10 Truths About Dancing with Someone Whose Feet Never Touch the Ground
1. Fred and Ginger we are not. But we have been known to bust out our collective dance moves at weddings, and, yes, sometimes Geoff wheels over my toes, or I spin him too hard into innocent bystanders. And we do apologize, but from what I’ve learned about dancing with my husband, who uses a wheelchair, it is a lot like finding a partner for life.
2. Sometimes people are shocked when they discover we met and fell in love AFTER Geoff’s spinal cord injury, sustained in 1995 in a snowmobile accident. This picture was our first dance as husband and wife, however, later that evening, I dumped him right out of his wheelchair doing a signature move we had done a thousand times before. But then men rushed from all sides of the dance floor to scoop him back up into his chair, chanting, “Finish the dance- finish the dance.”It was like Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Rudy combined into one moment of sheer awesomeness.
3. We fall in love with the people we fall in love with, whether they use a wheelchair or not. So when people ask, and they do, what it was like to fall in love with someone like Geoff, it’s actually insulting. We fall in love with the person, not with their shoes, and Geoff’s wheels are exactly that— his shoes.
4. So on Monday nights, we watch Dancing with the Stars. Geoff wants to know when the wheelchair dancer is up next– I think he is secretly (or not so secretly) waiting for the call. They’ve included dancers with disabilities ranging from being deaf, to being blind, to those having amputated limbs or PTSD. Nyle is my favorite dancer not because he is deaf, but because he is a damn good dancer, incredibly handsome and humble. Yet, he tells a story every time he takes to the floor. The fact that there is a sign language interpreter alongside only adds to the story he shares with the world about defying odds and overcoming challenges.
5. Dancing with wheels is an aerobic exercise where the moves come from the push and pull of one’s arms. Timing, as in all dancing, is also essential. Knowing whether your partner has abdominal muscles which engage when dancing is an important detail because that matters with spinning. When our kids see someone else who uses a wheelchair, one of the first questions they ask us is if they ski or hand cycle like their daddy.
6. Geoff has always been a good teacher: patient, creative, and full of encouragement. And, well, I’m just a really good dance partner, completely happy with my own moves but more than willing to learn new steps and ways of collaborating on the dance floor. And so it goes as we figure out this parenting gig along the way.
7. While I do believe Geoff is a great dancer, despite his feet not touching the floor, I’m not sure the DWTS folks will ever take on a person who utilizes a wheelchair. But maybe they are running out of challenges, and Geoff could be just the wild card they need.
8. Our conversations take us back to when Geoff wanted to create a reality show for newly injured people with spinal cord injuries, which would have been called “The Wheel World.” He and some of his PT/OT/ recreation therapist friends would take on a group of 5 or 6 newbies and show them (after completing rehab) about really functioning in the world–the important stuff like dating, grocery stores, bars, and, yes, even dance floors.
9. What’s been fun to watch over the years though are the different ways the professional partners have adapted their rehearsals and choreography to highlight strengths and find ways to overcome weakness. I suppose that is a little like real life with all of our partners. The ones we are truly meant to be with bring out our best qualities, and the result, well, if not exactly magic on the dance floor, can illustrate that despite shortcomings, with hard work and creativity, we may all tell our story a little differently.10. September is the Rio Paralympics and Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month…and if you weren’t already aware, dancing is a whole lot of fun, especially when you can’t keep your feet on the ground.
(NOTE: Obviously, September is still Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month, but the Rio Paralympics were in fact three years ago....)