An exclusive Q&A with Chelsie Hill, a pro-dancer and founder of The Rollettes wheel-chair dance team. The Rollettes, originating in Los Angeles, have become a nationwide sensation, encouraging women with disabilities to “live boundlessly”. Ms. Hill is truly an inspiration to all as she not only encourages health and fitness with dance, but also emphasizes the importance of mental and emotional health as well.
How did you first get involved with dance?
My family put me in dance classes when I was 3 years old and started competing when I was 5. My love and passion for dance started at a very young age!
Did you have a mentor growing up? And what role did that person play in your life and your career?
I’ve had many mentors in my life. Many of my dance coaches played that roll. They taught me discipline, structure and how to carry myself. I’m beyond thankful for each of my coaches who mentored me in different parts of my dance career. I wouldn’t be the person or dancer I am today without them!
Best life advice you have received?
The best advice I have received is when there’s not a door… build it!
Tell us a bit about the Rollettes. What was the process like to start and grow it to be a large national movement?
When I first started the idea of Rollettes (2012) I started purely because I wanted friends. I reached out to six girls I met online and invited them to my hometown of Monterey, CA. We spent the week together dancing, hanging out, going to dinner and just getting to know other girls with disabilities. We bonded so much and that’s when I realized how important it is to have other people around me that are in similar situations. In 2017 we had 30 girls from three countries come to L.A. (where I lived next) it was my first year opening it up to the public and I was shocked at the response. My big goal was to rent out a ballroom and have women dancing together. After that year in 2018 we opened it to the public again and my manager said “let’s see if we can get 100 women.” I honestly thought he was crazy. First of all, I didn’t even know 100 women let alone 100 women in wheelchairs that would come to Los Angeles for our event. Well, in 2018 to my surprise we had 115 women and children from 12 countries come in. To me it was never about how many people we could get. Having that many women and children show up for an event specifically for the disabled community just showed how needed a place for us was. Now, as of 2022, we have 250 women and children flying in from all over the world. To think that 10 years ago this idea just started because I wanted friends but it continues each year because of the women and children that show up. It’s for them now and will continue to be a space for women and children with disabilities to come to each year.
What are some of the challenges you face while simultaneously training in dance and maintaining the Rollettes? How do you get through them?
Some of the challenges I’ve faced as a wheelchair dancer is studios not being accessible and/or choreographers not giving me the time of day during class. In the beginning, many people would stare at me when I would roll into the studio being the only wheelchair user and give me a confused look. It was pretty intimidating in the beginning. But I remind myself how much I loved dance and that feeling it gave me when I would perform in front of the class or crowds. When I remember that, I remember nothing will stop me.
What do you enjoy most about performing?
When I perform I don’t feel or see any limitations, I get the same feeling I used to when I was walking!
How does it feel to have become such an impactful leader of women with disabilities in the world, and to be a role model to countless women?
I didn’t start what I started to be “someone.” I started purely because I wanted friends and community. At the time I didn’t have that or feel that as someone who was newly paralyzed. I am honored to have a platform to connect women with disabilities and hope to continue to make my community proud by providing a space for us.
What are some goals you have for the future of the Rollettes and for yourself?
I just want to continue at the rate we’re going with the Rollettes experience. I’d love for our Rollettes experience family to keep growing and expanding. For the Rollettes dance team, I hope we can perform at the Paralympics, perform internationally and continue to show that dance is dance whether you’re walking or rolling!
What advice can you give our readers for any struggles they have or will have throughout their life?
Remember if there’s not a pathway, build it. If you are passionate about something, chances are someone else is, too! Never give up, no matter how slow something grows because those who give up will never see their dreams come true.
Where can readers follow you on social media?