The Wheelchair on the Dance Floor

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

This is the internationally recognized symbol for accessibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several of the most fun dance experiences I’ve had in the past few years have been at events where a person with a disability was central to the proceedings.  Contrary to what some people might expect, participation from the disabled person made the entire dance experience more engaging for everyone there.

One instance was a wedding and the ceremony took place outside, on a beach downhill from a hotel.  Everyone walked down a long zig-zag aisle to get to the ceremony location and once the processional began, we could see that this arrangement had been chosen not only for its visual beauty, but also for functional reasons.  The Best Man used a wheel chair and the zigs and zags were like a series of ramps, making it possible for him to process down to the beach as a member of the wedding party.

Later, at the reception, the dancing was all right, but really took off when a female guest invited the Best Man onto the dance floor.  As he rolled and spun in his chair, and everyone else joined in, the whole event seemed to lift.  It was suddenly not about dancing just like your neighbor danced, it was about expressing joy, rhythm, and movement in the ways available to you at that moment.  Dancing had become “safer” for everyone.

The Best Man was a good dancer.  He was in a wheelchair, but he was a good dancer. My husband leaned over to him and said, “you’ve got some good moves there!” to which he replied, “I had even more a few years ago.”  My husband just laughed and said, “Yeah, me too!” and we all danced with all the moves we had on that particular day.  It was fun!

Whether we say it overtly or not, people are always seeking that special chemistry that makes a party “gel,” the energy that connects everyone more intensely, the magic that makes an event memorable.  Back in the 1950s, politicians used to talk about “making the world safe for democracy.”  I’m interested in making the world safe for fun and one of the ways we do that is by being aware of the conditions that allow more people to participate more fully.  Making that zig-zag aisle allowed a man in a wheelchair to play an integral role in a major life event for his friend.  Including a person in a wheelchair in the dancing made the whole celebration more fun for everyone.  We’re not just “doing a favor for a disabled person” when we make our events more inclusive; we’re making our own worlds larger and friendlier.  And if we should become disabled at some point in the future, the image of the wheelchair on the dance floor will remind us that there are still many ways to dance.

Get This Party Started!

Get This Party Started! Party-goers from different generations have very different expectations about how a dancing party gets started.  Our band played for an end-of-term college dance on Wednesday evening and saw a pattern that is typical for today’s students.  … Continue reading

Women Want to Dance

Many more women than men want to dance.   Cyndi Lauper wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and I’m saying “women want to dance.”  This appears to be true all the way up and down the age spectrum.  There are always men who are excellent dancers and love to dance too, but they are relatively rare.  (Any of you guys looking for love, take notice!  If you are a good dancer, a genuinely nice guy, and not skeevy, you’ve really got something!)

An internet video called “Dance like nobody’s watching: mall” shows a woman (Angela Trimbur) dancing alone (and very well) in a mall and being almost completely ignored by passers by.

And there it is, my point entirely:

Who is dancing? Where?  Why?  And who is noticing?

I’ve had a great vantage point as a bandleader and singer for observing how people’s responses to music and dancing have changed over the past three decades. I’m going to write one post every week for the next four weeks on how these kinds of fun have changed.  So for this week, the issue is women’s experiences of fun with dancing.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, dancing in male-female couples was a cultural model of heterosexual romance and a familiar experience for many Americans.  Big band swing, ballroom dances, and early rock n roll supplied soundtracks for couples to dance to.  A breaking point came with the Twist in 1960.  Couples could now dance separately, without touching.

Over the past fifty years since then, couple dancing has ebbed and flowed in popularity, influenced by musical and dance styles such as disco and dance movies such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Dirty Dancing (1987).  Since then, dance styles have been heavily influenced by hiphop, rap, and music videos that feature solo or group dancers more often than couples.

However, a British survey in 2007 found that Dirty Dancing remained number one on their list of women’s most-watched movies and those dance scenes still hold special appeal for women.  Women still think dancing is fun—as well as potentially romantic or sexy.

Several months ago our band played a wedding in which “I Had the Time of My Life” was a theme song and the bride expressed hope that the end of the wedding would resemble that ending scene from Dirty Dancing  (it did).   Such joyful, intergenerational celebrations are not easy to find in places other than weddings these days.  The dinner dances that clubs and organizations used to sponsor occur much less frequently now.  Weddings are often the only chances for social dancing that many people have.  I hear “maybe I can get my husband to dance with me” often enough to know that many women still want to dance more than their male partners do. Bands and DJs try to meet this pent-up demand from women by playing female anthems like “I Will Survive” and “Dancing Queen” that women can dance to in a group.  We also know that structured activities like line dances allow women to participate without having partners.

But what if no one you know is getting married?  Where else can you dance?  If a need isn’t being met in one place, it will often show itself somewhere else.  So women are dancing in exercise classes (typically with other women and led by a woman), we are dancing in gyms, YMCA’s, pools, and now even the mall; we are dancing for fitness, to enjoy movement and music, to have fun and feel sexy, and to be happy, but we are not dancing in couples that much or in traditional social situations the way people danced years ago.

Dancing and physical movement to music are just too much fun to miss.  Think about your own experience.  When was the last time you danced?  How did you feel about it?  Was it fun?  Why or why not?