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Free 'inclusive Bollywood' dance classes delight wheelchair dancers

San Diegans of all abilities are invited to take part in the free classes.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif — Isaac Whiting uses a wheelchair and loves to dance. However, he said it wasn’t always that way. 

"When I was a kid, I would go to dances, but no one would dance with me, so I couldn’t really dance by myself,” said Whiting. 

Then, Whiting said his parents read about Wheelchair Dancers Organization in the newspaper and told him about it. He decided to try a class the next day.

“This helps a lot [to] get more self-esteem,” said Whiting.

Nowadays, you’ll find him at the “Inclusive Bollywood” class. 

"A lot of the students who have disabilities, all we want to do is feel like we belong, just like everybody else,” said E'van Petros.

Each class has two instructors. Petros is the rolling instructor, while Lekha Motiwala is the walking instructor.

“I love Bollywood and I love the fact that now, I’m making Bollywood accessible to everyone,” said Motiwala. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re wheelchair-bound or a walker like me. Truly these are all levels, all ages, and all abilities.”

"Just to see the students’ faces, it’s like - when they learn a routine, it’s so fulfilling,” said Petros.

The two team up before each class to make sure the choreography works well for all dancers. 

“Together, we’ll work to modify the steps, provide different levels and provide different variations,” said Motiwala.

"It’s a lot of arm movements and chest movements,” said Whiting.

As of August, Wheelchair Dancers Organization is back in person, but instructors spent most of the pandemic uniting dancers of all abilities via Zoom.

“You go spend time in an inclusive community of different communities and ages and cultures and backgrounds and you’re like ‘you know, this is pretty awesome,’” said Michele Jones, WDO’s executive director.

Dancers said it’s a place to get lost in the music.

"Just within that half an hour you take yourself away from your everyday life and you live in this fantasy world,” said Petros.

The class is every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. on El Cajon Blvd. Masks are required. It is free and everyone, including kids, are welcome.  WDO offers a variety of free dance classes, both virtual and in-person, as well as events throughout the county. You can see the full schedule for WDO here.

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