Paula Moulton is an international award-winning wheelchair dancer from Manchester, UK, who represents one half of the dance partnership called Strictly Wheels. Paula shares with Disability Horizons the story of her amazing journey to date and how you can get involved in wheelchair dancing.
It was almost 20 years ago when I had pneumonia and, as a consequence, in hospital contracted the MRSA bug. It wasn’t as well-known as it is now, but as a result I suffered damage to my pelvic area and became a part time wheelchair user. Over the years my condition has deteriorated somewhat, so now I use a wheelchair full time.
Back in March 2010 I had an invite to a 10 session workshop run by Ray Bulpitt in conjunction with Manchester NHS Trust to learn to dance social and ballroom dances with a partner who was either standing or also using a wheelchair; so myself and good friend, Gary Lyness decided to go along to see what it was all about.
That was 3 years ago and what a whirlwind 3 years that has been…
After the 10 week workshop some of those attending didn’t want to stop, and so was born “Strictly Wheelchair Dancing”, a new club for wheelchair dance in Manchester. Myself and dance partner Gary were nurtured by Ray as he saw something in us and we had additional lessons. Within six months we attended the first UK Championships and won the beginners section which spurred us on more. We progressed immediately to amateur level, not an easy feat given we had to learn five new dances and then compete in separate Ballroom and Latin competitions.
We travelled to Holland in April 2011 to a major international competition – one of the largest in the world – to dance for our first time at amateur level in Class 2. As there are very few dancers in the UK, it was a great opportunity to watch many other amateur dancers compete. On just the first day in Ballroom we made the semi-final, which we were so pleased about! The next day we danced Latin and got straight through to the semi-final from the first heat and we were more surprised to make the final!
We decided to go just out and enjoy ourselves, we’d done a great job making the top six couples and we were more than happy with that being the result. Then came the results and medals… We waited as couples were called out in reverse order, 6th… 5th… wow… 4th… never… 3rd… astounded was not the word, as the second place was called and it was not us… we had WON! We were over the moon!
That was the start of a string of successes in Amateur Latin. We now hold three separate Amateur Latin titles and have defended our title in Holland successfully for the last three years.
We took the plunge last year to help raise the profile of the sport and entered Britain’s Got Talent where we wowed the judges with our audition and made it to the live shows in front of 12 million viewers!! It was a fantastic experience and gave us the profile to promote wheelchair dancing in the UK.
Our club, Strictly Wheelchair Dancing is growing from strength to strength with over 40 members now attending wheelchair dance classes in Manchester. We teach social and Ballroom and Latin dance. We encourage individuals to learn not only to dance, but also to love themselves and develop self confidence in their ability. Our motto is “You can do it!”
Everyone is treated the same whether being pushed by a helper, pushing themselves or using powered wheelchairs. The psychological effect of dancing is social interaction and the development of relationships, helping to build confidence and reduce the sense of social isolation that sometimes impacts wheelchair users. For social dancers, it is an opportunity to engage in a fun and a friendly event with others. For competitors, it assists in the development of fair play, sportsmanship and communication skills. Wheelchair dancing is an activity that integrates the wheelchair user and able-bodied person; our members range from 18-80, so it really is an inclusive activity.
Our club, along with our trainer Ray Bulpitt, also organise the Manchester Grand Prix, now in its 3rd year. This is the only international Wheelchair Dancesport Competition in the UK where we welcome both Elite and all levels of dancers from all over Europe and the UK to compete. It’s fantastic to have such an event in Manchester.
Wheelchair Dancesport involves athletes with a physical disability that affects the lower limbs. Wheelchair dancers may participate in “combi” style dancing with an able-bodied (standing) partner or “duo” style dancing for two wheelchair users together. Wheelchairs users can use an electric or manual wheelchair. Dancers are classified into Class 1 or 2 depending on the level of disability.
Ballroom dances include the Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep. Latin-American dances include the Samba, Cha-cha-cha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. There is also Group Formation Dance for four, six or eight couples.
In 1998, Wheelchair Dancesport became an IPC Championship Sport, but is not yet part of the Paralympic programme today. It is governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and co-ordinated by the IPC Wheelchair Dancesport Technical Committee, which incorporates the rules of the International Dance Sport Federation (IDSF). Wheelchair Dance Sport is widely practiced by athletes in 22 countries.
By Paula Moulton
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