National Dance Day: Dancing on wheels

National Dance Day is September 18, an annual celebration dedicated to dance, that encourages people of all ages and abilities to incorporate dance into their lives.

I fell in love with dance as a child. When I was six years old, my mother enrolled me in tap dancing lessons. Each year, I looked forward to our annual recital where I got the chance to wear makeup, pretty costumes and perform on a big stage in front of a live audience. It was exhilarating.

When I had a diving accident at the age of 14, which resulted in a C6 spinal cord injury, I thought my dancing days were over. Little did I know then, but dance would reenter my life, bringing the same joy I experienced as a child.

In 2014, after competing as a member of the United States Paralympic swim team for 16 years, I decided to retire and look for a new competitive sport.  At the same time, the local Fred Astaire Dance Studio near my home in Michigan, had advertised that they recently hired a dance instructor from Europe who had experience teaching wheelchair ballroom dancing and they were looking for people to join. I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

Eight months later, I entered and won my first wheelchair ballroom dance competition in Washington, D.C., after that I was hooked. That first competition was followed by many more, including nationally prominent competitions like Ohio Star Ball and Fred Astaire World Championships, both of which I won with my standing dance partner Tamerlan Gadirov. We have also competed internationally against some of the top wheelchair dancers in the world. Our first competition was in Germany in 2017, where Tamerlan and I won a silver medal in our category.

I love the way dance makes me feel. When I am dancing a Waltz or Foxtrot, I literally feel as though I am gliding across the dance floor. I move freely and effortlessly to the beat of the music. I also enjoy the creative process of taking steps standing couples do and adapting them into something a seated person can do. And that includes some pretty crazy lifts my partner does with me in my wheelchair. And I still enjoy the thrill of performing, just like I did when I was a child. It’s like being transported into this magical and glamorous world with over-the-top hairstyles, makeup and gorgeous, sparkly costumes.

I loved the feeling dance gave me and I wanted others to experience it too, so in 2015, I co-founded Dance Mobility along with the owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio where I train in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Thanks to a grant I received from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan Foundation, we are able to offer free, once a month, group lessons in adapted ballroom dancing for wheelchair users and amputees. As much as I love to dance, there is no greater joy than watching someone else come to life when they realize they too can dance.

Today, I have started my own company to try and expand the sport of wheelchair ballroom dancing in North America. Para Dance Sport as it is called, is extremely popular in Europe and Asia, but slow to gain traction in North America. I have taken the Dance Mobility model we have created in Michigan and brought it to other states across the United States. Tamerlan and I train interested ballroom dance instructors on how to safely and properly teach adapted ballroom dance to individuals who are physically challenged.

My message is there are no limitations in life and that includes dance. Everyone can dance!

Interested in adapted ballroom dancing, email me at or follow me on Instagram here.


About Cheryl Angelelli

Paralympic medal winner, World Record holder, and Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, are just a few of Cheryl Angelelli’s many accomplishments. She is also a professional ballroom dancer and works in healthcare marketing.