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Adapted Ballroom Competition Will Be the First of Many, Dancers Say

By: Amanda Yang

Last Saturday, in the U.S, Dance Mobility held a ballroom competition, but not just a normal ballroom competition. This competition for people who use a wheelchair or prosthetic limbs brought in dozens of people from all over the country to take part in the first adjusted ballroom competition.

Cheryl Angelelli, a Paralympic (which is a major physical event for people with disabilities) medalist and quadriplegic, meaning paralyzed in all four limbs, and Evan Mountain, the co-owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Michigan, are the co-founders of Dance Mobility. The program, created in 2015, is supported by the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan's foundation and gives out free monthly wheelchair ballroom group lessons that are taught by professionals.

"Representation matters, to be seen matters, to go into a room and see people that look like you is important," Angelelli said.

Angelelli, a wheelchair ballroom dancer with a competitive spirit and a natural athletic ability, ranked seventh in the world for ballroom dancing in 2017. However, access and finances become an impassable wall to many, as most competitions take place overseas. Angelelli felt very firmly that she had to bring these kinds of special occasions to dancers in the United States. Both she and her partner, Tamerlan Gadirove, have competed nationally and internationally at the Para Dance Sport competition.

Eve Dahl, 14 years old, thought that the chance to join in a competition with other people in wheelchairs was definitely worth a 7-hour drive from Wisconsin she had to persist with her dancing partner, Ernie Olivas, her family, Deborah and Lance, and their Great Dane service dog, Finn.

Dahl has Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. This is a group of genetic disorders that make the victim’s bones break easily. But this disease hasn’t stopped her from doing what she loves, pursuing lyrical dancing since she was five. Lately, during the last three years, she has also taken up ballroom dancing as a challenge.

Robin Wooten, 52 years old, wiped her tears away as she saw a recently married couple ballroom dancing in their wedding outfits on Saturday. In Wooten's late 40s, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that disabled her spinal cord. Before that happened, she used to dance for years with her friends and taught her own son how to dance. She says that her friends will dance with her, even though she can no longer stand up, but she now sees that ballroom dancing can be done competitively. "It's amazing," she said, choking back tears.

Wooten says she dreams that when the time comes, she will dance at her son’s wedding.

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