What a whirlwind we experienced recently! Thank you and kudos to Aubrey Meade, our dazzling dance instructor and manager of the West Bloomfield studio, and Andrew Downs, a dedicated dance student who stuns crowds from his wheelchair.
Check out this WXYZ segment prior to their Germany competition.
And this WDET interview.
And this FOX 2 interview.
We thought we knew what we were getting into, but until you attend an international para dance competition, you really don’t know how incredible it can be. It was eye-opening as we traveled to Germany with Aubrey and Andrew and prepare to compete with the best in the world.
Bonn, Germany is home to the Paralympic Movement, and this was the first time the city hosted its first major Para sport event, the 2019 World Para Dance Sport championships, November 29-December 1, 2019, at the Hardtberghalle.
Since 1999, Bonn has served as official headquarters for the International Paralympic Committee, which has been working hard to advocate for Para Dance as a Paralympic-worthy sport. Our Dance Mobility program is a huge part of that effort, as we train American coaches to teach Para Dance throughout the country and we groom dancers to compete on a national and global scale.
This competition featured 225 athletes from 26 countries competing across 21 events. This was the first time an American team – Aubrey and Andrew! – represented the USA in a global Para Dance competition.
Because the United States is a relative newcomer in the Para Dance world, we did our best to hold our own against exquisite dancers from other countries, where wheelchair dance has been a true sport for quite a long time. The first para dance competition took place in Vasteras, Sweden in 1975.
What makes this niche so challenging and remarkable at the same time is that in dancing, you have movement to the music. The pros don’t just move to the rhythm – they embody it. They express, act, convey, tell a story through their choreographed steps.
The same has to happen in Para Dance, and for long-time competitors from other nations, it did. The moving hands, bodies, expressions, were so full, so captivating.
I had never experienced a competition with wheelchair dance, seven couples on the floor, all moving around, doing their choreography in wheelchairs. It was truly remarkable.
And then to see duo couples, which are two people in wheelchairs dancing together – seriously spectacular.
With Para Dance Sport first undertaken in 1968 in Sweden, some of these teams have been dancing a long, long time. They are well-trained by their captains, teams, and coaches. In particular the Russian team, the Ukrainian team, the Filipino team, were amazingly coached, hugely supported, and brought huge teams.
The quality of dance of course was incredible. But even better was the sense of community, the camaraderie and support that pervaded the entire competition.
Every team wanted to win. When they didn’t win, though, they supported each other, hugging, congratulating, cheering one another on in truly genuine ways.
And in that spirit, we were welcomed with open arms and huge encouragement. Team USA made its global debut with a lot of acclaim and support – even though our quality of dance is not yet up to the international level of talent. We will get there, especially with the support and encouragement of our friends from around the world.
Like Konstantin Vasilyev, one of the main coaches on the Russian National Team in Para Dance Sport, who was thrilled to welcome Team USA to Bonn. He is also an STC (Sport Technical Committee) member of World Para Dance Sport.
The St. Petersburg, Russia, resident says, “Evan Mountain paid attention to wheelchair dancing as a para sport and started to put his efforts in developing this section in his Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Now there’s a chance that the little spark of enthusiasm that Evan lit up in the development of Para Dance Sport will not go out, but rather will grow into a friendly Para Dance Sport team of athletes representing the USA at international competitions.”
“The first step was done, and we were very excited that Andrew Downs and Aubrey Meade from the USA could take part in the Bonn 2019 World Para Dance Sport Championships: it’s a little, but so essential step forward! Cheryl Angelelli with Tamerlan Gadirov – another Combi couple – is ready to take part in Para Dance Sport competitions as well.”
Says Konstantin, “Fred Astaire Dance Studio started to write down the new story of development of Para Dance Sport in the USA and I believe that it will grow up and we will have the opportunity to take part in the LA 2028 Paralympic Games program. Welcome to the World Para Dance Sport family, and let’s write Para Dance Sport history together!”