A nice recognition in this weeks “Dag Allemaal” for Manuel Delaere and myself , putting our perseverance into the spotlight
A wonderfull article about Manuels life journey and how it feels to slowly loose your capability of seeing.
A big “Thank you” manuel, to show me they way relentlessly in discovering everything about teaching dance to blind-sighted people.
Blind Manuel makes an impression in the auditions for ‘The Greatest Dancer’
Walsing true life despite a severe disability. Manuel Delaere does it, literally. Perfectly syncronised with his dance partner Michèle Martens he finished all his dancesteps in ‘The Greatest Dancer van Vlaanderen’. ‘Our first big performence’ , he sais with pride. The whole summer the Gentenaar sacrefised his hollydays to practise his act in the inclusive danceschool of Michèle, who as a professional dancer worked together with Garry Hagger, Tom dice and Belle Perez. To be aloud to do an audition, the duo had to go true a strict selectionprocedure. Much to the relief of Manuel. ‘I did not want to be pictured as a oddity. My participation on ‘The Greatest Dancer’ gave me the feeling of belonging.’
Rehersing such a dance certainly requiers a big effort if you have a visual impairment?
Off course. Every step must be expressed clearly and consistently.
Other students follow my steps in the mirror. A partner with a visual impairment, you have to take them by the hand. There is more body contact.
That helps to orientate me, beceause that is the most difficult. Especialy after a rotary movement. Beceause of the dissapearing of my sight, my sense of touch has become sharper. In contact with my dancepartner I even feel the position of her feet. Some fellow students say: ‘It’s like you see more than someone who can see.’ (laughs)
But you really don’t see anything anymore?
My central vision is gone. Peripheral I still see some shadows and a bit of light, but not when I’m moving, like when I’m dancing. Unfortunately my eyes keep getting worse. Retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease in wich the iris slowly dies, is incurable.
When did you discover that you had the disease?
Manuel: About when I was 12 years old I got problems with my vision. But beceause of the severe load of such a diagnose, I waited till I was 16 to go to the eye doctor.
Such a bad news makes your world collaps, doesn’t it?
Manuel: (knods) but my positive attitude was my strength. I wanted to make something out of my life. And at home I had the best example. My mother, who was already blind by then beceause of the same disease, stayed very independent. For years she was the chair woman of Vebes, the association of the blind an visualy impaired, and she still sits in the National Sepreme Court for Persons with Disabilities which advises the Belgian politics.
And you did make something of your life. You have a degree in civil engineering.
In my student time however the facilities were limited. I was already visually impaired. I couldn’t write on the lines and had such bad headaches from studying that before my exams I only had time to read my courses ones. Luckilly I have a good memory. That comes in handy in my fulltime job as a computer engineer.
Easy is different, right?
Manuel: With a speech system dat reads every screen, it’s working. I want to stay active as long as possible, but I am saving for harder times. I’m also paying off my own appartment, I cook myself and its delicious and I fill out my own tax form. (lacht)
Sounds terrific, but you must also have a hard time sometimes?
Yes. My freedom is very limited. To do groceries I have to get some help, instead of quickly pop into the supermarket. But the hardest is the loss of social contact. When I was studying I could count on my fellow students. Now and again there was laughter with my foolishness but with the best of intentions. Everybody was ready to help even only to show me the way to the toilet. With the student marching band I went to play on all the parties. I was a showman with my flute. Everybody knew me and called after me on the street. A great time that was.
Nowadays it’s different?
My only contact from back then is a fellow student who stayed in Gent aswell. And as a blind man it’s difficult to make friends. If you go to the cafe with your white cane, nobody talks to you. If you go somewhere without the cane and you run into something then everybody thinks you are drunk. If I go out I always try to be in company because alone I don’t even notice if someone is in the mood for a talk. Or if there is someone who knows me. I also don’t have a girlfriend anymore. Preferably I would like to get to know someone who shares my passion for dancing. But approaching a lady to chat, that doesn’t happen just like that. I have to focus on the voice. Often I can derive the physique from that, but the age is harder to estimate.
Michèle: O Manuel has enough choice. He is such a good looking and in the meanwhile a great dancer. a little bit of a player even … (winks)
Manuel: Even on dance parties the ladies hesitate when they see me with my guide dog. ‘ Oh dear, a blind man. That won’t be great.’ Frustrating. Until they see how good I can dance. Then they all approach. And they come back!
How did you get the dance vibes Manuel?
On a dance evening on holliday in my youth. Shortly after is started to swing, rock-‘n-roll and dance ballroom. I went dancing for a long time with my girlfriend, but when that relationship broke off, it turned out that the facilities in a regular dance school where inadequate. That is how I ended up with Michèle who teached people with disibilities once in a while.
Because of Manuel I saw the light. Ever since we dance inclusive in my dance school. With or without disabilities, everyone takes classes toghether. A first in Flanders.
And it works?
Michèle: For sure. Some students dropped out beceause of this and some blind do not want to depent on the seeing. To bad for them, inclusive dancing has so much added value. Beceause of the need of interaction we learn a lot from each other. I became a better teacher beceause while doing so, you develop new techniques and tricks.
You’ve really found your place here, Manuel.
Manuel: Yes. the atmosphere in this dance club is more intimate. Here I’ve build a new social life and gained a piece of freedom. It fills a certain emptiness in my life. Nowadays I spend four to five days a week in the dance school.
Now and then apperantly also to teach?
Manuel: yes, I give private lessons for beginners and groups of visually impaired persons.
Michèle: Manuel is even teaching me how to quickstep.
Manuel: I don’t have children. This is my way of charing my passion. The chances I’ve got I also want to give to my peers. Often they rather join associations for the visually impaired. But after I gave some salsa classes on a mountainholiday with a blindassociation to my fellow travellors, some of them come to our inclusive dance workshops.
And with ‘The Greatest Dancer’ you want to convince them all?
Manuel: Hopefully it will encourage fellow sufferors to inquier in their own neighbourhood about inclusive dance classes. Do you know what I somethimes dream of? To walk into a dancingroom with my dog, ask a lady to dance and make all mouths drop in amazement with my tricks. There was also something about that in ‘The Greatest Dancer’.