Filipino disabled groove to the jive for confidence

Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:22am EST
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By Michaela Cabrera

MANILA (Reuters Life!) - Wheelchairs filled in for dancing shoes as disabled Filipinos competed in a recent ballroom dancing contest in Manila aimed at boosting their confidence and acceptance of their physical state.

Fourteen disabled contestants grooved to the jive, the rumba and the cha-cha-cha, with professional dancers as partners, for prize money of 5,000 pesos ($100) and a chance to compete abroad.

The Tahanan Walang Hagdanan, or "House With No Steps," an organization that shelters and provides employment opportunities for the disabled, provides wheelchair ballroom dancing as a form of therapy and exercise for its residents.

Finalists in the first dancing contest staged by the group included amputees and paraplegics, who used their arms and upper bodies to execute dance moves. Some could only move one hand.

"I hope people don't judge us based on physical appearance. With the help of dancing, we can show our real emotions and share it with others," Juanito Mingarine, a national wheelchair basketball champion who has won pentathlon gold at the Southeast Asian Paralympics, told Reuters.

Mingarine, a polio survivor who has competed in 45 countries, believes his skills with the wheelchair could be useful on the dance floor too.

His wife, Elkie, a paralympic games gold medalist whose leg was amputated due to bone cancer, is also a wheelchair dancer, and along with her husband, won the top male and female prizes at the dancing competition.

"Perhaps God had planned for my leg to be amputated because I had always dreamt of becoming a Philippine athlete. And maybe God wanted me to meet my husband," Elkie Mingarine said.   Continued...