Wheelchair dancesport has been defined as “involves athletes with a physical disability which affects the lower limbs.” However, this definition has since been expanded to incorporate upper limb disabilities, dual disability and multiple disabilities. In 1998, Wheelchair Dance Sport became an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Championship Sport and the IDSF have entered into formal cooperation agreements with the IPC.
The format of wheelchair dancesport competitions is very similar to those for non-wheelchair dancers, with Beginners competitions, Intermediate and Championship level and the same five dances for Ballroom and Latin contested. There are two categories for disabilities: Class 1 for severe disabilities and Class 2 for the not so severe. There are also two types of competitions: Duo-dance where the two dancers are both in wheelchairs and Combi where one is in a wheelchair and one is an non-disabled partner, which currently seems to be more popular. Age categories are not currently well established, but some Junior and Senior events are developing as popularity of the sport has grown. The IDSF rules for wheelchair dancesport are as much the same as those for non-wheelchair dancesport.
Wheelchair dancing is now being taught in at least 24 countries across the world. Its popularity grew when Corrie van Hugten (who was a dancer who ended up in a wheelchair and is now the WDSF’s wheelchair representative) gave a demonstration at the Royal Albert Hall during the International Championships in 1984 with Ruud Vermey. Every year there is an official competition European and/or World Championship – the first World Championships was held in Japan in 1998. The other well-known IPC-approved competition is at Easter in the Netherlands.
The roots of wheelchair dancing in the UK can be traced back to the late 60s when a rehabilitation centre in Scotland was teaching people how to manoeuvre their wheelchairs and realised this could be done to music. A Wheelchair Dance Association was set up in the seventies and although team dancing developed, the international competitive style did not catch on. In 2006 Sue Cummings and Ruth Boyne established the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (UK), the WDSA (UK). It evolved when a group of wheelchair dancers from Devon wanted to compete and Sue felt the international style was very different and went along to an Instructor’s course in Malta in 2004 to learn more about it. On her return to the UK they started trying this new style of wheelchair dancesport and began advertising it, with the aim of showing that everyone can dance regardless of their disability. Sue and Ruth travel around the country giving workshops and demonstrations; they host instructors courses and are organising the first ever UK and Ireland Wheelchair Dancesport Championship. Sue and Ruth are National Coaches, Classifiers and Instructor of Wheelchair Dance Sport. They are Paralympic representatives for Great Britain in Wheelchair Dance Sport and WDSA is their lead organisation in the UK.
Contact wheelchair [at] eada [dot] org [dot] uk (Sue Cummings).