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Wheelchair dancing

The Healing Power of Dance

Nancy Clarke has been a lover of music and dance since she was a little girl, but little did she anticipate gliding along on the dance floor from a wheelchair.

At five years old, she experienced a blood clot, leading to the use of a wheelchair. “I grew up this way and adapted my life,” the now 53-year-old shares. “At the time, I was the only one with a disability in the public school and high school. My parents had to do a lot of fighting to get things accessible.” 

Still, Nancy was eager to involve herself in activities from wheelchair tennis to sledge hockey, and even competitive swimming, which led her to the Ontario championships. The music lover also taught herself to play the keyboard and while attending a theatre performance for people with disabilities, she serendipitously met a ballroom dance teacher. 

“That’s what got me started,” she says. “That was eleven years ago.” 

Nancy Clarke and her dancing partner.

“Everyone has that one thing that drives them and keeps them happy and for me, that’s ballroom dance.”

Nancy raves about the healing power of dance and shares that it was one of the key things that helped her push forward after losing her husband in her early thirties.  

“I love dance and music. At weddings, I’m always dancing,” she happily shares. Nancy worked with the town of Newmarket to co-run a wheelchair ballroom dance class and was involved with a group called Wheel Dance in Vaughan. 

“My advice to anyone in a wheelchair is just to try it out,” she says. “Group classes are currently more virtual, so you can try it out at home and see what you like. There is an hour of social class, which is more about moving and getting comfortable. The competitive class is for those more interested in expanding their skills and it’s not just people in wheelchairs.”

Nancy is devoted to ballroom dancing and with instructors connected to the ballroom community, she participates in a competition once a year. “People find it very moving and inspiring when they see me on the dance floor coming to life and some people get emotional,” she shares, “Everyone has that one thing that drives them and keeps them happy and for me, that’s ballroom dance. It takes a lot of upper body movement to get your chair moving a certain way. I’ve been at it for the last decade. I love getting to see how it affects people. All the hard work you put into a piece for three months is suddenly seen. People are moved to tears.” 

Nancy highly recommends dance to people with disabilities and shares that programs are subsidized through Trillium, making them easily accessible for those hoping to get started. 

As for Nancy’s plans for the future? “I want to get to the paralympic level. There are world competitions for that,” she smiles. Good luck Nancy as you glide to the podium.

By: Spinal Cord Injury Ontario | Fall 2022

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