Arthur Murray Woodland Hills - wheelchair dance

Rolling With The Punches – A Lesson On Wheels

I want to share a special story about a Ballroom Dance lesson I had the pleasure of teaching.

It was late in the afternoon and I had just finished several coaching lessons in the Plano, Texas Arthur Murray Dance Studio. I was changing my shoes and getting ready for my dinner break before returning for more lessons. One of the teachers ran up to me and gave me a heads up about my next lesson. She told me that I had a lesson with one of her students, Eric, who was in a wheelchair. Now I had seen Eric before and judged him at several dance competitions – he was no beginner and had been dancing for several years.

My brief dinner break didn’t provide me with much time to process this upcoming lesson. I have taught a lot of different people over the years, but this was an exciting first for me! Now, when I say exciting, I mean adrenaline and anxiety-inducing, combined with terrifying all at the same time. When I was a younger, less-experienced instructor, I had the privilege of teaching a blind gentleman, who later became quite the advanced dancer. This experience really challenged my teaching ability because I couldn’t just show him what to do; I had to be incredibly descriptive with my words and touch.

By now, my dinner break was over and it was time for my lesson with Eric. I was excited, but also very nervous – nervous because I had no idea how a wheelchair maneuvered in a dance context. Students come in with the expectation that I am going to make a sizable difference in their dancing in just one 45-minute session by being a dance expert. I asked myself, “What difference can I make with Eric despite having little experience in this area?” No time to think, here we go…

The instructor leads me over to Eric, a striking young gentleman. She proceeds to give me a little background on his dancing. She casually remarks that “Eric has recently returned after a hiatus…he was recovering from brain surgery.” Hold on, what did she just say? Yes, brain surgery. He added that he was bored at home and couldn’t take it anymore, so he decided to compete at their recent showcase event. Eric also mentioned he struggled with A.D.D., and to make matters worse, wasn’t feeling 100% the day of the competition. He shared with me that he had been feeling much better and was excited to take his first lesson with me after his return.

His teacher asked me to watch his Foxtrot and help him with a popular step called the “Junior Walk.” Eric also needed help executing his Magic Right Turn, having a tough time making it work. I watched him dance his Foxtrot and my brain started to spin. “How does the wheelchair rotate? Are my cues and tips even going to apply?” I nervously asked myself.

Fortunately, the lesson was a great success! I was able to help him to rotate smoothly and more efficiently. Together we learned he had to move his wheelchair faster on the outside of the turn, but slow down in place on the inside of the turn. We shared some laughs, had some fun, and then moved on to apply a similar concept to Eric’s Waltz. By the end of lesson, I came to realize I used the exact same rules of dance instruction that I would have employed for anyone else. As the instructor, I had to choose different words and explore alternative methods, but ultimately it was the same thing.

Interestingly, while I was there to teach him the finer points of dance, I was the one that learned the most. Eric was thrilled with the progress; I was blessed with a mind-blowing experience. My teaching skills were challenged and refined in a unique way – my perspective was forever changed for the better. Isn’t it strange how that works? We must to be willing to give, but also be open to receive all at the same time.

At no point in the lesson did Eric give up and say he couldn’t do it. As a student, Eric never gave me any negativity or resistance. He had a positive attitude, tons of spunk, and a golden sense of humor. Remember, Eric was in a wheelchair with no use of his legs, had A.D.D, and just recovered from brain surgery. Despite all of this, I never felt sorry for him because Eric clearly didn’t pity himself. This can all be credited to his “can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude that made him so pleasant and motivating to be around as an instructor, and more importantly a person.

We have to find the courage to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Go out and take an adventure into the unfamiliar. Ultimately, we must be open to having life-altering experiences when we’re least expecting them. I am confident that you too can experience this; you just have to take the first willing step.

Live, Love, Dance, and Enjoy!

Christy Melgoza

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