Wheelchair dance sport is for everyone

Wheelchair dance sport is for everyone

We recently spoke to Elaine Ball, a wheelchair dance sport instructor from WDSA UK,  who runs a Kidderminster dance group called the Emotions. She spoke to us about the benefits of wheelchair dance and how it is open to both manual and power chair users.


Why did you decide to become a wheelchair dance instructor?

I ran mobility, movement and music classes and at an open day, I was approached by a young lady in a power chair who asked if I would let her join my class. Over the months I got to know her better and could tell this lady was very able to express herself through music. I investigated wheelchair dance and could see through training, I could also help others in my theatre company to dance and expand our performance.

What does a typical session include?

Sessions, this depends very much on who is coming as everyone has different abilities. Some like the ballroom dances and some prefer more freestyle. I include a warm up routine, we sometimes will learn a new routine or work on improving technique. Most of my members are also part of Wheely Different, the theatre company I run with my daughter Ellie Mouzer and we are in demand to appear around the district with performance pieces that include inclusive dance, so there is always something to practice. The most important aspect of my sessions are that everyone has fun, we like laughter, singing and anything that lifts the spirit.

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Emotions wheelchair dance sport group

What are the benefits of wheelchair dance?

I could write a book on the benefits. Learning routines aids mental function, improved self-worth, and the feel good effect is known to help release those endorphins.
As for socialising, a lot of the group are with me most when we prepare for shows and I can tell you we do a lot of socialising. We go out for meals, we go to shows, we went to the cinema but the lift broke and we ended being rescued by some handsome firemen!
I believe the confidence the group has gained through dance has had multiple knock on good effects. I know when we have performed anywhere, it has also changed peoples’ opinion of disability.

Is it open to everyone? Can people who use a power chair and have limited/no hand movement participate?

Everyone is welcome and majority of wheelchair users are in power chairs and its important to note that you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to take part. There are all kinds of ability levels in the group, some are helped by their partner who acts as a musical guide, others are in power chairs with restricted hand movement and some are in manual wheelchairs. There are all kinds of people who all contribute to the dance in whatever way is right for them.

If you would like to learn more about wheelchair sport dance, you can visit WDSA UK to find out about groups near you. You could also join us at the Back Up Ball – our biggest ever accessible party – which takes place November 18 2017 and put those new dance skills to good use!

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Back Up Fest Coming Soon

Back Up Fest Coming Soon

On July 8 2017, we will hold our first ever Back Up Festival at Cokethorpe school in Witney, Oxfordshire. This event is the brainchild of our Youth Advisory Group who meet twice a year to influence and shape our U18s services. They came up with the idea of Back Up Fest as a social occasion where young people, family, friends, supporters and the general public can all come together to celebrate and promote the work of Back Up – as well as have a lot of fun!

‘‘Back Up Festival was suggested by  the under 18s who form our Youth Advisory Group as an alternative social occasion to the Back Up Ball, which they generally do not attend. The original idea was to have a place where all our young members could come together. However, our Youth Advisors believed the idea of Back Up Fest seemed too good to limit our audience and decided that it should be an event run by young people but open to everyone!’’ said Alex Provan, who works in the community fundraising team.

‘‘We have an incredible group of young people working with us from youth advisors and young mentors to young wheelchair skills trainers and young group leaders – all of whom have contributed to putting this idea together.’’

The day itself will showcase different bands to suit all age groups, fun games and stalls. There will also be inspirational talks from members of the YAG as well as other speakers.

Everyone is welcome to attend and we hope that local communities and disability groups will get involved too.

To find out more about Back Up Fest, please email Alex (Alexandra@backuptrust.org.uk) or call her on 020 8875 6774.

My platinum moment: Geoff’s story

My platinum moment: Geoff’s story

In December 2012, Geoff was at home when he suddenly blacked out. The last thing he remembered was hitting the floor before he woke up two weeks later in the intensive care unit. The cause of his blackout was a stroke which left him paralysed from the waist down. It was a difficult time for Geoff, but he tried to stay optimistic throughout his hospital stay and rehabilitation.

‘I knew the mind set I had to be in was a winning mind set. I had to get on with it and do it because you’re going to have to do it eventually.’

Geoff progressed quickly and was even released early from hospital. But things were different when he went home.

‘I felt like things were closing in on me and my world was getting smaller and smaller.’ 

A staff member at the Duke of Cornwall spinal injuries unit recommended Back Up and he decided to get in touch. After several phone calls, he was asked if he’d like to go on a multi activity course in Exmoor. This experience proved to be the making of Geoff. Prior to his injury, Geoff had been an outgoing, sociable person. The chance to talk to other people with spinal cord injury, and the encouragement he received, helped him feel like his old self again.

‘I needed that at the time. I was on a downward slope. But being there with other people in wheelchairs was so helpful. That weekend helped me be me.’

Geoff’s ‘platinum’ moment, as he puts it, was when he went swimming. He was very scared of getting into the pool because he was worried that his stoma bag would come off. Geoff had to push himself to get in, but he was so glad he did it.

‘‘If I hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have been the same. One of the volunteers said to me ‘I’ve never seen someone look as scared as you did getting into that pool. But when I saw you hit the water, I thought I’d never seen someone so happy.’ I enjoyed myself so much and that did it for me for the rest of the week.’’

Geoff is still in contact with some of the people from that course and he remembers their words of encouragement to this day. Even a year later, just talking about the course brings back many happy memories.

Geoff feels a lot more positive about his life now and is excited to see what the future holds. He recently did an indoor sky dive to raise funds for Back Up. He enjoyed himself immensely and would recommend the experience to anyone.

‘‘I try and have as much fun as I can. Some days it doesn’t work like that but you have to treat every day as it comes. Next month, I’m going to an opening evening at the college. I want to take English and Maths. I would like to help people really, care work would be great – something like what Back Up did for me.’’

If you’d like to do something fun for money, we’ve got a big range of accessible fundraising events, including Kayak the Great Glen on June 4 – 9. To find out more about all our events click here, or email Kat (Katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) for more information.

Next Steps: Kevin’s story

Next Steps: Kevin’s story

Hi I’m Kevin Dwyer,

I’m a 42 year old man and I have recently taken a completely new direction in life as a Public Speaker and NLP Practitioner, speaking in schools to secondary students about having a positive mindset and the power of the mind.  This switch of careers has been inspired due to a life changing experience: I had a spinal cord injury.  On the 5th of May, 2013, I was just coming out of the bathroom when I passed out and fell over. I fell forward and landed on a box causing me to hyper extend my neck. I initially had no feeling in either hand and was paralysed from the waist down, however after some intensive rehabilitation – at St Georges Hospital, Tooting and Stoke Mandeville spinal unit – I soon regained some feeling in my hands and legs.

I feel incredibly blessed to be able to walk, even if only for short distances because I might not have been so fortunate. Every day I am thankful for the small things because I firmly believe we are the architects of our lives and it is our duty to make the most of every situation.

I went on the Next Steps course because I had previously been on another Back Up course and the experience was invaluable. I think the main reason that this course appealed to me was the opportunity to spend a few days with other people with a spinal cord injury who can walk. I wanted to understand how everyday life had changed for others, their trials and tribulations, how they coped on a day to day basis and if things I experienced were common to others, or whether it was just me. I honestly couldn’t have made a better decision!

The banter and camaraderie between a bunch of strangers, that built up straight from the outset, was incredible. It felt as though we were handpicked to be there together because we gelled almost instantaneously.  Scott and Holly had clearly put a great deal of thought into the structure of the course because from the first night things seemed to have a pretty natural flow. There were activities that allowed us to get to know one another and at times we had some pretty deep conversations. Other times we would be laughing for hours and the evening out at the comedy club was a stroke of genius.

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There was one thing in particular I wanted to get from the course:

I am able to walk, but the distance I can cover is very limited and I had never actually been out in public in a wheelchair.  It could have been fear, uncertainty, my own limiting beliefs, who knows? But I had never accomplished that and I was determined to do so.

Well the very next day we were split into two teams for a scavenger hunt and sent off on a mission to complete tasks on a list, requiring us to travel all over Bath town centre. There was only a slight element of competitiveness between the teams, well maybe a tiny bit more than slight.  One thing I was sure of was that I could never have covered the distance we did on foot so I had no choice but to run, metaphorically speaking, head on into my self-set goal.  Having a wheelchair skills trainer in our group gave me a huge amount of confidence, and allowed me to take on the challenge of being out in public in a wheelchair for the first time. I can’t thank Jacques enough for being right there whenever I needed him.

Post course, there has still been a great deal of contact between the participants which is really nice.  I am definitely more confident going out in my wheelchair when I need to so that’s also been a great takeaway for me.

My plans are to get involved with Back Up wherever possible, not just as a course attendee but hopefully as a volunteer so can I help contribute to their great work. What Back Up do for people with spinal cord injury really, really changes lives and, in my humble opinion, can’t be recognised highly enough.

If you’d like to find out more about our two Next Steps courses running next year, or any of our other residential courses, please click here or email Andy (Andy@backuptrust.org.uk)

Joe and Laura on Fun & Festivals

Joe and Laura on Fun & Festivals

Joseph Lockington

Four years ago, Joe had dreams of becoming a rock star. But a blood clot caused a stroke, which left him paralysed from the neck down.  Joe experienced depression during his rehabilitation, but he managed to come through it and he’s in a much better place now. He believes that with a bit of forward planning, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

‘‘It’s all about finding new ways that I can do things. When I went on the 13-17s multi activity course with Back Up, I did things I never thought I’d be able to do like abseiling, zip wire, sailing – there were so many things I just didn’t think would be possible.’’

Joe, 19, is now a Back Up youth advisor, which involves shaping the direction of our youth services. He is also at university, studying events management, and spends his time planning events for societies and charities as well as socialising with his friends.

He recently attended Reading music festival which was a huge milestone for him. Joe planned well in advance: he ensured the site was accessible, discussed electricity requirements for his hoist, and got a risk assessment. This meant that Joe could enjoy himself at the festival and – despite some challenges – it was a truly unforgettable experience.

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‘‘The highlight was seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’m a big fan and they were really amazing. I was really proud of myself for coming and my mates were too. They were so chuffed to see me there.’’

Joe now has his sights set on his next festival and a career as an events manager. For Joe, it’s all about thinking how to approach things differently, rather than dwelling on what you can’t do.

‘‘Never give up because you can still have great fun. Things will be different to how you used to do them. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. You just need to look at it a different way’’.

Laura May

Laura was only 11 years old when a mistake during a routine operation left her paralysed from the chest down. The experience turned Laura’s life upside down, but she has never let her injury stop her from getting the most out of life.

She likes to go to as many festivals as possible and has been to Reading three times! Her first concert was ‘T in the Park’ back in 2013. Before that, she hadn’t been camping for more than a day and had a few concerns about the festival.

‘‘I was worried about using portaloos and if there would be accessible showers. I also didn’t know how I’d fare being amongst big crowds in rough terrain – what if I fell out of my chair?’’

Laura had a strong support network in her friends and they sat down beforehand and made a plan to cover all eventualities. She decided to bring extra catheters and medication as well as clothes for all kinds of weather.

‘‘I rang up T in the Park to apply for a space in the accessible camping site and a car parking space nearby. They had so much great information and sent me a personalised email about accessible showers and other facilities – it really set me at ease.’’

Laura has some very fond memories of her first festival, and had a great time with her friends and cousins, going to different venues and seeing her favourite bands.

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‘It was probably the best weekend I’d had in a long time. I’ve got so many good memories.’

Laura recommends doing a lot of research before going to a festival to ensure you have the best time possible.

‘‘Have a look at what other people are saying and email the organisers.  Attitude is Everything is a great website that reviews music venues and has volunteers on site at concerts. If you’re a power chair user, they even have charging points. They also have toilets where you can use your hoist.’’

Laura is just about to finish her degree in outdoor studies and is currently right in the middle of her dissertation. But she still plans to squeeze in a festival or two – if she has the time!

Please contact Ella (ella@backuptrust.org.uk) to find out more about becoming a youth advisor and other volunteering opportunities for under 18s.

Save the date:  ‘Back Up Fest’, the brain child of the Youth Advisory Group, is happening on 19th August 2017.  It will be a family fun day for anyone affected by spinal cord injury to come together, enjoy live music, food and lots more. Email Kat (Katherine@backuptrust.org.uk) or call her on 020 8875 1805 to find out more.