“Dance Is For Every Body”; Exploring Our Dance Mobility Program
“Cheryl Angelelli and students of the Dance Mobility Program at Fred Astaire Bloomfield Hills, MI, prove that the power of dance can overcome any challenge. Everyone has the ability to experience the joy of dancing – just ask Cheryl Angelelli. Cheryl is the inspiration behind the Dance Mobility program at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
It all began when Cheryl saw a post on the FADS Bloomfield Hills Facebook page about a new instructor who would be teaching ballroom dancing lessons to students in wheelchairs. Cheryl immediately reached out to owner, Evan Mountain. “I told Evan that I missed dancing more than walking,” says Cheryl, who was left a quadriplegic after a tragic diving accident when she was a teenager. Working with instructor, Sergio Sanchez, Cheryl was amazed at how quickly she fell in love with the activity. It was no surprise that when Evan approached Cheryl a month later to discuss a program focused on students in wheelchairs, she quickly obliged.
Cheryl, a 4-time Paralympic medalist in swimming and an Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, is a natural athlete. Her perseverance has earned her fifteen American Records, two World Records and made her a seven-time World Champion. Although she admits that swimming comes naturally to her, dancing was a more difficult challenge. “At first I had to take a Dramamine before my lessons for motion sickness,” she laughs, as she recalls the momentum of whirling in a wheelchair while executing spins in her routines.
The program, dubbed the Dance Mobility Program, took a turn for success when Cheryl was able to secure a program grant from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM) Foundation. This allowed the studio to offer free monthly group lessons for adults and children with physical disabilities. “In Michigan there are a lot of opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in adapted sports, but not everyone likes sports,” says Cheryl, “but everyone likes to dance.”
Because wheelchair dancing is very common overseas, she knew the activity would draw special interest in the United States. It was especially unique because it was not being offered anywhere else in Michigan. The program has gained so much interest that Cheryl was contacted by a school teacher in Arkansas who saw a YouTube video of Cheryl dancing. The teacher asked her to Skype with one of her students who was in a wheelchair and show her a few dance moves that she could try. Cheryl did something better: she arranged through the RIM Foundation to fly to Memphis with her instructor and surprise the student with a private lesson.
A born athlete, Cheryl has always been drawn to the competitive side of ballroom dancing. Warming up at her first Regional, the 2015 Fred Astaire Megadance Dancesport Championships in Washington, DC, she went on to attend her first National competition this past November at NDC in Orlando, Florida. When asked about her experience dancing at NDC, Cheryl says, “It’s a fun way to show what you’ve learned. Although, I would love to go to a competition and not be the only one in a wheelchair.” With new partner, Tamerlan Gadirov, a renowned wheelchair dance instructor from Azerbaijan, Cheryl hopes to encourage more students in wheelchairs to join her at competitive events and experience the thrill of performing.
Now that the Dance Mobility program is underway with great success, Cheryl and Evan have teamed up to explore a new avenue. They will be launching a free 6-week ballroom dance program for amputees who use a prosthetic limb. “I wanted to give them the same opportunity,” she says, “Although it’s easier for an amputee to be included in an able-bodied program, whereas a wheelchair is more of a specialized thing, it has more to do with giving them an environment for support and camaraderie. I wanted to give them that setting and if they want to transition later it will make it easier for them.”
Dance Mobility – Wheelchair & Amputee Ballroom Dancing
At Fred Astaire Bloomfield Hills, we believe everyone has the ability to experience the joy of dancing. This philosophy led to the establishment of Dance Mobility; Michigan’s only wheelchair and amputee ballroom dancing program for adults and children with physical disabilities. Our Dance Mobility program provides free monthly wheelchair and amputee ballroom group lessons, led by Fred Astaire’s professional, certified dance instructors with experience in teaching wheelchair and amputee ballroom dancing. Participants are welcome to bring their own dance partner or they will be paired with a partner. From Waltz to Tango to Salsa, we offer all styles of dance lessons in a fun, friendly, supportive environment, while promoting physical, social, and emotional well-being. Private lessons are also available for a fee. Dance Mobility’s free group lessons are supported by a grant from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation. For more information, call 248-454-1715.