Meet the Michigan Para Athlete Competing On the Global Stage

Aubrey Meade and Andrew Downs will be the first American dance pair to compete at the World Para Dance Sport competition in Bonn, Germany.

The world of para dance, popular in Europe, is solidifying its presence in the United States. The sport involves an accessible-style of ballroom dance featuring physically challenged athletes in wheelchairs and their able-bodied partners performing together. It’s stylish and elegant.

Related: How Michigan Became America’s Epicenter of Accessible Ballroom Dancing

And also, something Andrew Downs, a 23-year-old para-athlete and dance student at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills, found to be “the coolest thing ever,” when he attended his first class on a Saturday. But, there was still a bit of hesitation about taking it on. 

“When I saw it, I was like, these are the most magical [human beings], I’ve ever seen in my life.” – Andrew Downs, para-athlete

“It wasn’t my disability, it was the emasculation point,” he tells CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper. “Moving my body in ways that I’m not used to and grinding my hips and doing all these other things, so that was [a reservation]. But, then when I saw it, I was like these are the most magical [human beings], I’ve ever seen in my life.” 

Meta Stange/WDET
Meta Stange/WDET

The stories that unfold when dancing is another aspect that connected with Downs.

“When you do the freestyles, you’re definitely telling a story with the music and the type of dance you’re doing,” he says. “Really it’s just the flow of your body, the shapes and the music that goes with it that creates an image that’s bigger than what you’re seeing. You can feel things on a different level.” 

On Thursday, Nov. 28, Andrew and Aubrey Meader, studio manager at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, will be in Germany performing in the World Para Dance Sport competition in Bonn. The dancing duo will be the first ever Americans to compete at the international competition.

Click the player for Ryan Patrick Hooper’s full conversation with Aubrey and Andrew about the world of para dance and representing the U.S. in the competition.