Wheelchair users take on Latin jive
VietNamNet Bridge – Huynh Thanh Thao of Cu Chi District, HCM City, who has congenital brittle bone disease, was astonished to see a Youtube clip of a person in a wheelchair dancing together with a non-disabled partner.
Moving: More than 20 wheelchair users and people with impaired mobility learn the basic movements of cumbia, a Latin dance.
"Wheelchair users can dance," she told herself ecstatically.
"Great! I want to dance like them."
Initially she had been worried if her disease, a genetic bone disorder that results in weak and fragile bones, will be an obstacle to her dancing. To avoid fractures, the 28-year-old, who is confined to a wheelchair, moves gingerly and little.
She spoke to a dance teacher at the Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD) Center in District 10, who advises wheelchair users and people with impaired mobility about whether they can sign up for his free classes at the centre.
After being assured that dancing would not increase the danger of fractures, she signed up.
In the first class, she was taught the basic movements of cumbia, a vigorous Latin dance involving a lot of upper body movements and moving the wheelchair forward and backward to music.
"The dancing class brought me joy," she said. Besides, moving the neck, head, hands, chest, and back strengthened her muscles and reduced the danger of fractures, she quoted the counsellor as saying.
"Nothing is impossible," she said, promising she would continue to attend the class.
"Dancing gives me a chance to overcome my disability."
Nguyen Thi Dieu Trinh of Phu Nhuan District also has impaired mobility. She too wants to prove that people with disabilities can do everything ordinary persons do.
Trinh also attends the dance class with Thao, effortlessly moving her hands, torso, and wheelchair to the music.
The movements make her tired but it is fun for her.
"I have never done [something like this] before," she said.
"My physical condition and my job as an embroiderer give me back and neck aches."
When the centre staff asked Trinh if she wanted to join, she had no hesitation since it was a chance for her to exercise.
"Dances will help relieve my sores and lose weight," she said hopefully with a smile.
Wheelchair dancing is not unusual elsewhere, but in Viet Nam it is very new.
In HCM City, the centre offers the course for free to people with disabilities to offer them a healthy pastime and improve their physical and mind wellbeing.
Two evenings a week they can do chachacha, salsa, samba, merengue, reggaeton, or calypso.
The coach, Dinh Thanh Hieu, who has 15 years' experience in training sports dancers and has taught wheelchair dancing for three years in Australia and Viet Nam, said the latter was a popular social and recreational activity for people with disabilities in countries like Australia, the US, and Sweden.
It had also become a globally recognized competitive sport, he said.
"In these countries, people with disabilities pay attention to not only jobs but also mental well-being."
In Viet Nam, there are few entertainment options for people with disabilities, he said, hoping that the class at the centre would spark off their development.
Because the lower limbs of wheelchair users and people with impaired mobility are weak, their dance movements focus on the upper body, Hieu said.
Wheelchair dancing strengthens muscles, bones, and the heart, increases energy, and improves posture, air flow to the lungs, the body's overall functioning, the nervous system, and blood flow, he said.
It also enhances co-ordination, flexibility, and agility he said, adding that wheelchair dancing is a way to lose weight.
Researchers at the University of Free State in South Africa said in a study published in the South Africa Journal of Occupational Therapy in August 2013 that wheelchair dancing helped improve self-esteem among adolescents with physical disabilities.