Reels on Wheels © is an inclusive adaptive Irish céilí dance programme developed by and for wheelchair users in collaboration with Munster Academy of Dance, during a pilot feasibility project in Limerick between February and April 2022. The programme now runs weekly in the Irish Wheelchair Association’s (IWA) Dunraven Centre, Limerick.
The project is facilitated by professional Irish dance practitioner and independent arts and health researcher Carmel McKenna of Munster Academy of Dance. Dance participants include service users and professional care staff in the Irish Wheelchair Association’s Dunraven Centre, Limerick and members of the Munster Wheelchair Hurling & Camogie Club.
The primary aim of the collaborative arts project is to provide an innovative and accessible physical activity for wheelchair users. It also aims to explore and understand from the perspective of wheelchair users:
- How céilí dances can best be adapted to enhance participation in the dance form by wheelchair users.
- The additional knowledge, skills, training and resources required to facilitate the programme.
The project is informing the development of:
- A research programme on the physical and psychosocial effects of participation in Reels on Wheels.
- A train the trainer programme in wheelchair céilí.
- A micro-credential programme in inclusive dance at TUS.
A programme of adaptive Irish ceili (traditional group, social dance) co-designed by wheelchair users for wheelchair users has been introduced in the Irish Wheelchair Association’s Dunraven Centre, Limerick. Wheelchair users who are day programme service users and professional care staff of the centre attend and participate on a weekly basis. It is designed as an optional and voluntary activity led by Carmel McKenna of Munster Academy of Dance.
The programme resulted from a pilot collaborative feasibility study undertaken between February and April 2022 with two groups of independent wheelchair users. Group 1, drawn from the Munster Wheelchair Hurling and Camogie Club attended on eight Wednesday evenings for 30-minute sessions and used sports chairs. Group 2, drawn from the general wheelchair user population in Limerick, attended for five 45-minute sessions on Saturday mornings and used day chairs. In total, twenty-six wheelchair users took part ranging in age from 5 to 49 years old. None had previously participated in any form of Irish dance.
Reels on Wheels operates within the framework of Irish Céilí dance. This framework is flexible and lends itself to adaptation. Feasible adaptions were identified and explored by both sets of wheelchair users during the feasibility project. All adaptations were then categorised and catalogued by the project facilitator and used to inform the development of a Facilitator’s Handbook.
Reels on Wheels continues to evolve and the process of dance adaptation is ongoing as new possibilities and challenges are identified by the dance participants at the IWA Centre which includes power chair and non-independent wheelchair users.
Reels on Wheels is a first-of-a-kind adaptive Irish céilí dance programme for wheelchair users. A Reels on Wheels Facilitators Handbook and Train the Trainer programme has been developed and a micro-credential qualification at TUS is planned.
The training programme is suitable for family and professional care partners, social care and other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists, dance practitioners, sports and physical activity coaches, and volunteers working with wheelchair users.
Future research on the physical and psychosocial effects of participation in Reels on Wheels is also being developed.
- Practitioner reflective journal (ongoing)
- Dance participant evaluation survey (June/July 2022)
- Peer-reviewed presentation at the Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) Study Group on Ethnochoreology (August 2022)
- Submission for symposium proceedings subject to peer review (pending publication in Quarter 2, 2023)
- The proposed micro-credential Train the Trainer programme will be subject to internal and external evaluation panel reviews (Quarter 3, 2023).
From the arts practitioner’s perspective, securing funding and insurance for the programme was challenging. Almost all Irish céilí dances can be adapted. Circle dances are popular among the dancers. Moving as a single unit leads to a heightened sense of inclusion and community. Having never previously taken part in an Irish dance activity, the participants indicated they were nervous or reluctant to join in initially but now enjoy the experience.
Learning new chair skills, trying to work together as a cohesive group and the fun element of the programme are noted. The dancers feel that their fitness and flexibility levels have improved. Key challenges identified by the dancers include trying to remember the dance sequences and the lack of availability of the programme on a more widespread basis. According to participants, knowledge and skills required by facilitators included:
- An understanding of how various conditions leading to wheelchair use might affect ability to participate
- Clear communication
- Specific training for facilitating wheelchair céilí
- Ensuring that the primary focus of wheelchair céilí is focused on ability to participate and not the disability.
Documentation and Dissemination
The outcomes and learnings from the project have been disseminated:
- To the general public through Munster Academy’s social media channels and an Irish Central article (May 2022): https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/reels-on-wheels-irish-dance
- Through presentations to:
- Ethnochoreologists attending the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology International Symposium (August 2022)
- TUS (Technological University of the Shannon) staff and students to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities organised by the Equality, Diversion and Inclusion Office at TUS.
Carmel’s experiences of engaging in dance with wheelchair users documented in her reflective journal will form the basis for a lecture on the implications of those experiences for Irish dance teacher education for delivery to undergraduates, postgraduates and lecturing staff at the TUS Social Sciences ConneXions Research Institute Spring Series in January 2023.
Irish Wheelchair Association
Munster Wheelchair Hurling & Camogie Club
Date of Publication
Initial feasibility programme: February - April 2022.
The Reels on Wheels dance programme has been ongoing since September 2022.
Munster Academy of Dance
Munster Academy of Dance
Dance, Traditional Arts
Community Health, Disability Services
Nature of project
Collaborative/ participatory, Research