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June 04, 2013

Wheelchair Dancing Proves Anyone Can Learn to Dance! (w/ Val Chmerkovskiy)


We hear all types of excuses about why someone can’t learn to dance, or cannot continue to dance. After the experience we had with Marissa Meleske, who was wheelchair dancing, we will never accept another excuse for why someone can’t dance or learn to dance. Dancing is not only about physical expression through music. It’s about moving joyously and escaping to an alternate reality. It can be done with the entire body, or just one finger.

Marissa had replied to our Summer Bootcamp newsletter saying that her family was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and was not able to make it to our Summer Bootcamp for financial reasons. I then contacted Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and he immediately offered her a complimentary private lesson. The rest is history..

Several weeks after our lesson with Marissa, we enlisted some of our top instructors in a wheelchair dancing education training program. Several instructors at Dance With Me are now certified to teach dance to people in wheelchairs. Anyone can dance!

Read about Marissa’s experience at Dance With Me and Val in her own words:

To be honest, I started a blog about this on Friday but today was so above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined, that I scrapped it and I’m starting fresh. I wanted to try and capture the feelings and emotions I was going through up until today. So I’ll explain that briefly and then tell you all about today. I was asked to do this “short” blog, but the only thing short about me is my height (which I embrace!). But I’ll try my best not to drag this out too long! I’m sure not everyone is gonna wanna hear me go on and on…and on. But I can…I’m a writer, I could write an entire book on why Valentin Chmerkovskiy is the most amazing human being on the planet if I was asked to and I’d probably drop dead of old age before I finished. Not because of my talent for writing, but because he IS that incredible. Come to think of it, why doesn’t a book like that exist already? Maybe I WAS meant to write it (jotting that idea down now!)

So where do I start? Last week I heard about the 2 day dance camp that Dance With Me Studios has coming up over the weekend, with Val and Maks. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford it, and knowing the NJ event was the closest thing to it and I couldn’t get there, I decided to take a leap of faith. I emailed “Dance With Me” Studios back after they sent me the newsletter about the event. I asked if they’d have another closer event than NJ…and I continued on to ask if Val would be interested in teaching someone in a wheelchair how to ballroom dance. I’m all about trying new things, stepping outside your comfort zone and not letting anything stop you. I guess it’s fitting that I’m a life coach too. Not even an hour later I got a reply from Alex, the marketing director for the studios, that said “I spoke to Val and he can do it for you Tuesday at 4pm”. Um, say what?! I wasn’t even expecting a reply for days, let alone a reply that essentially said to be there in a few days to dance with Val. Val was out of town, I was so impressed that they could set this up so fast. After about an hour of trying to process this, I emailed back that that day worked for me (I would have been insane not to cancel things even if I had other plans!).

So today was the day. Surprisingly, I was not nervous at all. I was more nervous about getting there, being on time and all those types of things. I’d met Val briefly before so I knew, without a doubt that he would be amazing and even being in such close proximity to him wasn’t making me nervous. Being from NY, I have met my share of…shall we say…well known people (I hate the term celebrities) and I have to really respect you in order to support your craft. Just like I would any other person walking down the street. I already had the utmost love and respect for Val, but after this? I cannot think of ANYONE whose company I enjoyed more, well known or not, in my entire life. I’m not joking or exaggerating. He is just as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside. We cha cha-ed for a bit and then he pulled up a chair, did arm dances and then we literally sat there talking each other’s ears off, all for about an hour and 15 minutes. He is SO warm and welcoming and the most chill, down to Earth person you will ever meet in your entire life. The man’s face was inches from mine the entire time, even when dancing, and I was NOT freaking out…that’s how at ease he puts you immediately! He genuinely is an incredible person and he’s so caring. He was asking me questions about my life, the hurricane and included my grandmother (who insisted on coming because she loves him too) and was just the most amazing person ever. What really touched me, and I’m not going to get into everything that was said during our time together because there are just some things that I would like to hold dear to my heart, but one of the things that really touched me was how encouraging he was about the fact that I’m a life coach and I want to motivate people. He told me that when he was approached about my request, he was asked “what do you want to do about this?” or something to that affect. He immediately said something along the lines of “What do you mean? Book her an appointment. I can do it Tuesday.” Not even a second thought. I really appreciated that because even though I’m proud to say I was his first student in a wheelchair, he went for it and didn’t let the wheelchair become an elephant in the room. He looked me right in the eyes the entire time and the only time the chair was even brought up was when he asked me about my life in one. We goofed around, had some deep serious moments and just had an amazing time.

My favorite thing about Val has got to be his sense of humor and how he says the most profound things and they just come pouring out of him. He seriously needs to write a book during the days he rests his feet from dancing. He doesn’t BS either. He is the epitome of “say what you mean and mean what you say”. You can tell he means everything, even the compliments. He told me that I inspire him, but in all honesty, I wanted to make this experience just as much about him as it was about me appealing to my clients and showing them you can do anything. I wanted HIS audience to see that even if they’re sitting down for much of the time, they also can dance. They don’t have to sit on the couch or in their wheelchair and wallow in self pity about how amazing Val is on “Dancing With The Stars”. They can do it too if they believe in themselves enough. And I like to think I got that message across by going to the man himself today. I’m not much of a fan of “Dancing With The Stars” overall, but that’s just me. I’m a HUGE fan of PEOPLE like Val who are merely trying to share the love of their craft and inspire others along the way. THAT is what he’s in it for. Not the glitz and glamour, though he’s thankful for the platform he now has. He’s a hard worker, incredibly talented at what he does, passionate beyond belief about life in general and he deserves every bit of praise for it and every bit of success that comes his way! Also, one more thing I will say is that I will now forever have the image of Val’s face in my mind when he tweets or Instagrams with a hashtag. He gets so into those hashtags and has so much fun with it!

I really could go on and on. All I can really say in a nutshell though is thank you so much to Val and the entire “Dance With Me” staff that were a part of making today happen for me. It was an unforgettable experience and I’m already going through Val withdrawals…send help! LOL. Don’t ever change Val. As Billy Joel says, “I love you just the way you are!”

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Leave a Reply

  • Merari Vazquez Apr 2, 2014

    I would love to try lessons with Val. For a few years, I’ve wondered if there was a way to learn a dance to perform on a show, but show or no show, this would be a DREAM COME TRUE for me. Especially after I almost died twice in 2011! I have Spins Bifida which has landed me in a wheelchair since birth and I love dancing at parties.

  • Sharon May 31, 2014

    Our daughter Is in a wheel chair. She has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair since she was 3. While she was in the transition program (post high school), they had dances and she loves to dance.

  • Jody Jun 17, 2014

    I had the pleasure of meeting Val in May at the Dance With Me Summer Invitational in Stamford Connecticut where I performed (I am also in a wheelchair). We did dance together for what seemed like a split second. I would someday like the opportunity to dance with him longer. Just being able to be a part of that night is something I will never forget.

  • Melissa Engbrecht Jul 23, 2014

    I so want this to be televised… wheelchair dancing “should” be part of DWTS too

  • melony kaylor Feb 17, 2015

    Actually made it through. I was in the hospital for 4 months but received my 1st prosthetic and didn’t look back.
    This winter my teenage girl wrote a letter to you (Alex) telling you our story. You very kindly offered me tickets to see Sway, this was a dream come true for me. I love DWTS and the pro dancers but season 18 was by far the best for me. I have been inspired to start dancing. Watching Amy Purdy, I cried every time.
    I was not able to make it to the show due to financial reasons. It came Down to Christmas presents for my 2 children or going to NY, my children had a great Christmas. My daughter new inside I was devastated. She knew seeing the show was a once in a lifetime dream for me and told me she would’ve went without gifts if she knew it ment in could’ve gone to the show. Also I absolutely fan girl over Maks to the point that my 8 year old son gave me a envelope for Maks making me promise not to open it. I got to Christmas morning into read ” Maks will you please marry my mom?”. My son into autistic and for him to be able to write that out on a piece of paper was amazing to me.
    I really want to thank you Alex and Eugene from the bottom of my heart for offering me the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams. You guys are not only talented but insperational, giving and genuine angels! Maybe 1 day I will make it to NY but please continue to make other peoples dreams come true. I love you guys and thank you again

  • melony kaylor Feb 17, 2015

    Sorry, to start my heart again. In order to save my life the doctors had to do emergency surgery to remove my leg below my knee. I was in a coma for 2 weeks and was told by my doctor that when they brought me in my blood sugar was over 1000 and that I was the greyest person he had seen that a ctaully

  • melony kaylor Feb 17, 2015

    My name is Melony and I almost lost my life in October 2013. I am a type 1 diabetic and had to have and minor foot surgery. Literally out of nowhere a abscess foment on the inside of my foot and ruptured. I went into septic shock and had to be shocked two different times tso start my heart again

  • Donna Marine May 23, 2015

    Seeing this has touched my heart in a way that I hope you never know, and I will explain what I mean by this. My daughter, my sweet Renee’ was born with Spina Bifada, paralyzed from the waist down, her entire life was spent in a wheel chair, but that did not stop her love of dancing. She danced in her chair at every opportunity and NEVER missed a season of Dancing with the Stars, it was our dream for me to take her to a live show. I promised her that I would do what ever I could after I retired from the Navy to get her there, it was my gift to her for the time that was sacrificed when I had to be away. I retired, and I told her I am putting away all of the money I could, on her birthday July 26th 2013, she got an extra special amount for her trip, she so wanted to see a show (although I had not worked out all the logistics). Renee’ passed away two night later in her sleep, totally unexpected, and I never got to fulfill her wish. Every time that I see a season now, or look at a video of the amazing dances, it makes me feel closer to her, we are sharing this together, and I know that she is dancing in heaven. Thank you, Donna



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