Dancing At My Daughter's Wedding

8.20.2015
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Dancing with my daughter on her wedding day. What father hasn’t dreamt about that? I had  imagined it in my head hundreds of times since she was a young girl. She’d be beautiful in her flowing white gown, and I in my shiny tuxedo, we would sweep the floor dancing to a special song that we selected especially for that moment. Everyone would be smiling and clapping, as we shared our special moment in the center of the dance floor.

But it was not to be. In an instant fate snatched my beautiful dream and dashed it into nothingness. It’s a funny thing about Fate; it doesn’t care if you are a loving father. It doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams for the future. If you are at the wrong place at the wrong time and make a mistake, Fate will get you. And that is what happened to me.

A spinal cord injury changed my life

While driving home from work one day 17 years ago, I failed to see an oncoming car and pulled out in front of it. In an instant, my life and the life of everyone around me was instantly changed. As a result of that accident, I became paralyzed from the chest down with no hand function.I spent the next month in intensive care fighting for my life. I spent the following five months in rehab relearning how to use my new broken body.

Nothing could prepare me for the shock of paralysis while staring at my lifeless legs and trying to move them, Re-learning the simplest tasks was excruciatingly difficult. With so many impossible challenges it’s hard to believe that dancing even crossed my mind : but it did, quite early. I thought to myself, I won’t be able to dance with my daughter at her wedding. I won’t say it was the first thing on my mind, but I felt a powerful sense of loss whenever I pondered it.

I always loved dancing. At a wedding my wife and I were often the first ones on the dance floor and one of the last couples to leave. I remember dancing often with my young daughter, swinging her up in the air amid her constant laughter. But, after my injury, all of this was gone.

During my time in rehab one of my occupational therapists mentioned to me that she had seen a display of wheelchair ballroom dancing that had taken her breath away. This gave me the slightest glimmer of hope for my daughters future wedding, but at the time I was focusing all my energies on learning how to drink from a cup with paralyzed hands. I was a very long way from even thinking about wheelchair dancing.

Several years later my wife and I did take lessons from that wheelchair dance instructor . He was quite skilled and he danced effortlessly with his partner. They were indeed breathtaking. But there were problems. He was low-level paraplegic with fully functional hands, I was a quad with no hand function or trunk control. I didn’t believe I would be able to pull it off. I stopped the lessons shortly thereafter. I was afraid of looking foolish.

Overcoming anxiety for my daughter

When my daughter met her fiancé, the plans for their wedding began. Sadly I had planned to forego my dance with my daughter. I decided I would elegantly apologize to the wedding audience about my lack of ability and pass the father/daughter dance off to my new son in law. He was the only one to whom I felt I could surrender my special moment. I was going to surprise her at the reception but as the wedding got closer she let me know in no uncertain terms how important this dance was to her!

It is impossible to derail my daughter’s plans when she sets her mind on something. Within a very short time she was getting advice from the AbleThrive network on ideas for a father/daughter wheelchair dance. Soon we had an appointment for a 3 hour intensive dance trading/choreography lesson.

We met with Diane Descepolo of Roll Call Wheelchair Dance Academy. She was a 5 foot fountain of energy and motivation. Within seconds of dancing with her I knew it was going to work out. Over the next 3+ hours she trained us how to move and choreographed our entire father/daughter dance.

The big night

Quadriplegic man in a manual wheelchair dancing with his daughter at her wedding
Photo by Daniel Fugaciu

The night of the wedding was magical for me, one of the greatest nights of my life. I would be lying if I said we danced flawlessly, we missed a few moves, my daughter forgot a lot of our choreography. But Honestly we did very well! But here’s the important part. Here’s my personal victory: I didn’t care how I looked! I wasn’t nervous because I wasn’t performing. I was dancing with my daughter at her wedding, like I’d been dreaming of my entire adult life.

As an epilogue, I had a hard time falling asleep that night. My arms were in severe pain. I danced continuously throughout the night. I danced with my wife to “our song ” for the first time in 17 years. I danced with another wheelchair partner. I danced with multiple women partners. I danced with multiple men. I could care less if I looked foolish, although I’m sure I didn’t. I was a man celebrating the marriage of his beautiful daughter to a man she loves. And that is what the night was all about.

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