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Reeve Spotlight: Roll Call Wheelchair Dance

02ffea82a1caeeb6d8b7ac9fa7ac5755-huge-roAt Roll Call Wheelchair Dance, everyone is required to check their egos and disabilities at the door.

“Once you come in the door, you are a dancer,—not a disabled person.” These are just some of the rules  Roll Call’s founders John Nyemchek and Diane Discepolo live by to help  structure programs that build integrity, confidence and, above all, fun. Together with a talented team of certified wheelchair dance instructors, students are encouraged to share what they can do, not what they can’t. All that is required to join a class is to bring a smile. 


Serving mainly the tri-state (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) area, Roll Call Wheelchair Dance teaches people of all ages and abilities how to partner dance with one standing partner and one wheelchair user. Founded in 2011, the program serves almost 200 people a year through bi-monthly classes, special workshops, a dance team, and scheduled performances. 

“People with disabilities are not cookie-cutter,” says Nyemchek. “They all have different needs and abilities that range from A to Z. We are constantly revamping our programs to meet our dancers’ needs.” 

To help expand the depth and breadth of the program, Roll Call received two Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grants: $5,000 in 2013 and $7,200 in 2015. With the Reeve Foundation support, Roll Call can cover studio costs and instructor training to teach a variety of dances ranging from the waltz to the jive. 

“These generous grants have allowed us to provide the best quality education for programs that would not necessarily be able to exist otherwise,” says Discepolo, who is grateful to get recognition from the Reeve Foundation as a valuable activity worthy of funding. “Adding to quality of life is exactly what these grants do. The program embodies so many aspects that are missing from people’s lives. It feeds the soul.” 

Through dance instruction, wheelchair users learn how to manage the chair while concentrating on keeping time to the music. The activity instantly breaks barriers, builds confidence and reduces the sense of social isolation that can impact wheelchair users. Partner dancing promotes trust between the dancer that uses a wheelchair and the standing dancer. Both participants take an active role in what is happening on the dance floor. 

“Music is the conversation. It is liberating. It sets the tone and puts everyone in neutral territory,” says Nyemchek. “Every student has a success story. We help them cut the apron strings from their disability and  gain a new perspective.” 

c483732983bf6e33540b5e2543c45801-huge-roOver the years, Roll Call has helped several engaged couples with their wedding dances, as well as several father/daughter and mother/son wedding dances. Being able to participate in those special milestones for wheelchair users is priceless. Suddenly everyone is looking at the person, not the chair. That alone is worthy of celebration. 

“We never know who is going to come through the door and our professional dance instructors must think outside the box to figure out how to work with all types of people to give them a dance experience that is usable outside the studio walls,” says Discepolo. 

Research has shown that dance offers many health benefits, including reduced stress, increased energy, improved strength, and increased muscle tone and coordination—especially of the arms and shoulders. Dance also offers emotional and mental benefits that go way beyond what the organizers could have dreamed. 

“Dance does something for a person that no other sport does through touch, eye contact and silent communication,” says Nyemchek. “Within minutes, wheelchair users accustomed to being shied away from everyday are now making close connections. They can experience many different emotions in a safe environment.” 

Another unexpected benefit that neither co-founder ever envisioned was the boost to the families and caregivers of the dancers. 

“They understand each other and develop positive conversations and connections,” says Discepolo. “Our classes have built an extended family. Best of all, students feel empowered to go on and try other things outside dance class. Dancing is a gift that keeps paying forward—what could be better than that?” 

Roll Call’s motto “Hand to Hand, Face to Face, Heart to Heart” says it all.
Posted by Community Admin on Feb 10, 2016 9:35 AM America/New_York

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