Just roll with it: An interview with a Rollettes dancer

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
Stephanie (left), Samantha (center), and Maria are part of the Rollettes dance team, which performed at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

Kirsten Aucoin, Raider Times staff

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The Rollettes are a group that’s been challenging the ways people view dance. The L.A.-based team is currently made up of six women — all of whom are in wheelchairs. They mostly perform hip-hop dances to pop songs, though they’ve explored other styles in the past.

The dance team was founded by Chelsie Hill, who was paralyzed from the waist down in the aftermath of a drunk-driving accident in 2010. She had been dancing since the age of 3 and didn’t want to give up her passion, so she started the team in October 2012. Chelsie was also on the television series, “Push Girls,” a docuseries about a group of women who use wheelchairs.

Sharing a similar story to Chelsie, Maria Rabaino also was injured in a drunk-driving accident. The underaged Maria had gone out with a co-worker and his friends, who were over 21. She thought they would know their limits with alcohol and trusted them to drive her somewhere later in the night. The accident was fatal to the driver and left Maria with an L1 incomplete spinal injury.

Maria was one of the original members of the Rollettes in 2012 after she had only been paralyzed for five months. She’s thankful for the way the Rollettes have affected her life, saying that her being on the team has helped her gain her independence.

“How much we’ve changed as individuals and as a team — it’s been so amazing,” she said,

Four of the Rollettes — Chelsie, Maria, Samantha, and Stephanie — were in Boston this month for the Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center. They performed several of their dances, taught the crowd some moves, and posed for photos with fans. Maria also took some time to do an interview with the Raider Times:

Raider Times photo / Jennifer Aucoin
The Rollettes — (from left) Maria, Samantha, Stephanie, and Chelsie — pose with a Raider Times reporter at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

   Raider Times: How did you guys end up being a part of this expo?
   Maria Rabaino: Chelsie first started coming to these expos when she danced with Auti from “Push Girls”. Yeah, she started coming to the expos. Then, when Chelsie started her own team, pooled a bunch of other girls together — that’s how we kinda got together and started going to all of the expos.

   RT: You mentioned you were part of the original team? 
   MR: Yeah! We started the team about five years ago. Chelsie first wanted us to hold a dance showcase, and it was just supposed to be a one-time thing, but it got really popular really quickly. And we kinda just decided to form it as a team and get together. We were first called Team Hot Wheels and then we were the Walk and Roll dance team; now we’re the Rollettes.

All of our choreographers are able-bodied, but they see our mission and they really try to make sure that we’re not just a wheelchair dance team. We want to be dancers who just happen to be wheelchair users.”

— MARIA RABAINO, Rollettes dance team

   RT: Do you have auditions, welcoming new members?
   MR: We had auditions one time, but most of the time it’s they come out to our dance intensives that we have about once or twice a year. They come to the dance intensives and they’ll tell us if they want to join the team when they come to them; sometimes they do it just for fun, sometimes they do it because they want to be part of the team. And then we just invite them to practices — the more they come to practices, the more likely they are to be on the team or they help with behind-the-scenes work. Then that’s how they become part of the team.

   RT: Did you know the original starter of the group through something?
   MR: When I was first injured, “Push Girls” had just started promoting their TV show and my family got really excited. We started looking things up, one thing led to another, and I believe my mom found Chelsie on Facebook and my dad sent in a message — or my dad sent Chelsie’s dad a message on Facebook and she talked to my dad on the phone. Chelsie called me and we talked on the phone and then, about a couple months later, she called me, invited me to join the team, and I just said, “Yes”! Everybody else though has kinda been meeting through these events or events like it or on social media they’ve reached out to us before.

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
Samantha (left) and Stephanie of the Rollettes talk one of their appearances during the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

   RT: Do you have someone who normally choreographs the routines?
   MR: We have quite a few choreographers. We have one girl, Melissa Karasek — she’s a friend from Chelsie’s high school. She did a lot of our routines in the beginning. We now have G Madison, who’s a choreographer for Mariah Carey as well. And we have a guy named Cedric Botelho, and he he travels all over the world and teaches so many different classes. So, yeah, a variety. It’s been a lot of fun working. All of our choreographers are able-bodied, but they see our mission and they really try to make sure that we’re not just a wheelchair dance team. We want to be dancers who just happen to be wheelchair users.

   RT: As a curiosity, with performances different places, have you ever had an issue with accommodations?
   MR: There have been places. A couple years ago we performed at one place and it didn’t have a ramp. A few places, actually, where they didn’t have ramps to the stage. So we had to have people carry us up on to the stage [and] back down.

   RT: That must have been an interesting experience.
   MR: Yes, yes. There were definitely interesting experiences. There have been hotel rooms where the doors are too small so we gotta change rooms … There’s been a variety.

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
The Rollettes’ dance team performed at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

   RT: People don’t always think about how many different things get involved. Do you have any advice for people who might want to start something like this in this area?
   MR: Find a lot of other people with the same mission and just find ways to get together and either choreograph or find a choreographer. Just kind of get together, practice, start a Facebook page, reach out to other dance teams, and cooperate with them … Just be willing to work with other people — that’s a huge thing. You can’t do it by yourself. You have to as a team effort. You got to bring people together.

   RT: Make all the connections.
   MR: Yes, yes.

   RT: How often do you perform?
   MR: We hold dance intensives. That’s where we bring in people from all over. The most recent one we had back in August, we had a girl from Australia, we had a girl from Canada, the majority of the girls were from all over the United States, and it’s where they come together. We teach routines. They learn kind of how to be independent while they’re with us. They get to bond with other girls in wheelchairs because it’s not every day where there’s multiple ones of us. Sometimes we’re left alone and we don’t get that — that bond. This is a good opportunity for girls to get that bond, and just kind of spend time with each other, make jokes, help each other out with advice, and everything like that. We also dance, but it’s more to it than that for us.

   RT: How often do you guys rehearse, as the Rollettes?
   MR: I live in Monterey and they live in L.A., and there’s a 4.5-hour difference. So, I practice by myself at home, but they meet up about once a week — every Tuesday — and practice together.

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
The Rollettes — Chelsie, Maria, Samantha, and Stephanie (left to right) — strike a pose at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

    RT: Is that difficult, practicing by yourself?
   MR: It can be difficult practicing by myself, but I try to get videos when I’m with them. That way if I forget something, I can look at it or I’ll text one of the girls on the team and they’ll help me out. Just like, “This is the move,” and we find ways to make it work.

   RT: It makes it so much easier nowadays with technologies we have.
   MR: Yes, so much easier.

   RT: In what ways do you feel that being part of this group has impacted your life?
   MR: It’s huge. I joined the team when I was only a few months injured, and so — for me — it helped me become independent a lot faster. A lot of people, when they first become disabled, they have a hard time gaining their independence … and, for me, being into this team with girls who were already independent, and constantly traveling for several different performances … It’s forced me to become independent more faster. Having all of their support, as well, and we support each other. Even girls who’ve been injured for years, people who have been disabled their entire lives; we always just try to help each other. We always help each other grow. Over the years, seeing how much more mature we’ve gotten, how much we’ve changed as individuals and as a team — it’s been so amazing.

   (If you’re interested in learning more about the Rollettes or attending one of their dance experiences, you can connect with them through Facebook (@Rollettes), Instagram/Twitter (@Rollettes_LA), or go to their website (rollettesdance.com).

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
Chelsie (left) and Maria perform one of the Rollettes’ routines at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

Raider Times photo / Kirsten Aucoin
Chelsie Hill, a member of the Rollettes dance team, at the 2017 Boston Abilities Expo at the Boston Convention and Expo Center.

–Sept. 23, 2017–

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