Rollettes Founder | Chelsie Hill: Dancing Without Limits
Wheelchair Dance Pioneer and Social Media Sensation
Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.
Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.
Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. Chelsie Hill is here with me. I’m so excited.
She’s the CEO and founder of the Rollettes, which is a Los Angeles based wheelchair dance team that is committed to education, disability representation and last but not least, female empowerment.
I love it. You empower me every single day, Chelsie.
Chelsie Hill: Ah, thank you. I’m so excited to chat with you. You are amazing.
Alycia Anderson: You’re amazing too.. What I love about you most is… you’re one of the most authentic, genuine women that’s in my life and I just love how selfless you are and sharing your story and opening those conversations up to other women and men, boys, girls, whoever disability or not.
Can we start with where it all began?
Chelsie Hill: Yeah. You know, I feel like I talk about my story like a lot and I love always going back to the root of where it all started because it just reminds me of that little girl with all these hopes and dreams. I was born and raised in Monterey, CA and graduated from Pacific Grove High School.
I danced my entire life. I started at the age of three and started competing nationally and regionally when I was five.
I knew at a very young age, exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be a backup dancer. I wanted to move to Los Angeles, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Fast forward to high school. I was a senior in high school. And I was out of the party with friends. You know, I remember getting to the party, and one of the other girls was like, hey, like we live close to each other, you wanna walk home after this? And I’m like, yeah, perfect. I have work in the morning like let’s walk home.
And one thing led to another. There’s like, a long story behind that with like my ex-boyfriend and like reasons why I stayed, but my friend came down the stairs and was like, hey, I’m leaving. Does anyone need a ride? And I looked at the time, and I was like, oh, crap, I’m going to be late. My mom’s going to kill me. Like, I’ll just get a ride.
I ran out to get shotgun, and my ex-boyfriend ran out after me and was like I get shotgun and you’re sitting in the back and we had broke up the night before. So long story with that. Won’t get into it, but we ended up dropping off that friend, and I slid into the middle seat.
I knew the driver had been drinking, I just didn’t know… I just saw him having a red solo cup, so I didn’t know if there was water in it. I didn’t know if there was beer or if there… what there was in… what was in that cup? But I knew he had a drink.
Which obviously shouldn’t have gotten into the car. Should have had a little bit more education around that, honestly… But, we ended up hitting a tree head on going about 35-40 miles an hour and my back snapped in half and I was paralyzed instantly.
So, I… don’t remember anything visually from the accident, I just remember waking up or I remember feeling different emotions. I remember feeling like I was stuck. I remember reaching up to try and grab someone and it was my ex-boyfriend trying to like lift me out of the car. He, you know… an innocent bystander said that he dropped me. So there was like a lot of things that, you know, happened in the accident, but when I got to the hospital, that’s when they told me that I had a spinal cord injury.
I had no idea what that was.
Alycia Anderson: Incredible.
And, so that instant shift in your life…
What is that like? I mean…
Chelsie Hill: Yeah.
Alycia Anderson: Where do you… where do we go from there?
Chelsie Hill: Yeah, I’ll be very honest. I, one, had no idea what a spinal cord injury was. I really thought that I was gonna be that miracle that got up and walked out of the hospital. I did not understand. My brain could not like understand the fact that you could go from walking, to then have an injury, to then completely not be able to feel your legs at all, or move them, and my brain could not like understand that.
So I was like in, you know, good, OK, spirits. I was like obviously devastated, but I was in OK spirits cause I was like, I’ll be that miracle. I’m gonna go to rehab. Cause what I thought is you break a bone, you go to rehab, and you go back to your normal life.
There was nothing… no kind of education around disability or injury at all in my life. So I was… I was in shock, and it really did not actually hit me until I went home, and that’s when like…, it really hit me hard.
But, a very pivotal moment, I will say in the hospital was my dad. He was down in the rehab level. My dad walked in and he had a computer and he put it on my lap and he goes. I need you to watch this. And I was like, OK, like, what do you want me to watch?
I’m sitting there. Can’t feel my legs. I’m like, not in a good mood. And I’m watching this girl on YouTube dancing in her wheelchair.
And I was like, well…, this is cool. Who’s this? I’d do that different? Oh, I like that. And my wheels started turning. And then I closed the laptop and I said I was like, that’s cool. But that’s not me because I thought that I was gonna be that miracle. I’d get up and walk and. I go back to my normal life, but that moment. That little tiny piece of what my future could look like was so important to me, because then my dad went home and he’d asked my high school coach, “would, like, hey, if I could bring a bunch of wheelchairs to the high school, can the dance team choreograph a wheelchair dance team for Chelsie?”
And that’s exactly what they did, and that was the first moment in high school that I danced in my wheelchair with all my able-bodied dance team, all in wheelchairs.
That’s resparked that… that fire, that I thought was dead.
Alycia Anderson: That is incredible. I haven’t heard that story yet, and your parents are so amazing… and like for our listeners, I’ve known Chelsie since. I mean, it’s probably a year or two after your accident.
You were young. You’re still young. But you were young then and your Dad would bring you out to all these events that were like conferences and trade shows, and whatever. And I remember the very first time that I met you, and you were so sweet and so hopeful even back then.
You just like…, are this bright light.
Chelsie Hill: Thank you. It really is like what changed my whole life. Like, I could have completely just closed the curtains and been like forget this, like I don’t even wanna try.
But I was like so determined to like that…, that after performing that reignited that fire that I was hungry for, that I was like, oh, I still got that same feeling that I did when I was walking.
I didn’t feel disabled. I didn’t feel different. And that is what inspired me to kind of keep dancing.
Alycia Anderson: And I think that’s such an important point for all of us to recognize, whether we have a disability or not.
Like, we love what we love, and there’s always gonna be a way to figure out how to be successful in it.
How do you go from that young girl at high school dancing in a wheelchair for your first time with your team to the Rollettes?
Can we talk a little bit about that?
Chelsie Hill: Yeah, you know, I have to say it’s really crazy to see how the disability community has changed. And why I bring that up is it’s so important to always recognize the people that have come before you, and why I say that is I would not be who I am without the incredible women that took me in… into their lives, under their wings, and really like was like this is how you can live a productive and beautiful and successful life.
And I give that to all the Push Girls.
Being on that show, I have the shows like meeting Auti, meeting Tiphany, Mia, Angela, like they literally changed my entire life and being able to meet incredible women that are already on their journey, that have the time and the capacity and the love, and they want to take someone like me into their life and teach me all the ways.
Just to like…, be able to wear heels, just to be able how to get dressed, how to go the bathroom, how to curl your hair and be sexy and be fun.
It changes you.
I got that guidance so early on into my injury into my like transition into this like new life that I wanted to be that person for other people, so that being said, joining the team and then like starting my own it just that like really changed me, you know.
Alycia Anderson: Can we pause it just for one second? Because I think that’s such an important point. And the Auti Angel’s of our path. Like, that’s my generation, right? Like Auti was hanging out with all those girls back in those days, and she was paving the way.
Chelsie Hill: Yeah.
Alycia Anderson: That whole crew was paving the way for dance and she had to really claw her way through back then, like that wasn’t necessarily as received broadly as it is becoming now.
Can you just explain the Push Girls really quick, and that movement? So, the listeners that don’t know what that is…, know what it is.
Chelsie Hill: Yeah. So, the Push Girls was a… the first reality show about women in wheelchairs. I was one of the cast members. It was about the four, you know, main girls. And then I was like, their little newly injured young… I was like, 18-19 years old at the time.
A year and a half injured, and they were teaching me how to live a life.
They talked about sex. They talked about dating. They talked about independence. They talked about so many different things that were taboo and I really feel Auti with dance like she really is the person, the pioneer, the woman that created a space for wheelchair dancing and lighted this fire of like what we could do.
Same with all the Push Girls, they really broke down those barriers and being: No We’re Sexy. We’re Hot. I don’t give an F.
They broke down those walls and so all the girls that and people that don’t know what Push Girls is… I’ll just say like do your research because like they really turned our industry into what it is today and all the women, all the men that are on social media and killing it.
It’s because… it’s that trickle down effect.
I personally think they started it and everyone that they have met, it’s just spread like everyone is now doing what they’re doing because they were inspired by someone that met someone that and that’s just how this industry works.
And, anyways…, Push Girls literally changed my life and changed me as a person.
Alycia Anderson: I love it. I’m so happy that you mentioned all that. That so… it’s so beautiful, and it’s such a testimonial to Auti and her legacy and all of that.
So let’s explain what the Rollettes are. What your organization does, so we can kind of paint some picture around that too. For anyone that wants to get involved, and understand all the magic you’re creating there.
Chelsie Hill: The Rollettes are a wheelchair dance team based here in Los Angeles. I started it 2012 and I started it purely because I wanted a friends and it’s turned into the most amazing group of women.
Girls have come and gone. We have girls that are part of the team that have left that come back, that have left. It’s really just a space for girls to travel and dance and have a home.
Alycia Anderson: It’s such a movement. It’s so… and it’s so positive.
Chelsie Hill: Thank you. It’s really cool. Like every single girl that has come into the Rollettes team has really made it what it is. Like, I tell everyone it takes a village. Yes, I started it. Yes, I am like the face of it in some way, but I couldn’t do what I do without Conner. Conner runs all the social media. I couldn’t do what I do without Joci, she’s writing all the skits.
Yeah, we have a team of people that make it what it is, and it’s not just mine anymore, and that’s what’s so beautiful about it.
Like, I want the team of girls that we have that are part of Rollettes to really feel like it’s theirs, and because of the platform I had with Push Girls, I was able to reach out to people and be like, wanna come hang out and six girls flew into Monterey, CA and stayed at my house. Literally slept on my couch, slept on the floor, and that’s how this all started.
And so that has now turned into what we call the Rollettes Experience, which is our women’s empowerment weekend for women and girls with disabilities. It has grown from the seven of us back in 2012 to now over 250 women and children from 14 different countries. And it’s crazy to say this out loud, but it’s now the largest women’s empowerment weekend, in the world for women and children with disabilities.
Anyways, there is dance classes, yes. That’s a given, but then there’s panels, there’s seminars, there’s a pool party, there’s a makeup class, there’s workout class, yoga, meditation, kids class.
You came in and spoke to all of our kids and teens.
Alycia Anderson: This is a perfect time to take a quick break. You are listening to. Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.
Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson.
Chelsie Hill is here. She’s the CEO and founder of the Rollettes.
Chelsie Hill: I want Rollettes Experience to be the place that women and children know they can come to and be like I’m at home.
You roll into the room and everyone’s at eye level, but also like we want more types of disabilities, not just wheelchair users. I want girls and women with all kinds of disabilities to come in. I want this to be the space that they come to every year for networking, for Hangouts, for educational seminars, that’s what I want for our community. So.
Alycia Anderson: What I think is really amazing and that I experienced first-hand was… I had one girl approach me like very shy and she said, “I just watched your TED talk and I want to be a speaker.”
You know…, and I’m like…, so I felt included in that too.
You know, it was like one of the most amazing experiences of my personal life. And that’s the impact is the belief that things, anything is possible if these girls are willing to just go for it and try and it’s so powerful and beautiful!
And I’m like, how so…
Chelsie Hill: I literally have chills listening to that.
Alycia Anderson: Yeah, and they believe whatever they want to do, they can do because they see you and your group and the community around you, unapologetically being who each of you / we are, which I think is so powerful.
Chelsie Hill: And I think that where that all really stems from honestly is for me, I know I feel like I was very privileged and honored to be able to be taken in by the Push Girls. That not everyone who becomes paralyzed or becomes diagnosed with someone or is, you know, disabled since birth has that opportunity.
And so because I feel like I was so blessed that I had that interaction that led to Push Girls, that… that if I had that if I can create a space or just a ballroom for women with disabilities to come to that, maybe someone else would touch someone else’s heart.
And just like you did, you came in, did your thing, spoke everything that you speak about. You touched all of those teens lives in a way that they probably never experienced.
And the people that come to our Rollettes Experience make it what it is every year. Every year is so incredibly different. Every speaker like yourself, every panelist, every dance teacher that comes, they make it so incredibly unique that like one year will be completely different than the next.
One of my stories, out of like my three top, one, was the girl that came to me and she goes Chelsie I have had this chronic illness for a very long time and I have never met someone else with the same diagnosis until today, and she starts crying and she goes I finally met someone with the same diagnosis and get this she lives in the same state as me.
She’s like, I finally feel like I’ve been seen. I’ve been heard. That I finally feel like I get it.
That’s what this is about. If I don’t go on Rollettes Experience stage next year, I will die a happy person because I know that that event, it can stand alone on its own because it’s so incredibly needed.
Alycia Anderson: That same thing happened to me and I never meet anyone that has my same disability. And a girl approached me and she’s like, do you have sacral agenesis? And I was like, yes. And she’s like we look alike and I was like we do look alike.
That was an amazing experience for me as an adult too, like well…,
OK, we’re gonna leave all of the information about Rollettes, Boundless Babes Society, which is another. Umbrella of Rollettes, that is, I don’t know if you want to just explain that really quick…?
Chelsie Hill: Yeah, yeah. From 2012 to 2019. Everyone was like. Hey I want more. I want more connection. I want more community and then end of 2019 Bria our COO, Bria who is one of my best friends. I was like how do we give more to our attendees how do we give more to this community and she I talked about it and we’re like let’s start a Boundless Babes Society like a mentorship program a society… a sisterhood. That’s virtual.
Get this, we launched it in 2020 of January of 2020. And March of 2020, we all… it was locked down. So we started this program. Luckily, at the most amazing time that people were all wanting to be on zoom and it turned into this beautiful mentorship program with girls all over the world.
So we have girls that… all diagnosis and they get videos from me. They get, you know, zoom one-on-one calls, they get to work with a mentor and it’s purely just to elevate and empower our community, our sisterhood of women to go to the next level, to be able to feel like it’s not just one event a year that they go to, they can have support and communication and networking throughout the year and build relationships with other women just like them. So then when they do go Rollettes Experience they already have friends, it’s really beautiful, and we also have a teen society as well that you come in and speak you’ve. You’ve, you know, heard about that.
You’ve spoke at our adult, Boundless Babes Society zooms, and it’s just amazing. And we have all the info on the website as well, but it’s been a really cool, like secret society kind of thing that is all on zoom.
Alycia Anderson: I love it. You are one of the most body positive women that I know. It’s just you exude it. And where does that come from?
Chelsie Hill: I’m gonna be honest with you, girl. I have no idea. I think the way that I can exude like sexiness is through my dancing. I can go out on a dance floor and I can become whoever I want, and I think that’s the beauty of dance. And, that’s what dance is giving me. I can become and translate and leave it on the dance floor. Leave it in the video.
I… It goes back to like how you’re programmed I think in the beginning. For me I saw all the Push Girls like… I saw people around me that were just so sexy and just embodied that. I hated showing how small my legs were because that was new for me.
You know, I did not like to wear skirts. Then I was around other people that were wearing skirts and dresses and shorts, and I was like they look confident. Well, I mean they look good… like they look great.
And then I started to think it doesn’t matter what other people think, they feel good and that’s what makes them happy, and I was like, well…, I wanna do… OK, fine I’ll wear… I’ll wear a cute skirt.
And then I started taking photos and I started seeing myself, and I just… one day… I think I was like F it, I look hot and I’m gonna wear whatever makes me happy.
And I’m glad that you feel like I’m a body positive person because I never really thought of myself like that. I just… I think I’ve for so long just been like… great, I wanna look hot. I look sexy. You know I want my husband to think that I’m sexy. Like I want… I want to feel it.
And I… and I dress and I make these videos not for anyone else but myself.
We deserve to be able to wear whatever we want, and I think there’s a lot of girls in the community, like Steph Aiello, like, Bri Scalesse that really embody that as well, that inspire me as a woman with a disability as well.
Alycia Anderson: You’re inspiring women with disabilities or without disabilities. Probably everyone. Men, too.
That it’s OK to be who you are and not be ashamed of one single, solitary piece of it, no matter what shape, size, color, race, ability check off the women empowerment goal that you have with your platform and all of it.
And now you’re finding yourself on stages with professional dancers and dancing with the stars dancer.
Chelsie Hill: Girl, yeah, it’s crazy. Honestly, if I was to roll into my hospital bed at the age of 17 as the future and be like, you’re gonna be great, you’re gonna do big things, you’re gonna be on big stages. You’re gonna go on tour, or you’re gonna, you know, perform internationally.
Like, I could never imagine what my life would be like today.
I will say if I didn’t surround myself around people that were positive, people that were… that want to go after their goals, other able-bodied women that are dancers that exude sexiness. Like Brinn Nicole and Cedric and Phil Wright, and people that are just going for it.
Like… what has changed me is surrounding yourself around people that are always doing more, always know more than you… because it’s always gonna push you. Brinn Nicole pushes me out of my comfort zone when it comes to sexiness. Girl, I’m like, OK, I’ll wear something sexy. I don’t. I don’t know what to wear. But I’m like, I want to, and then I see myself in the video. I’m like, OK, I look good.
Alycia Anderson: Yeah.
Chelsie Hill: It gives me that boost of confidence. It’s cause I surround myself around people that are different than me. And I think that is the key. If you surround yourself around people that are the same as you that are doing the same things, you’re never going to grow. You’re going to just stay the same. You’ve just plateaued.
So, if you surround yourself around people that push you out of your comfort zone. Girl, all the doors open.
You know, I think I’m at the point and I never thought like that 17 year old girl never would have thought that these words would have come out of my mouth. But I am living the best life I could right now with my disability and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m so sad for what I went through. But it has made me the strong, independent, confident woman I am today, businesswoman, CEO, mother, wife.
But I hope that people that are listening, people that watch you and I look at and focus on all the things that we can do.
I mean, you’re traveling around speaking for the most incredible companies. As a woman with a disability, you are changing the industry from the inside out. That to me is that is incredibly powerful and kudos to you. There’s so many things to be grateful for, for us with disabilities.
There’s a lot of things we have to change. Yes, at 100%.
But there’s a lot of things. In today in 2023 that we can be incredibly thankful for that. I’m sure you know, like it has changed completely.
Alycia Anderson: I’m so happy that somehow I’ve had an opportunity to experience and be a part of it, and I’m just so happy that we’re friends. And that you’re in my life, and I’m so proud of you.
I know I always say that, but I… I’m like so freaking proud of everything that you’ve accomplished, and…
Chelsie Hill: Thank you.
Alycia Anderson: So, as we… I’m going to wrap up. Did we miss anything? What’s happening next year? Like, what’s your bucket list?
Chelsie Hill: Ohh Man, bucket list for me is career wise, I would love to be on dancing with the stars. I don’t know if that’s something, you know…
I really gotta figure out what the next step is with Rollettes Experience. I really want to take it to the next level, and I really gotta just like knuckle down and I want to figure out what the best way to open up Rollettes Experience to all women with disabilities.
And I really want to grow Boundless Babes Society. I really want that mentorship program to be the best it can be. I really am so incredibly passionate about empowering our community to go after their dreams because not a lot of people have those people around them. So…
Alycia Anderson: Dancing with the stars is definitely happening, like that’s a.
Chelsie Hill: It’s so beautiful. You know, Victoria Arlen was on and she uses a wheelchair. And you know, she really helped represent our community. And I think it’s time for a few… for a full time wheelchair user to be on the show. And I’m hoping that that’s me, but who knows?
You know, either way, whoever that is, one day I’m gonna be so incredibly happy for them, because it’s needed no matter who it is. So, yeah.
Alycia Anderson: That would be you. I like to end the show. I’m gonna kind of catch you off guard right now… we do a pushing forward moment in the end to kind of inspire.
Is there a motto or is there something that you live by, that you could gift away to our audience as a pushing forward moment in…
Chelsie Hill: I’m going to take it to something on my dad has always told me there’s always a positive in every negative.
And I think if you can focus on what the positive is in any situation you’re going through in life, that is going to help push you forward and keep you focused.
Alycia Anderson: That is an excellent pushing forward moment. Thank you so much, Chelsie. Thank you so much first.
Chelsie Hill: Of course.
Alycia Anderson: And thank you to all of our listeners for showing up every single week, I see you, and I appreciate you, our community is growing fast and I’m just so grateful for that.
This has been Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how Chelsie and I roll.
We’ll see you next time.