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  • Martha Siravo

Para-Dancing Power

Updated: Mar 27

“Watching you dance made me see my own disability in a different way” - a fellow artist relayed this to me last year after I was invited to perform at the Creative Power Awards event for Arts for All Wisconsin, an organization that supports disabled artists across Wisconsin. As a 40-year-old mom, a C6/C7 SCI wheelchair user, and a disability advocate, I never thought that I would find a passion for performing through wheelchair ballroom dancing. I’ve played a variety of adaptive sports that require a lot of sportsmanship and physical endurance, but nothing can compare to the technical skill, creativity, social space, and mental wellness that dance can offer.

A man and a woman posing, the woman in a blue dress and a wheelchair with her arm held high as they smile.

My dance journey has not been easy, but it has been rewarding. I was initially introduced to wheelchair ballroom dancing in 2019 within the first few months of my Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin (MWWI) reign as the state titleholder for 2020/21. Part of being a MWWI representative means trying out new adaptive activities and sharing the experience with others during events or through a social media platform. After being extended an invite to try out the monthly Dance Mobility class at the Brookfield Fred Astaire Dance Studio (FADS), I remember being timid and yet intrigued simply by being amongst other wheelchair users on a spacious dance floor. All my peer para dancers in attendance were facing the large mirror and matching the movement of Sergio, the certified FADS Pro who initially ran the class with several other FADS volunteers. It was unexpectedly empowering to be watching and moving my body in ways that are not natural to daily movement of a wheelchair user. This awareness is even impactful when you are watching yourself in front of a mirror as you bend and move. After several sessions, you slowly see a new version of yourself; one that flows with the wheelchair as a synergetic and beautiful interpretation of music. Dance is an opportunity to be unique, unusual, brave, or bold- whatever feeling is needing the most expression at the time.

There are times where I’ve been nervous, joyful, confident, and a little self-conscious as I’ve performed and competed in a variety of venues. One thing I’ve learned is that the audience often sees a dancer in a very different way than the dancer might see themselves. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it should also fill the soul of the performer.

So, are you a performer or an individual who craves disability representation in the Arts? Maybe you just want to dance at a wedding or simply feel confident on the dance floor next time you hit the town? If so, find a local studio and ask about adaptive dance!

If I have learned ANYTHING, it’s that there are many organizations who love having people of ALL abilities learn and feel welcome in their spaces- even if it’s not public knowledge. For example, Fred Astaire Dance Studios (where I began dancing), has a full syllabus for wheelchair/adaptive ballroom dancing that can be shared amongst their vast network; and let’s not forget Arts For All Wisconsin which is more widely known amongst the disability community for their Visual Arts support and has recently expanded their programming to include Adaptive Dance classes and performance opportunities. The Art community and its audience craves more disability diversity through dance.

I hope my journey inspires and empowers you to ask about adaptive dance or possibly connects you with a dance program in your area. I hope you see your worth as well as your uniqueness, and that it makes you smile. You are a beautiful story, and I can’t wait to see the novel that is created page by page. See you on the dance floor!

Martha Siravo is a 40 year old bronze level FADS para dancer who founded Wheels & Heels Inc. and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She has a C6/C7 spinal cord injury (SCI) and has an amazing 11 year old daughter. She is widely known in the community through her role in Madtown Mommas & Disability Advocates which focuses on Special Education peer parent support.


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