Ever since she was 3 years old, Chelsie Hill wanted to be a dancer. And in high school, it looked like that dream would come true. She made the varsity dance team as a freshman and regularly got good grades to ensure nothing would hold her back from studying with the best.
But one night, after a party, Hill got into a car with a drunk driver. The driver hit a tree head-on, going 40 mph. Though Hill survived the crash, she was diagnosed as a T10 paraplegic. She had full control of her upper body, but the doctor told her she would never walk again. She was only 17.
"Forget walking," Hill said she told her doctor. "I just want to dance."
Today, Hill runs a dance team that has performed with the World of Dance Tour and is one of the largest wheelchair dance teams on the planet. She has been a cast member on Sundance Channel’s reality show Push Girls and co-wrote a YA novel titled Push Girl based on that experience. She also teaches dance classes, runs dance camps, and has YouTube channel with dance tutorials. She has over 10k followers on Instagram who are inspired by her passion and drive.
But before all that, just six years ago, Hill's doctor looked at her, shook his head and said dancing wasn't going to be a reality again.
The news was devastating for Hill, forcing her to reevaluate who she thought she was and who she wanted to be. One night in the hospital, she woke up and had a long conversation with her father. "I was just like, 'Why me?'" she told the Daily Dot over the phone. "Like why? I had something I wanted to do. I had something I wanted to do with my life."
Hill's father responded, "Maybe this happened to you because you are supposed to do something with your life. Maybe it's the same journey, but you're supposed to help more people along the way. Maybe you're supposed to start a nonprofit..."
Hill kept his words of encouragement in the back of he mind as she went through the long process of recovery. She was forced to relearn everything, she said. "I had to learn how to sit in my chair, I had to learn how to get in and out of my chair...I felt so helpless."
Eight months after the accident, Hill's father approached her about the nonprofit idea again and this time she felt ready. Together, they started the Walk and Roll Foundation, which works to build awareness for drunk and distracted driving, with Hill and others who've been affected speaking at school campuses about their experiences.
But the greatest step in Hill's recovery came in 2012, two years after the accident, when she started to dance again. As a hip-hop dancer, Hill could still use a lot of upper-body movement to great effect. But even when you watch her videos, it's apparent how much the wheelchair is her body—gliding and spinning in sync with the complicated choreography.As Hill began traveling the country for speaking engagements, she met a lot of other women in wheelchairs who also wanted to dance. And thus, the Walk and Roll Dance Team was born.
"A lot of people who aren't around people in chairs are very hesitant to what we can't do. But that just makes me motivated to do more," Hill said.
Hill was then inspired to film YouTube tutorials after hearing from women who couldn't get to her dance classes. "There are so many able-bodied people doing tutorials," she said, "so why shouldn't I do them?"
On June 3, Hill premiered a concept video with choreography from Kendrick Clevor, where she dances with a team of dancers who aren't in wheelchairs. The video doesn't highlight the chair, but it doesn't hide it either. The message seems to be that there is no message: just a girl dancing with joy, and that's all that matters.Hill's mission to share her love of dance with all bodies is at the heart of everything she does. "Look," she said, "dance is dance whether you are walking or your rolling, and that's what I think is the beauty of dance. Dance doesn't have a disability...Dance is something you feel in your heart." And Hill isn't done. Her nonprofit is currently undergoing a rebranding process and Hill hopes to be able to give wheelchairs to people in need. "A wheelchair isn't a luxury," said Hill. "It's our legs. If something doesn't fit right, our whole world isn't right."
And in the meantime, Hill says she's working on walking again. It's yet another dream she refuses to give up.