical, Bollywood, creative movement fusion and folk dance traditions. Abroad, while there are some 4-8 dancer choreographies, wheelchair dances are primarily for couples, either two wheelchair users or one wheelchair user with a “standing” partner. These cover all the ballroom and popular couples’s dances such as waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot and quickstep and Latin American dances such as samba, cha-cha- cha, rumba, paso doble and jive.
There is even a Collegiate DanceWheels Program at the University of Delaware, the first accredited course of its kind in the United States to instruct students in wheelchair dancing. This is thanks to a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation set up by the beloved Superman actor after an accident left him paralyses from the neck down.
In a Bangalore, just before Independence Day, a flash mob constituted of a wide range of differently-abled people along with able bodied individuals, performed Kathak, a Bollywood number and a salsa dance in a mall. OSAAT-One Step At A Time created this dance event as part of its ongoing efforts to increase awareness on disability and build communities/ support groups for people with disabilities.
They conduct programs encircling adaptive dance, theater and fitness, for the differently-abled.
Differently abled dancers and audiences all benefit, developing social interaction and relationships in fun and friendly events, building respect, confidence and consciousness of valuing all members of our communities.
The physical benefits of wheelchair dancing include the preservation of physical balance, flexibility, range of motion, coordination and improved respiratory control. Hello! These benefits are equally there for dancing without a wheelchair so why don’t you get up, or sit down, and dance!