Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Canada, Saskatchewan women promote dancing equality, hope wheelchair dancing will catch on

From CJME News Talk Radio in Saskatchewan, Canada: 

Two Saskatchewan dancers are proving it doesn’t matter who you are: you can still become a dancer.

Brooke Bittner and her dance partner Sheri-Lynn Turgeon are promoting the idea that those in wheelchairs can still enjoy dance. The two have been practicing and performing together for the last five years even though Turgeon is confined to a wheelchair.

Bittner said when she first met Turgeon she really wanted to take part in a competition. The teacher she was working with at the time didn’t believe in competitions, which is why the pair teamed-up.

“I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for her to come with me. And she’s my friend, so it was just for fun when we started. It definitely became a lot more than just dancing for the two of us,” Bittner said.

Both women live and dance in Saskatoon, but Bittner is from Shellbrook and Turgeon is from Martensville. Bittner said she was drawn into working with Turgeon because it would provide a new experience.

“When I moved to Saskatoon I’d never seen anything like it," she explained. "Being from Shellbrook—you know, small town—you don’t really see anything like that. My mom actually worked with [Turgeon’s] mom and so when Sheri said she danced I decided I needed to go watch because I’ve never seen anything like that,” she explained. “The first time I saw her dancing it was crazy. I thought it was wonderful.”

They took part in their first competition in Biggar about three years ago.

“Most of the girls had never seen anything like that so we got some crazy looks going out on stage,” she said.
Following that they had people come out to other competitions and festivals they were taking part in, just to watch them perform.

The pair now rent a space through Dance Saskatchewan, working out all of their own choreography.

They've already been through some competitions together and they're hoping to be able to compete in this year’s Prince Albert Festival of Dance.

They most recently performed at the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival in Saskatoon this past August. 

The two are promoting their special brand of dancing in the hopes that others will take it up.

“One of the girls that Sheri has known for a long time, she was a big dancer growing up and she was actually in a car accident and became paralyzed. And one of her biggest problems was she couldn’t dance anymore.

“So I was hoping that in doing this and getting out there [people] become more aware and maybe some dance schools will add [this kind of dancing] so that other girls can dance.”

She insisted there is no perfect body type when it comes to dancing; everyone can and should be able to do it.

“I can honestly tell you that, after dancing with Sheri, going back to dancing normally—like by myself—is definitely not the same.”

Both Bittner and Turgeon got a chance to train under Kitty Lunn in New York City. Lunn was a prima ballerina who, through a slip-and-fall accident, broke her neck and became paralyzed from the waist down.

“Because dance was such a big part of [Lunn’s] life she rewrote the [Royal Conservatory Ballet Syllabus] and accommodated for wheelchair dancing,” Bittner explained.

Bittner and Turgeon took part in a week-long session with Lunn.

“She taught us a bunch of stuff and we got to see what different kinds of things you could do with the wheelchair,” Bittner said.

“I probably learned more in that one week with her than I did my entire dancing career.”