FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Turnstone and Fred Astaire Dance Studios have teamed up to give people with disabilities the opportunity to do something many of them thought they’d never do – dance.
The two organizations have been working to bring the new adaptive ballroom dancing program to Fort Wayne for months, but it just recently became a reality.
Now two classes in, the positive reaction and results to the new opportunities are overwhelming.
“I was just beside myself that it was available so that we can do this,” participant Gary Hurt said. “It’s awesome. I’ve wanted to be able to dance for a while now, and unfortunately, due to my disabilities, I haven’t been able to, but with this it’s like I’m totally excited.”
Hurt is a part of the first group of dancers to participate in the adaptive ballroom dancing program. It takes the same principles of standing dancing and adapts them for people with mobility issues.
One partner stands and leads, while the other uses a wheelchair to move and recreate the dance steps. It’s something that the instructors are specially trained for.
“There are different ailments, or strengths, or weaknesses that we have to account for, and really this just takes it to another level, but it’s the same kind of thing,” said Dylan Wolf, one of the instructors from Fred Astaire Dance Studios of Fort Wayne.
When it comes down to it though, both the participants and the instructors are just there to dance like anyone else.
“Dance is dance,” Kevin Hughes said before participating in Tuesday night’s class. “Regardless of whether you’re in a wheelchair or not in a wheelchair, it’s an opportunity just to be free, an opportunity to kinda just let loose, and not worry about what anybody is thinking.”
Feeling carefree and comfortable while dancing is not something that has always come to Hughes. He uses a wheelchair and had never really had an interest in dancing before this program came to town. Now, he can’t wait to put his new skills to the test.
“No matter where I might be, maybe at the next wedding I go to or just out with other friends at a place just wanting to feel in the moment of dancing, I’ll have better confidence with that,” Hughes said.
That confidence and sense of belonging is something that is reflected in many of the other dancers as well.
“There’s no inhibitions,” Hurt said. “Nobody’s gonna look at you different. You’re just somebody here that’s having fun and learning a new thing to do.”
While many of the participants see the classes as a way to just have a good time and learn something new, others like Hurt have their eyes set on a bigger goal.
“I’m even going to go do private lessons so that we can do competitions,” he said.
Thanks to the instructors at Fred Astaire, Hurt and other students will have the support they need to make it to the next level.
“If any of our students from the social programs want to compete and take it to the next level, Fred Astaire will offer them the chance and opportunity to do that,” Wolf said. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be fun and very challenging, and once they get there, it’s going to be so rewarding for them.”
And how far students go is really up to them.
Adaptive ballroom dancing is an approved Paralympic sport and offers a unique opportunity to compete at the highest level.
“Hopefully in the 2028 Paralympics when it’s in Los Angeles, who knows, maybe some from this class will be among the top in America representing the best of the best,” Kevin Hughes said.
That high-caliber skill was on full display earlier this month as award-winning dancer and Paralympian Cheryl Angelelli and her professional partner Tameralan Gadirov helped kick off the first class.
If the Paralympics are a goal, then Turnstone is the place to train in Fort Wayne. It’s already an official training site for the U.S. Goalball Teams. It also offers a wide variety of other adaptive sports programs and disability services.
That positive reputation is something that could draw more participants like Hughes to this new program.
“When I saw that Turnstone was doing it, you know instantly that it’s going to be a space that I’m used to, a space that I know understands the adaptive part to it, and a space that is going to be fun,” Hughes explained.
If you or someone you know wants to join in on that fun, classes are currently on Tuesday evenings and cost $5 to participate. People with and without disabilities are welcome to participate.
For more information about adaptive ballroom dancing, call Turnstone at (260) 483-2100.
And if you’re still on the fence about whether to get involved or not, Gary Hurt has a message for you.
“Do it. Just come down, do it, join. Be here and have fun with it.”