NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland shares a touching story about a father in a wheelchair who learned to dance with his daughter on her wedding day.

On a cold fall day at the Patchogue Family YMCA, Dan Lumley and his daughter, Emily, practiced the dance they would perform at her wedding.

It was a moment that both believed might never happen, after Lumley was paralyzed in an accident seven years ago. And yet, there they were, Lumley in an electric-powered Permobil wheelchair and Emily standing as Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” played.

Dan Lumley, who is paralyzed, and his daughter, Emily, practice the...

Dan Lumley, who is paralyzed, and his daughter, Emily, practice the dance they planned to perform at her wedding. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“Take your time,” Cathleen Terrano, their instructor, said as Emily moved right, holding her father’s hand and spinning.

As Emily moved, Lumley, using a joystick, turned his wheelchair in unison.

“Nice,” Terrano said. “That was excellent.”

Terrano, who leads Roll Call Wheelchair Dance Long Island, has taught dozens of people to dance — both those in wheelchairs and their standing partners. For Lumley and his daughter, finding her enabled them to achieve a dream they thought was lost.

“That was my big thing after I got hurt,” Lumley, 60, of Sayville, said. “After my daughter gets married, I can’t dance with her.”

He remembers thinking, “There has to be a way.”

Thanks to Terrano, there was.

“This is a special time, when a child gets married. As an adult, we want to be there 100%. Dancing continues that,” Terrano, 59, of Lake Ronkonkoma, said. “For all intents and purposes, dancing is a hug. This is important. This is face to face, hand to hand, heart to heart.”

A crash, a coma

Lumley was a carpenter for 20 years, building docks in Islip and on Fire Island before deciding he wanted to go in a different direction.

“I wanted a change of career, a change of pace,” he said. “I decided to go to school at night, become something else.”

He studied nursing at Farmingdale State College and started working as a nurse in 2002. He spent more than a decade in that profession.

But on Aug. 7, 2016, his life changed in an instant.

Lumley said he had just left the Sayville Summer Fest, where he had sold poppies for the American Legion, and was planning to have lunch with his children.

“I left at 11 o’clock. Not even five minutes after I left, I got hit on the street,” he said.

According to Suffolk police, Lumley was riding a 2010 Harley-Davidson north on Foster Avenue in Sayville when he collided with a car making a turn.

Lumley was flown by helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital in serious condition. The car’s driver was not injured, police said.

Dancing wasn’t even a question at that point: Survival was. “I was in a coma,” he said. “I started to wake up almost a month later. That’s when I opened my eyes for the first time.”

Lumley said he had dropped 40 pounds, down to a weight of 145.

“After the accident, I had so much pain, I couldn’t do anything,” he said.

Lumley began his rehabilitation in New Jersey, then returned to Stony Brook University Hospital for surgery on his lower left leg, which he said had to be rebuilt with titanium parts. After the surgery, he continued his rehabilitation at what is now known as South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore.

He gradually improved, but it was not easy.

“To bring back your life, you have to learn a lot of things,” Lumley said. “I lost my career. I lost how to walk. I’m paralyzed from my chest down. I lost a lot.”

Lumley, who now works as a shop mechanic for Islip Town, said he initially needed an aide to help him dress, a process that took two hours. Now, it takes him about 45 minutes to dress himself.

At first, he traveled in a handicap-accessible van, but today he drives a modified Chevy Silverado pickup.

Emily, a nurse at South Shore University Hospital, remembers thinking even then of what the accident would mean for her and her father’s hopes of dancing together at her wedding.

“We’ve always been close, even before his accident,” Emily, now 29 and living in Commack, said. “When the accident happened and we found out he wasn’t able to walk, one of the things we struggled with was how we would dance together.”

Lumley added, “That was my dream, to dance with my daughter at her wedding. I didn’t want to let her or myself down. It shows your connection, your relationship to your child.”

That’s where Terrano came in.

“I’ve been dancing since I was a year-and-a-half old,” Terrano said, “mainly with ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, pointe, modern and hip-hop.”

Cathleen Terrano, right, teaches Dan Lumley, who is paralyzed, and his daughter, Emily, at the Patchogue Family YMCA on Thursday, Nov. 2.

She was a member of the Long Island and New York City ballets and choreographed on many stages across Long Island. She also taught at a West Islip dance studio.

But in 2009, Terrano said she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that causes lumps or nodules to form in the lungs, lymph nodes, skin, eyes and other parts of the body. Terrano said the disease affects most of her major organs, making it difficult for her to dance.

Four years after her diagnosis, John Nyemchek, co-director with his wife, Cathi, of Roll Call Wheelchair Dance in upstate Pearl River, approached Terrano.

“He asked me if I would learn Roll Call Wheelchair Dance. I said, ‘What is that?’ ” Terrano said.

Nyemchek explained the program, she said, which involves standing partners dancing with people in wheelchairs.

Roll Call Wheelchair Dance is part of a movement that includes wheelchair dance competitions, which feature either a dancer in a wheelchair with a standing partner, two wheelchair dancers, a group of dancers or a wheelchair dancer on their own.  

Slow, slow, quick, quick

Wheelchair dancing started in Sweden in 1968 for recreation and rehabilitation. The first competition was held in 1975, according to World Para Dance Sport, the international federation for the sport.

Dances need to be modified for wheelchairs, Terrano said. Merengue, for example, goes sideways for two standing partners. But, she said, “The wheelchairs can’t go sideways. We modify it to go front and back.”

Terrano said people in wheelchairs can dance the waltz, foxtrot, merengue, tango, salsa and more.

“Tango rhythm is slow, slow, quick, quick, slow,” she said. “We learn the rhythm and then the rolling, walking and stretching.”

Terrano said she went to Pearl River, where Nyemchek taught and certified her as a wheelchair dance instructor. She and Patti Panebianco, who has since moved away from Long Island, co-founded Roll Call Wheelchair Dance Long Island, and Terrano has been teaching wheelchair dance classes for eight years.

“I don’t ask a dime from anybody,” Terrano said. For the past three years, she has led classes at the Patchogue Family YMCA, which provides her with free space.

“Other people know that I do it. I try to put it up on Facebook,” she said.

She said she has taught more than 50 people, including Stephanie Kane, whose left leg was amputated in 2014 after she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I needed to do something to make me feel better,” said Kane, a Kings Park resident who teaches special needs children. “It was very hard for me when everything first happened to me.”

She said wheelchair dancing can be enjoyable and liberating. “It gets all my stress out. It releases everything,” she said. “I can’t really describe it. It’s wonderful.”

Zoom classes

Terrano also teaches classes on Zoom. “This way people from other states are able to dance,” she said. “I had a few people from Georgia join me.”

Dance can offer many health benefits to wheelchair users, strengthening their upper body, core, back and chest muscles, Terrano said.

She also teaches standing partners, such as Paul Sibener, 75, a retired lawyer from Commack.

“It’s our job to help guide those in the wheelchair,” Sibener said. “It takes a certain amount of experience being a standing partner. You have to be firm. But you don’t want to be too firm.”

Explained Terrano, “You are a team and each needs to give the same pressure. If you are pushing too hard or soft, someone may get injured.”

Kane, who has danced with Sibener, said they “learn how to become in sync with each other.”

“It’s exercise. It really is enjoyable,” she said, noting Terrano helps. “When we do something, if she sees it isn’t working for us, she will stop and on the spot she will fix it.”

Sibener said he enjoys the dances. “I find it especially rewarding,” he said. “I feel as though I’m enabling someone in a wheelchair to experience some of the simple joys of life.”  

Wedding day

Dan Lumley greets his daughter prior to her wedding at...

Dan Lumley greets his daughter prior to her wedding at Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

On Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, Emily married John Walsh at the Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville.

Her father escorted her down the aisle.

Dan Lumley and his daughter, Emily.

Dan Lumley and his daughter, Emily. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

They and nearly 170 guests then gathered in a white, chandeliered room at Water’s Edge in Centerport for their reception.

First, the newlyweds had their first dance. Next, Walsh danced with his mother-in-law, Lisa Lumley.

Then came the moment Lumley and his daughter had waited so long for.

“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together right now for father and daughter,” the DJ said, as “You Are So Beautiful” — a song Lumley used to play for his children when they were young — queued up.

As the guests, including the bride’s two brothers, Dean, 31, of Massapequa Park, and Daniel, 25, of Sayville, watched, father and daughter proceeded from the side of the dance floor to the center.

After the groom, John Walsh (standing next to his bride)...

After the groom, John Walsh (standing next to his bride) danced with his new mother-in-law (in dark green dress), Dan Lumley took to the floor with his daughter, Emily. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Lumley turned to face his daughter, leading her in a spin.

“You’re everything I hoped for/Everything I need,” Joe Cocker crooned, as Lumley sang along.

The crowd roared as Emily spun across the floor, the pair letting go of each other’s hands and then clasping them again after each twirl. They continued to move to the music, which Emily had selected, until the dance ended amid applause and a hug between father and daughter.

Dan Lumley and Emily dance during her wedding reception at Water's...

Dan Lumley and Emily dance during her wedding reception at Water's Edge in Centerport. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Afterward, Emily said, “It was our moment, me and my dad.”

“It was a fantastic moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole house,” Lumley said later. “It was such an emotional thing.”

Walsh, 32, of Commack, was a proud groom watching his new wife and father-in-law.

“It was really a special time,” he said. “As I watched them start to dance, I started to cry.”

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole house,” Dan...

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole house,” Dan Lumley said. “It was such an emotional thing.” Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

After the dance, Lumley toasted the newlyweds, who headed off for a two-week honeymoon in Italy.

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this, because I got hurt,” Lumley said. The pair have danced together at parties, he said, but, “That was the most magical dance I ever had with my daughter.”


Starting Jan. 4, Roll Call Wheelchair Dance Long Island classes will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Patchogue Family YMCA, 255 W. Main St. in Patchogue. Classes are free. Contact Cathleen Terrano at 631-793-4169  or email for more information.

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