As a (semi) retired Irish dancer, my personal social media feeds are filled with posts about Irish dancing, old and new.
During the week, however, one truly original piece of Irish dancing caught my attention - a céilí being danced by wheelchair users, dubbed as none other than “Reels on Wheels.”
Reels on Wheels (c) Wheelchair Céilí
Another snippet of ‘Reels on Wheels’ (c) Wheelchair Céilí with Munster Academy of Dance & Munster Wheelchair Hurling Camogie Club 😊 #Munster #dance #irishdance #hurling #camogie #GAA #danceforall #allfordance #danceforlife #ability #CantSeeCantBePosted by Munster Academy of Dance on Saturday, May 21, 2022
I reached out to the account that shared the video, the Munster Academy of Dance, which is based in Co Limerick and Co Clare, to learn more about the fantastic "Reels on Wheels" initiative.
TCRG Carmel McKenna told IrishCentral that her dance school is focused on “inclusivity in which all can participate in Irish dance regardless of age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or physical or intellectual ability.”
Indeed, the school's offerings go far and beyond adaptive instruction for wheelchair users. After launching classes for adults in 2007, the Munster Academy developed and delivered programs of adaptative Irish Céilí dance for non-national English language students since 2014, older adults (age 60+) since 2015, teenage students in schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas since 2017, and for people living with dementia and their care partners since 2018.
In February 2020, Munster Academy trialed its first adaptive Irish céilí dance class for people with intellectual disabilities and their care partners. Many of those with intellectual disabilities were also wheelchair users. Like so many other programs, however, this one was brought to an abrupt halt by the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland in March 2020.
Throughout various lockdowns, and seeing the abilities of the athletes participating in the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in 2021 in particular, McKenna says she was inspired to begin putting plans in place for an adaptive Irish céilí dance program for wheelchair users.
In August 2021, Munster Academy of Dance signed up to the Sport Ireland Sport Inclusion Disability Charter. This enables the Academy to access resources including disability factsheets, inclusive communications methods, and tools to adapt and modify activities making them more inclusive and accessible for all ability levels.
In February 2022, McKenna approached Limerick Sports Partnership and Irish Wheelchair Association - Sport with her idea of running a program of adaptive Irish céilí dance for wheelchair users. Thus, 'Reels on Wheels' (c) Wheelchair Céilí was born. Both organizations were supportive of the idea, and provided funding, advice, and access to a panel of wheelchair users interested in participating in the program.
If you are a wheelchair user and would like to try Irish Céilí dance then join us from this Saturday 5th March at 10am in Delta Sports Done (Limerick) … it’s free! Message the page for more info 😊 ‘Reels on Wheels’ (c) (2021) Here’s a taster featuring some of the #Munster #Wheelchair #hurling #camogie #team … thanks to Darren for the video 😊 @MunsterWheelchairHurlingCamogieClub (Music credit JD McLaughlin; I do not own the rights to this music)Posted by Munster Academy of Dance on Thursday, March 3, 2022
Around the same time, McKenna approached David (Dave) Fitzgerald, coach of the Munster Wheelchair Hurling and Camogie Club, seeking access to Senior and Junior team members to participate in the initial classes. Dave was also very supportive of the idea and immediately invited her to come and meet the teams.
McKenna started 'Reels on Wheels' (c) Wheelchair Céilí adaptive classes in mid-February 2022, working with sports wheelchair users on Wednesdays and day wheelchair users on Saturday mornings.
McKenna now says there have been high levels of interest from wheelchair users, wheelchair user sports, service organizations, and those working in social care with wheelchair users.
Initially, five classes were scheduled, but this was extended to nine weeks in total due to the enthusiasm of all those who took part. The initial program of classes finished with a free integrated céilí event at Delta Sports Dome in Limerick, with plenty of cake to celebrate the success of the classes.
The high levels of interest in 'Reels on Wheels' (c) Wheelchair Céilí have extended beyond the borders of Limerick city and county, with inquiries and requests to run more classes coming from wheelchair user sports, care, and service organizations.
Irish dance teachers from all organizations and members of the general wheelchair community who do not normally participate in other forms of team-based physical activity have also inquired about the program.
As a result, Munster Academy of Dance is planning to run more 'Reels on Wheels' (c) classes across Munster from September 2022 and extending to other areas from 2023.
McKenna says she is also developing a handbook of adaptations for 'Reels on Wheels' (c), with the bulk of the input to the handbook coming from wheelchair users themselves.
Also in early stages of development is a third-level micro-credential training program for dance/movement facilitators interested in wheelchair céilí, in collaboration with the Technological University of the Shannon (T.U.S.) Social Sciences ConneXions Research Institute (with which Munster Academy of Dance is affiliated), the University's Department of Applied Social Sciences and Department of Sport and Early Childhood Studies; Irish Wheelchair Association-Sport; multi-sport wheelchair clubs in the Munster region; and the network of Sport Ireland local sports partnerships.
Research on the physical and psychosocial effects of 'Reels on Wheels' (c) Wheelchair Céilí on participants is also planned to start in January 2023.
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