Yes, you can dance – and here’s how
Colombia-born Rocca Salcedo had long grieved for her ability to express herself through social dancing. And then she saw an opportunity to change that – and not only for herself.
As she tells the story, Rocca Salcedo had two motivations for setting up Dance & Roll, a dance club for people with physical disabilities that meets weekly in Kew.
On one hand, having previously set up a badminton club, and having also played tennis, she had been surprised by how few women with spinal cord injuries played competitive sports.
She had thought that regular dance classes might attract more women to exercising in the company of others, in a structured way and on a regular schedule.
"I found I was missing that part in my identity. I wanted to dance, and I was missing that."
And on the other hand, having grown up in Colombia, on the northwest coast of the South American continent, where as she puts it, “everybody dances all the time”, Rocca had recognised that dance was an element of her self-expression and social life that she had lost, and had grieved for.
“I found that I was missing that part in my identity,” she says, still with an accent, and personifying Latin charm. “I wanted to dance, and I was missing that.”
Rocca had come to Australia in 2001, aged in her mid-20s, on a two-year scholarship to pursue a Master of Laws degree. She had been struck by a car only months afterwards, surviving with a C7 spinal cord injury, and after 18 months of rehabilitation here, she had stayed.
She had long accepted that even at Latin-themed gatherings, where almost everybody was dancing, she would find herself, mostly, looking on from her chair.
“Because I was in a wheelchair, I did not feel confident to join my friends on the dance floor,” she explains.
“Many of the Latin dances are with partners, but people also dance together as individuals. I did not even feel comfortable dancing by myself – something that would have felt completely natural for me before I was injured.”
It was when spectating at the Australian Dancesport Championships at Melbourne Arena in December that Rocca saw a path to enhancing this part of her life.
For the first time, the event included a ParaDance contest, featuring four couples from Western Australia. In addition, ParaDance world champions Julius Obero and Rhea Marqez, from the Philippines, gave an evocative exhibition performance.
Rocca’s first impulse was to join a ParaDance group in Melbourne, or a similar organisation for people with physical disabilities. But some research convinced her that no such group existed.
And so she determined that she would remedy that deficiency, for herself and for others.
Legal training and her experience with badminton helped her enlist a board and create Dance & Roll as a legal entity. She won enthusiastic support from The Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, which made available its basketball court and lent wheelchairs for the group’s inaugural event.
The Come and Try Day on 21 February attracted more than 30 people – not only people with disabilities, but also partners and friends, and dance coaches. It was acclaimed by all involved, and Dance & Roll was on its way.
The group enjoys dancing in a big range of styles, from classical to modern. Sometimes it adopts ParaDance techniques undertaken with partners, but more often it emphasises individual styles and group choreographies, taking inspiration from Los Angeles wheelchair dance troupe The Rollettes.
“We hold classes every Thursday at the Royal Talbot,” says Rocca. “And we have a choreographer who is a professional dancer."
“Anybody is welcome – men and women – and people with any physical disability.
“It is important to stress that this is for people with physical disabilities. It is not just for people in wheelchairs.
“We have a lot of people who are amazed with the project and want to help. For example, we have support from VicHealth through its This Girl Can campaign, from Royal Talbot, and from spinal injury support organisation AQA Spire.”
Did participating in dance from a wheelchair connect Rocca painfully with what she had lost through her injury?
“Not at all,” she reports. “It was the opposite! It was great thinking I could still do it. It made me feel more confident.
“For me it is amazing. I absolutely enjoy it. And it is very beautiful to see people who have never danced before in their wheelchairs having that experience and being happy.”
Rocca, who completed her Master of Laws and who works in the legal field, also says she has been surprised by the extent to which dancing from a wheelchair provides a whole-body workout.
“I was very amazed, to be honest, that it was such a physical activity,” she says.
“After that first session, I was feeling that I had done a lot of exercise in areas of my body that we don’t use.
“I was sweating, and I was feeling exhausted.
“I think this helps a lot to improve your balance and your upper body strength, as well as building self-confidence and your ability to engage in physical activities.”
As for the question of inclusion at parties, Rocca is sure that her weekly training will help there also.
“Of course!” she exclaims. “I will feel more confident, and I will learn more steps to do by myself.
“You can show you are open to an approach in social situations by dancing by yourself. Because you have opened that window.
“I think this can be an opening of the mind, and not just for people in wheelchairs.
“I think it may help people in the wider community see that being in a wheelchair does not mean that do not want to dance. And it does not mean that you cannot dance.”
Dance & Roll meets on Thursdays from 6pm until 7pm. Your first session is free. After that, membership is $30 per year and there is a charge of $15 per session to cover costs for the coach and the venue. Contact Rocca on 0408 523 742. The club has a Facebook page at https:/www.facebook.com/danceandroll/
Author Ian Baker is a content writer with AQA Spire.