Shaw and the others will showcase their skills in an exhibition by San Diego’s Wheelchair Dancers Organization on Saturday, Feb. 16 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Balboa Park Club, 2150 Pan American Road West in Balboa Park. “A Perfect Circle — An Adventure on Wheels,” which is free to the public, will also attempt to set a world record for the number of wheelchair dancers and their partners in one event.
The group is expecting more than 40 couples, including “rollers” (wheelchair dancers) and “walkers” (standing partners). In addition to presentations of everything from the Spanish paso doble to interpretative dance, there will be open dancing for everyone that shows up with manual or motorized wheels, as well as those who want to partner with them.
The wheelchair-dance group is searching for sponsors and donations that will defray event costs, as well as help support classes and other activities. The group also needs volunteer walkers, as well as more venues for classes.
“My quest is to inspire other challenged people and show how wheelchair dancing can make a positive impact on one’s body, mind and spirit,” said Beverly Weurding, a dancer before she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy who founded the Wheelchair Dancers Organization. “There are no limitations, except the ones we place upon ourselves.”
Shaw, who was born with spina bifida and began taking dance classes about six months ago, agreeD. She said she doesn’t let her physical challenges get in her way. In fact, she’s been boxing from her chair for the last seven years and she said she doesn’t think of herself as disabled.
The Wheelchair Dancers Organization got its start in 2009 with an assist from a ballroom-dance program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. National grants for the hospital’s rehabilitation center helped expand its wheelchair ballroom-dance program throughout San Diego County and cover costs for 11 custom-built sports wheel-chairs. The hospital continues to support local wheelchair-dance lessons.
Joe Torres, organization director and choreographer for this week’s showcase, has been teaching ballroom dance for two decades. He started teaching wheelchair dance almost three years ago after attending an expo and seeing the enthusiasm of the participants.
“I was hooked. I never got that enthusiasm from my other classes,” he said. “It is a really good feeling — and I like feeling good.”
He points out that wheelchair dancing offers such physical benefits as increased strength, endurance and range of motion, as well as greater emotional well being.
Torres, who thinks of himself as the “dance whisperer,” teaches wheelchair dance Mondays from 5 to 6 p.m. at Better Life Mobility, 8130 Parkway Drive; Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon at the War Memorial Building, 3325 Zoo Drive, at the north end of the Zoo parking lot; and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon at Dance for 2, 7528 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Classes are free, and Torres is accepting new students.
“We donate space because we love their mission: Everyone who wants to should be able to dance,” said Ericka Deacon of Dance for 2.
Though Torres admitted there are some limits to dancing in a wheelchair — “You can’t count steps out and there are no lifts or drops” — the impediments were fewer than some might think.
“They’re great people who just happen to be in wheelchairs,” he said of his dancers, some of whom he said find the classes to be so important that they’ll take up to three hours to get ready and take the bus to class. “And they don’t miss a class.”
It’s no coincidence that one of the group numbers at this week’s exhibition will feature a dance to “Stand by Me,” said Torres, pointing to both his enthusiastic rollers and the men and women who stand by them.
“There’s nothing I want to do that I can’t do,” said Lindsey Shaw. “None of my friends are surprised that I can do this,” she added, grabbing her partner’s hands and spinning her chair.
For more information, visit www.wheelchairdancers.org.