Chelsie Hill and Rollettes Team Break Disability Stereotypes
Chelsie Hill Started the Rollettes Dance Team For Women With Disabilities — and She's Never Looking Back
The confidence that Chelsie Hill now exudes did not come easily — "I had to fake it until I made it," she said. Hill grew up a competitive dancer, and when a drunk driving accident in which she was the passenger paralyzed her from the belly button down at 17, she knew she needed to continue dancing. In the beginning, this meant she had to learn how to seamlessly adapt choreography that wasn't designed for her. She took on this creative, problem-solving role with an "all-able-bodied dance team" a year after her accident, then the following year (and to this day) at top LA dance studios where she was the only one in a wheelchair.
Hill never lost that drive to dance through times she struggled with her body image. "My passion overrides my insecurity by a thousand percent," she told POPSUGAR. "My passion just kept pushing me. And when you put yourself out there in uncomfortable positions, people see that."
A main part of her confidence, too, comes from the wheelchair dancers she surrounds herself with. Hill founded the Rollettes dance team in 2012. It started as the nonprofit Walk and Roll; then, in order to maintain control as a visionary, Hill said she separated the dance team and the Rollettes Experience into a business in 2017, officially adopting the Rollettes name and later dissolving the nonprofit. There are seven members total and three "lil sisters" who are up-and-comers, she explained, and the Rollettes mainly perform at showcases and big events, though they did represent the United States at the 2018 ICU World Cheerleading Championships.
Each summer, the team hosts the Rollettes Experience, a multiday event filled with dance classes and seminars for women and kids with different disabilities from around the globe. Last year's was virtual due to COVID-19, and the event in 2021, from July 22 through 25, also featured a live stream on July 23. Hill noted that Rollettes Experience 2021 was sponsored by Coloplast US, and she wants the tuition as low as possible given the financial difficulties that people with disabilities, on average, report. She aims to keep the event going for as long as she can so people like her have a place to foster a sense of community.
"Being paralyzed at 17, I never thought I would be running a business and owning a business. But it taught me a lot about what the human mind can take," Hill said. The Rollettes' mission is to empower those in their community and beyond to "live boundlessly," with Hill leading by example. "I want to keep doing what I'm doing. I love being able to just showcase being a wheelchair user and living my life as quote-unquote 'normal' as I live it," she continued. "I love educating people about how I can live my life."
"I've seen what I've been able to accomplish because of my disability, and that just fuels me to go even further."
As for the future, Hill, now 29, is newly married, and she plans to grow the Rollettes, the Rollettes Experience, and Boundless Babe Society, her most recent venture that's a virtual year-and-a-half-long mentorship program. It is split into three six-month phases and drives connection on a monthly basis, focusing on leadership- and community-building conversations. "It's a monthly subscription that they pay into to join," she explained. "They also get one-on-one phone calls with their mentor that's in their stage."
Hill personally has performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, collaborated with fellow dancers including Alyson Stoner and Montana Tucker, and partnered with major companies like Reebok, Target, Red Bull, Gymshark, and Aerie. "Being able to work with big brands is really bridging the gap between mainstream media and people with disabilities," Hill said, "because for so long, people with disabilities were never showcased on TV as actors or actresses or in campaigns or on Times Square or anything like that." She wants to be that face and idol she didn't get to see when she was first paralyzed.
Social media, Hill said, also helps immensely to break stereotypes about people with disabilities and those in wheelchairs specifically. She and the Rollettes as a group have been able to advocate for the disability community and break stereotypes of their own just by dancing together. "I'm a firm believer in power in numbers," Hill noted.
"This disability has made me such a stronger person physically, mentally, emotionally because I have no other choice but to get up, look at my chair, and get into it," Hill said. "I've seen what I've been able to accomplish because of my disability, and that just fuels me to go even further."