Ever since the blockbuster success of Dancing with the Stars, competitive dancing has become a fascinating pop culture phenomenon. But did you know that it’s also a popular activity for wheelchair users? We didn’t until we learned about Paula Moulton, an international award-winning wheelchair dancer from Manchester, UK, who represents one half of the dance duo Strictly Wheels.
Wheelchair dancing is with either one or both partners in a wheelchair (manual or electric). It is becoming an extremely popular sport among wheelchair users across Europe and countries throughout the world, including the United States.
Paula, 43, along with her dance partner and friend Gary Lyness, brought attention to the sport when they auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent in 2012, considered to be one of most inspirational auditions in the show’s history. Their performance not only brought the house down, but also changed the way people think about those with disabilities.
Paula hasn’t always been in a wheelchair. It was almost 20 years ago when she was hospitalized for pneumonia and, while in the hospital, contracted the MRSA bug, a contagious staph bacteria. As a result, Paula suffered irreversible damage to her pelvis, lower spine, hips and femurs. Over the years her condition has progressed, now requiring her to be wheelchair bound full-time.
After coming to terms with the fact she would never walk again, Paula tried various activities to keep her healthy before finding a love for dancing. “Other sports made me physically worse and irritated my joints. But I kept trying until I found something I could do and I tried this and fell in love with it,” she explained in an interview on Britain’s Got Talent.
In addition to the physical benefits, studies have shown the psychological effect of dancing helps build confidence and reduce the sense of social isolation that sometimes impacts wheelchair users.
“You can do it, no matter your ability or disability.”
So, when Paula was invited to a dance workshop, in conjunction with the Manchester National Health Service Trust, she dragged Gary with her to check it out.
That was 3 years ago, and the duo has been dancing across the boundaries of age, gender, and physical ability ever since.
Prior to their performance on Britain’s Got Talent the duo competed for Great Britain at the Dutch Open Championships in April 2011, where they took Gold in the Amateur Latin Category, a title they successfully defended in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Gary and Paula continue on their winning streak and are now set to become the UK’s first World Class competing couple in Latin Wheelchair Dancesport.
Living by her motto “You can do it, no matter your ability or disability,” Paula continues to work to raise the profile of wheelchair dancing and to reimagine what is possible for those with disabilities, and for this, she is a woman you should know!