Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kentucky college student pursues her dreams of wheelchair dance

From The News at Murray State University in Kentucky:

Kristin Knabel, freshman from Louisville, Ky., never chooses to “sit this one out;” instead she chooses to dance. Leann Womack’s song “I Hope You Dance” could be her theme song.

Knabel (pictured) spends at least one day a week practicing dance and has never let her wheelchair stop her.

Knabel was born with Spina bifida, a condition that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

“I’ve been dancing for 13 years,” Knabel said. “I love it. Dancing is what I want to do with my life.”

Knabel began dancing when she was 5 years old after her baby sitter introduced her to a local dance group.

Knabel dances with the Diane Moore Dance Academy in Louisville, Ky.

“The group that I am in is called the Miracle Dancers,” Knabel said. “We perform during the Crusade for Children in Louisville. Crusade for Children helps kids with disabilities and we have opened the event every year since before I began dancing.”

The group consists of approximately 35 dancers, all of whom have a disability.
“If you think of every disability you can think of, we have someone that has it in our dance group,” Knabel said.

Knabel said she still feels uneasy before performing a dance routine on stage; the anxiety has yet to disappear even after years of ballet and lyrical training.

The group performs at nursing homes and around the city of Louisville during the Christmas season. They have also performed for the governor of Kentucky, the Jefferson County School District and at the Kentucky State Fair.

“Our group keeps growing every year,” Knabel said. “When I started there were only five of us.”

Knabel said she hopes to dance at a local studio, too.

“I would love to dance (here) even if they don’t have any disabled dancers ,” Knabel said. “Maybe it would open the door for other people.”

Knabel is currently enrolled in dance appreciation at Murray State but hopes to find other opportunities to dance.

The aspiring dancer said she someday wants to own a dance studio that mixes dancers with varying abilities in the same routines.

“There is a lady named Mary Verdi-Fletcher,” Knabel said. “She owns her own professional studio in Cleveland, Ohio and has the same disability as me. I have taken classes with her and the way she moves is awesome. She has basically done what I want to do someday.”

Through dance, Knabel said she has gained self-esteem and become a more open person.

“People think, ‘she can’t do that,’ but that is what I love about dance,” Knabel said. “(I) go away in (my) own little world and for that moment, I forget about my disability and I feel free.”

The techniques Knabel uses while dancing may not include lifts and pirouettes, but Knabel says being a dancer is more than just moving your feet.

“Dancing in a wheelchair is all about using all the movement you can with the part of your body you are able to move,” Knabel said. “Adding emotion in your face and connecting to the dance that you are doing is really important.”