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Wheels & Heels works to enhance accessibility and affordability for para dancers

Updated: Feb 9

Therapeutic, physical and an overall escape – these are just some of the words Martha Siravo, para dancer, uses to describe dance. Siravo, who uses a wheelchair, has been practicing the art of adaptive dance for the past three years.

“Dance is a great place because you get to forget about all of the other stuff,” Siravo said. “It makes you just take in yourself and find beauty on the dance floor and leave the rest of the world behind, even if it's for an hour.” 

In 2022, Siravo founded Wheels & Heels Inc., an organization working to promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity by providing adaptive dance instruction for individuals with disabilities. As CEO, the biggest obstacle Siravo hopes to overcome is access and affordability for those who want to dance.

“I'm able to find sponsors and interested philanthropists and things of that nature to support people who want to participate,” says Siravo. “I wanted the ability to mold it (Wheels & Heels) as it grew,” Siravo said. “When I first started, it was literally, ‘How can I make things more affordable?’”

Wheels & Heels works to connect para dancers with different studios that offer adaptive dance classes. Fred Astaire dance studios are one of the studios that Wheels & Heels works with. They are located in several regions across Wisconsin, with locations in the Madison, Milwaukee, and Appleton regions. Wheels & Heels aims to challenge stereotypes in the dance world and beyond.

“Para dancing, or wheelchair dancing, makes you see your mobility device,” Siravo explained. “It makes you see your wheelchair in a different way.”

Rather than a restriction, the wheelchair becomes an avenue for creative movement and artistic expression not otherwise possible. At its highest level, a para dancer’s physical capabilities rival that of an Olympic figure skater.  

Siravo attributes a lot of her own personal dance journey to the incredible teachers she has met along the way.

“Generally, in the dance community, every single teacher I've ever run across is just this beautiful person who just wants to see you again and again on the floor,” Siravo said. “They're going to encourage you to do better, so the mental wellness about the whole concept of dance is another thing I relate with.”

Wheels & Heels works mainly with ballroom dance, which is often thought of as a partner sport. However, Siravo emphasizes the value of solo ballroom dance.

“For para dancing, there is a space for the solo pieces and there is a big space in the competition world for that too,” Siravo said. “There are different classes for how much movement you have. There is a lot of individuality built into it.”

When asked how she feels dance impacts women directly, Siravo explains the value of finding ones beauty.

“Not to totally go male versus female, but women just naturally kind of steer towards [the idea] ‘How do I find the beauty in myself’,” Siravo explains. “Whether it’s seeing it on the outside or feeling it on the inside. And I think dance covers both.”

Dancing can unveil abundant beauty – it can truly be a feeling like no other.

“It’s empowering,” Siravo said. “You are out there and everybody is watching you. Everybody is feeding off of what you are giving them, as opposed to going to the store and I’m putting my wheelchair together and everyone is staring at me for all of the wrong reasons.”

Siravo’s enthusiasm is contagious, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.

 Article by Ava Wojnowski

Ava Wojnowski is an intern with LunART. She is majoring in journalism and Spanish and is excited to bring her passion for writing to LunART. Outside of school, Wojnowski loves to spend time outside and also loves to listen to music. She played the viola from 4th to 12th grade, so music has always been a part of her life.

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