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Dancers hope this adapted ballroom competition is the first of many in the U.S.

Eve Dahl, 14, of Wisconsin after the Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition for persons with physical disabilities at the Roeper School, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., on July 16.
Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl, 14, of Wisconsin after the Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition for persons with physical disabilities at the Roeper School, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., on July 16.

Last Saturday, Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition brought together more than a dozen people from across the country to compete in the first ballroom dance competition in the U.S. for those who use a wheelchair or prosthetic limbs.

Cheryl Angelelli, a Paralympic medalist and quadriplegic, and Evan Mountain, the co-owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., are the co-founders of Dance Mobility. Created in 2015, the program is supported by the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan's foundation and offers free monthly wheelchair ballroom group lessons that are taught by professional ballroom dancers.

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

Deb Dahl does her daughter Eve's hair before Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Deb Dahl does her daughter Eve's hair before Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
Eve Dahl's mother does her hair as her dance shoes and competition dresses lay out on a hotel room bed.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl's mother does her hair as her dance shoes and competition dresses lay out on a hotel room bed.
Eve Dahl gets her makeup done before the competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl gets her makeup done before the competition.
Eve Dahl, of Wisconsin, and her Great Dane service dog, Finn, head downstairs to get into makeup before the competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl, of Wisconsin, and her Great Dane service dog, Finn, head downstairs to get into makeup before the competition.
Eve Dahl and Ernie Olivas during the Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl and Ernie Olivas during the Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
Jonathan Bowie, of Michigan, greets a friend after the competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Jonathan Bowie, of Michigan, greets a friend after the competition.

Angelelli's competitive spirit and natural athletic prowess led her to be ranked seventh in the world for wheelchair ballroom dancing in 2017. However, access and finances pose a barrier to many, as competitions often take place overseas. Angelelli felt strongly that she wanted to bring these opportunities to dancers in the U.S. She and her partner, Tamerlan Gadirove, have competed nationally and internationally at the Para Dance Sport competition.

"Even though the dancers have always been very welcoming at other competitions where we're competing against able-bodied, standing couples, it's just different," Angelelli said.

For Eve Dahl, 14, the chance to compete with other people in wheelchairs was worth the 7-hour drive from Wisconsin with her dance partner, Ernie Olivas, her parents, Deborah and Lance, and their Great Dane service dog, Finn, 6, who more closely resembles a small horse.

Dahl has Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, a group of genetic disorders that result in bones that break easily. That hasn't stopped her from pursuing lyrical dancing since she was 5 years old and, for the past 3 years, ballroom dancing as a new challenge.

"Both are very special to me," she said.

Eve Dahl (upper left), Joanne McConaghie and Ann Knaggs (upper right), Zoey Spencer and her father, Neil (lower left), and Jonathan Bowie (lower right) pose for portraits at Dance Mobility's Ballroom Dance Competition. "I'm an above-the-knee amputee," Knaggs said, "and I always say that ballroom dancing is physical therapy, but fun." Ann and Joanne met through ballroom and became fast friends.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl (upper left), Joanne McConaghie and Ann Knaggs (upper right), Zoey Spencer and her father, Neil (lower left), and Jonathan Bowie (lower right) pose for portraits at Dance Mobility's Ballroom Dance Competition. "I'm an above-the-knee amputee," Knaggs said, "and I always say that ballroom dancing is physical therapy, but fun." Ann and Joanne met through ballroom and became fast friends.

"I've really never had an opportunity to dance in an environment that's suited for somebody like me — I've always been dancing with able-bodied people — so I'm excited that I'm going to be able to find people who know how to direct me and adapt," Dahl said. "It's that kind of special environment that's curated for you."

Dancers and their families are hoping this is just the start of more ballroom dancing competition opportunities for dancers in the U.S.

"It's nice to see the U.S. catching up to what the rest of the world is doing and hopefully it keeps getting traction," Eve's dad, Lance, said.

"She's always loved to be on stage and perform — ever since she was little — so it's right up her alley."

Familiar waltz, tango, cha-cha tunes along with more contemporary artists like Bruno Mars pumped through the speakers of the gym with a boisterous crowd cheering on each dancer.

Paralympic medalist Cheryl Angelelli and founder of Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition dances with Tamerlan Gadirov<strong> </strong>in the competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Paralympic medalist Cheryl Angelelli and founder of Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition dances with Tamerlan Gadirov in the competition.
Left: An audience member records dancers competing in Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition. Right: Trophies for the competition's dancers sit on a table.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Left: An audience member records dancers competing in Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition. Right: Trophies for the competition's dancers sit on a table.
Robin Wooten wipes tears from her eyes during Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition. Before Wooten was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she danced ballroom and taught her son to dance. "It's amazing," Wooten said. "I don't know them personally, but I swear they're my family because they share my same struggle. ... My tears are happy tears."
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Robin Wooten wipes tears from her eyes during Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition. Before Wooten was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she danced ballroom and taught her son to dance. "It's amazing," Wooten said. "I don't know them personally, but I swear they're my family because they share my same struggle. ... My tears are happy tears."
Zoey Spencer dances with her dad, Neil, before they compete.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Zoey Spencer dances with her dad, Neil, before they compete.
Michigan's Zoey Spencer, 11, shows off her judges' scoring card after competing with her dad, Neil, at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Michigan's Zoey Spencer, 11, shows off her judges' scoring card after competing with her dad, Neil, at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
A crowd cheers on the dancers at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition at the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., earlier this month.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
A crowd cheers on the dancers at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition at the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., earlier this month.
Eve Dahl, with her service dog, Finn, at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.
/ Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
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Sylvia Jarrus for NPR
Eve Dahl, with her service dog, Finn, at Dance Mobility's Adapted Ballroom Dance Competition.

Robin Wooten, 52, wiped away tears as she watched a couple that recently got married perform in their wedding attire on Saturday. Wooten was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her late 40s. Before her diagnosis, she danced ballroom for years with friends and even taught her son how to dance. She says her friends will still stand and dance with her now that she's in a wheelchair, but now she sees it can be done at a competitive level.

"It's amazing," she said, choking back tears.

"I don't know them personally, but I swear they're my family because they share my same struggle. You want to move, dance and you don't want people to judge you because of wheels. My tears are happy tears."

Wooten says her dream is to dance at her son's wedding when that day comes.

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