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VA Palo Alto Health Care System


So You Think You CAN’T Dance?

A wheelchair patient dances with a standing partner.

A VAPAHCS wheelchair patient dances with a standing partner.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The first introductory lesson for Veterans in wheelchairs in the Spinal Cord Injury/Disability (SCI/D) Center at VA Palo Alto Health Care System was taught over the Web with Melinda Kremer, co-founder of American DanceWheels Foundation (ADF), after looking for a way to give her disabled daughter an alternative way to socialize with "able-bodied" friends. However, this is no ordinary dance lesson.

Kremer doesn't just teach but engages the Veterans via webcam, bringing her face close to the screen to watch each person move and giving them a few suggestions on how they can improve. Each Vet slowly learns "slow-slow-quick-quick" during the ballroom dance lessons, all while controlling a wheelchair and actively leading their standing partners.

"I want the dance program to let people with SCI/D connect to their bodies again, using the wheelchair not only as an apparatus that gets them from one place to another but an extension of their bodies, so that they can once again fully enjoy the world around them," said Kremer.

For Marine Corps Veteran Steve Scott, using his wheelchair is not the hard part, it's learning the steps and being able to lead fluidly.

"While dancing, we're moving as a team," said Scott. "The challenge of dancing is learning a new step or just learning something new, whether you are walking or in a wheelchair."

Rewind back a few months to when VA researcher Minna Hong, PhD, stumbled upon the ADF website while trying to find a novel activity for her SCI/D patients. Only one phone call was enough for them to instantly connect, sharing mutual ideas about the benefits of dance for ambulatory injuries or disabled patients.

"We are pretty excited to share this vision with American DanceWheels Foundation and to bring wheelchair dancing to the Bay Area," said Hong, who will be the principal investigator in a simultaneous research study on wheelchair dancing.

Through this study, she hopes to provide an evidence-based therapeutic activity that can promote wellness, improve quality of life, and enhance community participation. Anyone who is over 18 years old with an SCI/D (manual or power chair), or who wants to participate as a standing partner may join the dance program and also participate in the study.

The wheelchair dance program will feature wheelchair ballroom and Latin dance lessons, offered for free, from July 16 through August 24. Three locations will offer classes including VA Palo Alto, 3801 Miranda Avenue in Palo Alto; Timpany Center, 730 Empey Way in San Jose, and Axis Dance Company, 1428 Alice St. in Oakland. A voluntary dance competition at the Cheryl Burke Dance Studio will follow the classes on August 24, allowing wheelchair dancers and their partners to compete for cash prizes.

For more information about attending lessons at VA Palo Alto or any location, contact Meela Mehdi at (650) 493-5000, ext. 65635.


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