Dancing on Wheels: Students in wheelchairs dance their way to st - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Dancing on Wheels: Students in wheelchairs dance their way to strength

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WHITEWATER (WKOW) -- Dance is bringing people of differing abilities together, and showing them they're stronger than they thought.

If you walk around the campus of UW-Whitewater, you'll immediately notice that the school has a large "sit-down" community. Wheelchair ramps and accessible tables are everywhere. That's part of why Hannah Harkness chose to go there.

Harkness has spina bifida, and can't move from the hips down. She always wanted to dance, but because she needs her wheelchair, she didn't think she could. Then she found out about a new opportunity at UW-Whitewater where "sit-down" dancers and "stand-up" dancers learn and perform together. It changed everyday life for Harkness.

“I'm more aware of how to use my balance and how to use my strength in ways that I didn't even know was possible,” said Harkness. “Finally reaching milestones that I did not even expect."

Barbara Grubel is a dance professor at UW-Whitewater, and she's the force behind the class. She was overwhelmed by the idea of choreographing for the stand-up and sit-down dancers. While she usually tells her students to throw fear to the wind, she had a hard time following her own advice.

“Daily I tell my composition students 'try something new. Take up a challenge. Jump off the cliff, I'm here to catch you.' And it's been quite a while, a long time since I had that challenge placed in front of me,” Grubel said. She was scared of creating choreography that could hurt one of her dancers – so much so, that she said she cried every day.

But the blood, sweat, and tears paid off. It gave new strength to people like Harkness, and Elizabeth Fideler, who is blind.

“I did it! We all did it,” said Fideler. “We all came together and created something very powerful, and it was truly amazing."

Now the plan is to continue the class every other year at UW-Whitewater, so every student can have the chance to get stronger.

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