Reader Profile - Passion leads to common ground
What began as a huge leap of faith gradually evolved into a performance and a passion for wheelchair dancing. Damian Michaels is a 20 year old student from Cape Town who firmly believes that wheelchair dancing is not only entertaining, it is also a wonderful way to promote change in the ways society view people with disabilities; people who use wheelchairs in particular. Damian is studying Hotel Management at False Bay College in Muizenburg and hopes to be graduating in June 2015.
Damian became involved with wheelchair dancing three years ago after meeting Chaeli Mycroft, his current dance partner in the Combi-style dancing, which involves partners made up of one wheelchair user and one standing member. Damian always had a desire to dance and was part of program at Delta Dance School. Damian says that’s where he and Chaeli met, when Chaeli’s Campaign visited the dance school to present a demonstration to expose performers to wheelchair dancing. “One time I went to practise to see how it is and I immediately became fascinated with wheelchair dancing.” Damian describes Chaeli as his best friend. “We have a strong connection both on and off the dance floor. We know each other very well, and we even finish each other’s sentences.”
The pair’s Combi-style dancing includes everything from Rumba to Waltz to the Tango. According to Damian they can perform 10 types of dances between Ballroom and Latin. While wheelchair dancing seems like just the leg dancer pulling the wheelchair, Damian says it is so much more. He avidly describes the push and pull action between the leg dancer and the wheelchair dancer. “I control the wheelchair with my trunk muscles. It requires a lot of body action. Because of Chaeli’s cerebral palsy, she can’t use her hands, therefore I have to steer her. It is on a one-two-three and one-two-three count.”
According to Damian it is not that easy. “At first it was very difficult. If you are an able-bodied partner and you danced before, it’d be easy, but adapting to a wheelchair is hard. You have to think about steering that person, and thinking about your steps too, so it’s quite difficult to do. At first I was anxious, because I thought I was going to pull Chaeli’s arm out and do something weird, because I’ve never done it before. But it gets easier as you get used to it.”
Damian lives by the motto, ‘just try to do your best and never give up!’ He sees wheelchair dancing as a challenge, but says it’s fun to come up with new ideas and steps for dances. Damian and Chaeli compose their own dances and practice once a week, usually on Sundays.
The flamboyant pair got invited to attend the dancing World Cup held in the Netherlands in April 2014. Damian and Chaeli took part in four dances for each grouping - the Walk, Quickstep, Viennese waltz and Tango. For the Latin category, they participated in the Samba, Cha-cha, Rumba and the Jive. It was Damian’s first time flying and his first experience participating in a World Cup, furthermore competing internationally in a wheelchair competition. The duo took second place for Latin and seventh for Ballroom out of 19 couples. “It was awesome!” Damian says. He goes on to vibrantly explain his overall experience. “At first it was scary, but after that it was great. I enjoyed it immensely, I learned a lot and I’ve seen so much. I’ve also grown in my dancing after our world cup attendance.”
Damian says he cannot wait for the next Dancing World Cup, 2015. “I would love to do this again!” The World Cup for wheelchair dancing is annually during Easter Holidays.
For Damian being able-bodied he wanted to try something different. “At first one looks at a disabled person in a wheelchair and think how can one dance with somebody in a wheelchair, that doesn’t make sense.” Damian declares his thoughts were ‘why not try it?’
Damian describes an intense feeling when he gets onto the stage. “Once I perform, or compete, I get very nervous but once I hear the music and start dancing, I just let my heart off on the dance floor and enjoy it.” Damian says he will never try a different kind of dance again. “I have a passion for Ballroom and Latin dancing and doing it with Chaeli is a bonus!”