Wheels Turn for Dancers

Published Friday, November 21, 2008

When Jerome Leroux was a teenager he loved to dance. Jerome knew that dancing was what he wanted to do with his life and so he auditioned for a dance school in Victoria and was awarded a scholarship. Unfortunately Jerome bowed to the pressure of the time and to his friends who teased him and made fun of his dreams. Instead of using his scholarship Jerome entered the logging industry. A short time later Jerome had an accident and became a paraplegic. He thought that his dreams of dancing would never come true.

Thirty years later a friend suggested that he meet a woman who was running a wheelchair dancing program. Jerome met Toni Triplett and they talked about him dancing again.

Toni Triplett has been a dance instructor for thirty years. A few years ago Toni changed her teaching location. Her new location had many seniors who were in wheelchairs and during a conversation somebody jokingly suggested to Toni that maybe she should teach dancing for the seniors in wheelchairs. Toni laughed herself but then she realized that it wasn’t such a bad idea. She looked into the possibility and quickly realized that while wheelchair dancing is huge in Europe it is under the radar in North America and that there isn’t a lot of information available. Toni said “initially all that was available to me were videotapes” but she was so intrigued by the idea that she decided to take the little information available and expand it into a program to teach people in wheelchairs how to dance.

Toni took the videotapes and “studied them and then took them down to Spokane, Washington where I have two colleagues who are wonderful and very highly trained international dancers.” Toni and her colleagues watched the videos and worked on the moves over and over again “and that’s all the training I had in the beginning.”

Toni started the program with the seniors at the Kinsman Recreation Centre in Tsawwassen. As Toni continued to seek information she was invited to go to Kingston, Ontario where she “had the pleasure of being trained in a two-day program with one of the top three wheelchair dance coaches in the world, who is from Slovakia.”

Toni has been expanding her knowledge, as well as the program, over the past few years. She currently has fourteen dancers in wheelchairs of all ages and abilities as well as a wait list of people interested in the program. Meeting Jerome was great because he was instantly interested in the possibilities and in being able to dance again himself. Jerome said that “thirty some years is a long time to be away from what I always wanted to do. When the opportunity came up I said I am going to learn everything there is to know. I am still in awe of wheelchair dancing and to be learning again at fifty is blowing me away.”

Ballroom dancing in a wheelchair is not all that different from ballroom dancing with two pedestrian dancers, it just requires some adaptions to the moves. Toni believes that the wheelchair lends itself very well to the grace and precision that is necessary for dancing. “There is something about the wheelchair and dancing in a wheelchair; dancers are always working towards smoothness and continuity and in a wheelchair you have have that built-in so if you have partner, a pedestrian, who moves in a smooth and graceful way it is the most beautiful thing to watch.”

Toni wants to start wheelchair dancing programs in communities across the Lower Mainland.  If you are interested call Toni at (604) 862 8761. For more information and to watch a wheelchair dance demonstration visit http://tonitriplett.wix.com/the-canadian-wheelchair-dance