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What is Wheelchair Dance Sport?

Since it was first pioneered in the 1960s, wheelchair dance sport has assumed its position as one of the most elegant, graceful and stylish sports for athletes with a physical disability. Participants are usually those with disabilities affecting the lower limbs, although the definition has been expanded to incorporate upper limb disabilities, dual disability and multiple disabilities. Able bodied dancers are also eligible to compete with a wheelchair user partner.

Participants can dance a variety of styles. ‘Standard’ dances include the waltz, the tango, the Viennese waltz, the slow foxtrot and the quickstep. Latin American styles of dance are also popular and include dances such as the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive.

Dancers can also compete Freestyle, which can incorporate any style, from standard, Latin, folk, hip hop, ballet and contemporary, to street dance, salsa, cumbia, and even belly dance.

What the sport involves

Although wheelchair dance sport isn’t part of the summer Paralympic Games sports programmes, it has been governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) since 1998. The sport incorporates the rules of the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF) and is widely practiced in 29 countries across the world.

The format of wheelchair dance sport competitions is very similar to those for non-wheelchair dancers, propelled to popularity by programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars. Dancers compete at different levels depending on ranking and experience.

There are four main ways participants can compete in wheelchair dance sport. These are:

  • Duo: This features two wheelchair dancers together
  • Single: A solo performance by an individual wheelchair dancer
  • Group: Group dance involves both wheelchair and able-bodied (standing) performers dancing both in formation and freestyle
  • Combi: A wheelchair dancer performs with a dancer who is able-bodied. Strictly Wheels, who Fish Insurance is proud to support, are a combi-dance partnership.

The physical benefits of wheelchair dancing include maintaining physical balance, flexibility, range of motion, coordination and improved respiratory control. There are also significant psychological benefits including social interaction and the development of relationships.

How the modern sport was conceived and developed

Wheelchair dance originated in Sweden in 1968, when it was developed for rehabilitation and recreational purposes. Els-Britt Larsson, a wheelchair user who worked for the Swedish Handicap Federation, was one of the pioneers of the sport.

News began to spread and wheelchair dancing became a popular activity across Sweden. This resulted in the first ever wheelchair dance competition being held in 1975 in Vasteras, Sweden, which saw 30 couples compete. By then the sport had gained attention worldwide and two years later Sweden staged the first international wheelchair dance sport competition. Following that, European championships began being held across the continent.

The first World Championships took place in Japan in 1998, the same year that the sport came under governance of the IPC. Now, the IPC Wheelchair Dance World Championships are now held every two years.

Fish Insurance is a proud supporter of Strictly Wheels.  Find out more about the award winning wheelchair dance duo and their work at

You can also follow Strictly Wheels on Twitter at @StrictlyWheels and on Facebook.

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