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St. Pete Dance Instructors Introduce Wheelchair Ballroom Dancing

St. Pete Fred Astaire Dance Studio owners Manny Herrera and Maria Sidnjova are offering ballroom dancing to people in wheelchairs.

By D’Ann Lawrence White, Patch Staff | Updated 

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Fred Astaire Dance Studio owners Manny Herrera and Maria Sidnjova are strong believers that the timeless art of ballroom dancing should be accessible to everyone.

And now, with the help of World Para Dance Sport, they are offering ballroom dancing to people in wheelchairs.

After completing America’s first introductory training course to Para Dance Sport in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Herrera and Sidnjova are ready to offer ballroom dance instruction to Tampa Bay residents in wheelchairs at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in St. Petersburg North, 11032 4th St. N., St. Petersburg, and St. Petersburg Central, 7019 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

The goal, they said, is to spread awareness about wheelchair dancing, a sport far more popular in Europe and Asia but gaining a foothold in the United States.

More than two dozen professional ballroom dance instructors from around the country came to Bloomfield Hills to learn the basics of the sport, dancing styles, wheelchair techniques and skills and judging criteria.

Mexico’s MariCarmen Legaspi served as the lead instructor of the course. Legaspi helped develop the Mexican Para Dance team, which took five medals including one gold at the 2017 World Championships.

Four-time Paralympic swimming medalist Cheryl Angelelli, co-founder of the Dance Mobility Wheelchair Dancing program in Bloomfield Hills, demonstrated Para Dance at the training with her dance instructor-partner Tamerlan Gadirov.

Herrara, a Cuban native who developed his passion for ballroom dancing in his hometown of Havana, is excited to help the World Para Dance Sport take a major step forward by introducing more people with lower limb disabilities to the fun and fitness benefits of ballroom dancing.

“The mental, physical and emotional benefits that ballroom dancing has to offer are amazing. As a ballroom professional, I feel an obligation to make ballroom dancing accessible to everyone,” Herrera said. “The Para Dance training course welcomed instructors like me from around the country to learn how we can introduce wheelchair ballroom dancing to our communities.”

Sidnjova, the 2017 Fred Astaire National Professional Smooth Champion, said the training will not only help her bring wheelchair ballroom dancing to St. Petersburg, but was inspirational as well.

“Dancers like us are passionate about what we do, so seeing that passion in the eyes of this underserved community was overwhelming,” she said. “We’re hoping to line up some local partnerships immediately to introduce the wheelchair community here to ballroom dancing.”

Fred Astaire Dance Studios of St. Pete Central and St. Pete North are currently looking for local partnerships with community organizations that serve the wheelchair community in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Para Dance Sport is an elegant, stylish sport in which participants in wheelchairs can compete dancing with an able-bodied partner or duo dance for two wheelchair users.

Since 1998, Para Dance has been governed by the International Paralympic Committee and coordinated by the World Para Dance Sport Technical Committee.

Wheelchair dancing originated in Sweden in 1968, led by Els-Britt Larsson, for recreational or rehabilitative purposes. By 1975, the sport was popular enough to sustain a competition involving 30 dance couples.

In 2016, the sport was renamed from IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport to Para Dance Sport. The most recent world championships, which occur every two years, took place last year in Malle, Belgium.


So great to be on ABC 7 yesterday teaching these great ladies on Suncoast View how to dance! Check it out:

Ian Beckle’s Foundation 2015

Ian beckle pic

Fred Astaire St. Petersburg North Studio had the opportunity to be a part of Ian Beckle’s Foundation 2015. This foundation’s primary focus is to help the youth of Tampa Bay’s Community. They collect money for teenagers that are in foster care, young adulst who don’t have the resources for education, and kids who need community help in general. This year’s party was themed after the great 80’s era. Communities around the Tampa Bay Area came together to support a great cause. Thanks to the Hard Rock Café, and their amazing staff, we were able to perform and share a common passion with other dancers while collecting money for an amazing charity.

Tampa Bay’s Dancing with the Stars


We are so happy that Fred Astaire Dance Studios Tampa Bay is a part of this amazing event!  Tampa Bay’s DWTS is conducted every year, and this was our best year yet, with over $40,000 in donations!  We had 13 of our professional dancers along with their Tampa Bay Stars perform.  We are so honored to be able and give back to the community through dancing.  An amazing night to remember!