E’van (EE-von) Petros, an instructor for World of Dance U-Jam, has been wheelchair-bound for the majority of her life. Through her work and choreography, she hopes to inspire both disabled and able-bodied people to get active and keeping pushing on, no matter how hard life can get. WOD recently had a chance to speak with E’van about her work ethic and involvement with the dance fitness program.
WOD: Let’s start with a short biography of yourself.
E’van: I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and I grew up in the Detroit area of Michigan, but recently moved to California from Michigan. In 1976, I got the polio virus due to a doctor’s malpractice. Because of that, I have been a wheelchair user and gone through years of rehabilitation. I was paralyzed from the neck down, but I have gotten some mobility back with the rehab.
I saw a U-Jam demo at an adaptive ballroom class, and I completely fell in love with the concept. The teacher, Ania, invited me to a class, and that started my passion for hip-hop and also reminded me of my home in Detroit. U-Jam brought my two worlds together and I wanted to do more with it, especially because I felt so accepted and there was no judgement there. It just felt really amazing that I had found somewhere I belong and a new family fell right into my lap.
WOD: When did you start instructing with U-Jam?
E’van: I just became an instructor on August 25th. My main goal is to learn routines and choreography, and I hope to bring about more awareness for people in wheelchairs and be able to do fitness for both health (due to polio, my body will eventually shut down and I want to keep it going), and to bring awareness to people and motivate people to change their lives and have a healthier lifestyle.
My debut as a U-Jam instructor will be November 16th with Ania, whose class I saw the U-Jam demo in, and other World of Dance U-Jam instructors serving as our backup dancers. We are leading a demo at an all-inclusive women’s conference for both disabled and able-bodied people.
WOD: What are some of the biggest struggles you have faced in your dance and fitness journey? How have you overcome them?
E’van: The hardest thing is modifying choreography but still keeping its foundation. Learning and modifying the choreo, but not taking away from its original format can be really difficult. Some is so hard that it gets frustrating when there are leg moves, but anything they do with their legs we’ll do with our arms. I try to go to three to four classes taught by different instructors per week, notice how their style is, and learn from it. If I teach a class of able-bodied people, I can still teach them what they should be doing.
Currently, Ania and I are the only ones in San Diego that are wheelchair instructors for U-Jam. There are three certified World of Dance U-Jam fitness instructors in the format. I try to teach people in classes that they can do it too. I always try to be encouraging and motivating whether they have a disability or not. It doesn’t have to be exactly right, and I believe we are all “perfectly imperfect”.
WOD: What motivates or inspires you?
E’van: My daughters (10 and 15 years old) are my biggest inspirations and motivators. Sometimes it is hard to get up because of my scoliosis, and they see me struggle. I want to show them that no matter how hard life might get, you have to keep pushing on to never stop living – whether you end up in a chair or not, always try your best!
WOD: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
E’van: There was a fundraiser where I was on stage with other instructors doing a U-Jam routine, and I got to experience what it was like front and center on stage. Being up there and leading choreo was amazing and made me feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Seeing peoples’ faces and having them approaching me and saying that I motivate them surprises me because to me, I’m just an individual with wheels instead of legs.
WOD: Is there anything else you think our readers would like to know?
E’van: I am a huge sports enthusiast, and I compete at paralympic games and hand cycling marathons. I am also a peer mentor coach at hospitals and I talk to newly injured victims and tell them that life still goes on after an injury. One of my goals is to do a U-Jam demo for clients at a rehabilitation center.
Find E’van on Instagram at @evanp313 and Facebook at @E’van Petros