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The Arts and Medicine
July 3, 2018

Musical Chairs: Using Wheelchair Ballroom Dance in Disability Education

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
JAMA. 2018;320(1):14-15. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8081

I am a wheelchair ballroom dance instructor who uses choreography in public presentations to challenge disability stereotypes and to share how the art form can improve interactions between people with and without disabilities.

I was a ballroom dancer when I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 13. The most challenging aspect of my disability was the way other people perceived it. The penetrating stares, sly comments, and nicknames (“Stiffy McStiffinson”) hurt more than any plastic brace. I was not alone—a trained eye can easily spot on photographs that some of the world’s greatest dancers have scoliosis—but there is a stigma to having a different body within many dance communities and, in a partner-based sport in which male dancers are a scarce commodity, I could not afford to be labeled as “damaged goods” among a surplus of female dancers and discarded from the market. So I did my best to hide my condition from ballroom dance judges and competitors, and with hard work and passion earned finalist positions in the ballroom dance National DanceSport Championships and Embassy Ballroom World Championships.