Wheelchair Dancers put spin on Centennial

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Mid-afternoon on the Promenade at El Cajon’s Centennial celebration, people stopped everything they were doing to watch an unusual group begin dancing. The D.J. started up the song, “Stand by Me,” and suddenly 40 walkers and rollers of the Wheelchair Dance Organization wowed the crowd with a well-choreographed bachata dance.

Mid-afternoon on the Promenade at El Cajon’s Centennial celebration, people stopped everything they were doing to watch an unusual group begin dancing. The D.J. started up the song, “Stand by Me,” and suddenly 40 walkers and rollers of the Wheelchair Dance Organization wowed the crowd with a well-choreographed bachata dance.

Joe Torres, the organization’s dance teacher, then invited people from the crowd to join in for a flash mob. A great shout of cheering went up into the chilling air afterwards.
Torres explained that the flash mob was a sort of practice session for the non-profit’s larger goal of setting a Guinness World Record in February. “We’re just getting warmed up,” he said.

Torres congratulated all the dancers. He went over to hug Beverly Weurding, who is the organization’s founder and was just named its president.
Just 17 years ago, Weurding was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. A life-long lover of dance, she dared to dance again—in her wheelchair.

“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. There are no limitations, except the ones we place upon ourselves,” she said.    
Wanda Chenier, who 15 years ago was paralyzed in a car accident, finds wheelchair dancing as a way to move with grace and fluidity as well as style and attitude.

“An event like this brings my fellow wheelchair users to the forefront of expression in the art of creative dance. Wheelchair dancing has become an environment for rollers and walkers to network in the community,” she said.
Dorothy Howard was Chenier’s walking partner in the flash mob. “I love doing this because of the smiles on everyone’s faces,” she said.

“I know of one of the wheelchair dancer ladies who started putting on makeup because of these lessons. It’s fun to see the changes in people and how they light up,” said Howard.

One of the other rollers in the flash mob was Alisa Shuman, who has been a paraplegic her entire life. She had always dreamed of being able to dance.  A few years ago, she met Weurding and her dance partner at a social club for persons with disabilities. “I felt amazement at watching them dance,” she said.

That day, Shuman gave wheelchair dancing a spin herself. “When I danced for the first time, I remember feeling so excited, so free, and so incredibly happy that I started to cry,”   she said.
Sharon Ahlberg danced with Shuman at the flash mob. She and her husband had been taking salsa dance lessons from Torres, who had announced that he needed volunteers to dance with the rollers.

“I love it that so many people have come out today,” Ahlberg said.
Walkers and rollers alike hope that everyone watching the Wheelchair Dance Flash Mob at the Centennial got the full impact of how a community of individuals, were brought together completely—and unexpectedly– through dancing.

“Words alone cannot express the greatness of wheelchair dancing,” Shuman said.
Better Life Mobility at 8130 Parkway Drive in La Mesa offers the free lessons for each Monday evening from 5 to 6 p.m.

Weurding said that there is still a need for dancers to set the record on February 16, 2013.

“We need 40 walkers and 40 rollers,” she said.

Call 619-760-7584 or go to www.wheelchairdancers.org for more information. 

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