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Metro Detroit natives are first to represent U.S. at ParaDance world championship

Metro Detroit has become a “mecca for Dance Mobility”
Posted at 4:31 AM, Nov 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-12 05:59:07-05

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Ballroom dancing is a great way to help your mind, body and spirit. And now – thanks to a growing movement here in metro Detroit – more and more people with disabilities are hitting the dance floor. And one local couple is even making a splash overseas.

Andrew Downs is an athlete. He’s been playing basketball, disc golf, and tennis over the years – never letting his wheelchair or being born with spina bifida slow him down.

Now the 23-year-old is adding ballroom dancing to his skills.

“Fox trot, cha cha, waltz, Tango, Viennese waltz,” he said when asked about some of the dances he’s learned. The list goes on.

We caught up with him practicing at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in West Bloomfield.

Andrew admits he was hesitant to try dancing at first. But he went to a Dance Mobility class at Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Bloomfield Hills to see what it was all about.

“And I saw [paraswimmer] Cheryl Angelelli and Tamlin -- her partner -- dance. And I was like, I could do that! And that was it.”

The monthly class is Michigan’s only wheelchair and amputee ballroom dancing program for adults and children with physical disabilities. It’s free thanks to funding from the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan – or RIM Foundation.

“Metro Detroit has become kind of the mecca of wheelchair dancing here in the United States,” said Evan Mountain, owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studios of Michigan.

Mountain said the Paraolympic Committee contacted him two years ago wanting a U.S. representative at the world championships. But there weren’t enough teachers trained in wheelchair dancing here in the states.

So, they worked together to turn that around.

“For the last two years, they’ve sent over a committee to our studio and did a training in the summer. And we’ve been able to grow that program at Fred Astaire. There are now Fred Astaires all over the United States that are doing dance mobility programs,” explained Mountain.

Andrew Downs said -- thanks to dancing -- he’s in better shape, mentally sharper, and more social.

“This whole culture – how big it is. Absolutely legitimate how warming and welcoming it is – everybody really trying to encourage you,” said Downs.

He and his dance partner Aubrey Meade have competed in Las Vegas, Chicago, and in Toronto, but they’re really excited for what’s next.

“We’re going to Germany, and we’re going to be competing in the World Para Dance Sport Championships,” explained Meade.

They’re the first American couple to represent the USA at a world championship in para-dance. They’ll be competing in 10 different dances plus a free style dance.

“Pretty much anything goes [in free style]– lifts and tricks and turns, and dips, and all the crazy stuff. And you get to pick the music for that. So, we’re doing a number to the Pink Panther, Meade explained.

“Every day I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to Germany!’” said Downs enthusiastically.

And he’s ready! No matter what, this pair will make Michigan and the U.S. proud.

They compete in Bonn, Germany on November 28-30, 2019.

If you’d like to support them as they raise funds for the trip, you can make a donation to the RIM Foundation by designating your online donation to Andrew and Aubrey’s trip.

If you know someone who’s interested in Dance Mobility, the classes are once a month at the Fred Astaire Dance Studios of Bloomfield Hills.
Call (248)454-1715 for more information or email Evan Mountain at