Wheelchair ballroom dancing: interview with Gulnaz Akbasheva

Gulnaz Akbasheva and Vitaly Morozov. Photocredit: Vitaly Morozov
Gulnaz Akbasheva and Vitaly Morozov. Photocredit: Vitaly Morozov
Gulnaz Akbasheva and Vitaly Morozov. Photo credit: Vitaly Morozov

Wheelchair ballroom dancing is a sport that getting very popular around the world.

With an increasing number of dance organizations for people with disabilities, wheelchair users have the ability to learn how to dance and participate in a range of dance competitions both national and international.

Wheelchair Dancing is not only about sport and beauty of dance but t is a combination of a talent and boundless courage. Everyday people with disabilities prove to everyone that they are not limited in their wishes and they can achieve everything as non-disabled people do. Their amazing talent and strength of spirit is admirable.

Quite often all the beauty and charm of ballroom wheelchair dancing hide tragic destiny stories of dancers behind.

This story is about multiple winner of Russian and World Cups, the winner of  Wheelchair Dance Sport World Championships in Tokyo, Gulnaz Akbasheva.

Gulnaz finished her first year in university, enjoyed the last day of summer and didn’t know what would happen with her soon. She had an active life. Gulnaz attended dance and basketball courses and used every opportunity to experience herself in the things she had never done before.
As every 18 year old girl she had grandiose plans, wishes and ideas for her future. She looked forward to having a long interesting road which is called “life”. But all her wishes has been crushed by one tragic moment that divided  her life into “before” and “after.” I had a chance to talk to Gulnaz Akbasheva. Even thought that was not the first time she talked about her life, it was difficult for her to go back to those terrifying days of her life.

– How did this tragedy happen to you?

In 2008, I got in a car accident. I don’t remember everything in details. The driver lost control at some point..I was sitting in the front seat, my friend was behind. He was pushed forward right after the car crashed into a roadside pole and I was stuck between seats.

 –  What happened then? When did you realise that the injury made you disabled?

At first I did not realise that this situation was so serious. I thought, I would stay in the hospital for a month and then everything will be fine, I would take my crutches and go home. I didn’t give up at all. Only six months later I realised that the injury made me disabled person because I could no longer move independently. And then I felt really bad…I was frustrated, and often argued with my family and friends.
Just imagine you always laying and can’t stand up and walk or do something without other people’s help. I cried a lot.

Wheelchair ballroom dancing. Gulnaz Akbasheva on the cometition. Photo credit: Gulnaz Akbasheva
Gulnaz Akbasheva on the cometition. Photo credit: Gulnaz Akbasheva

 – Every day thousands of people all over the world get into a car accident and lose the opportunity to move. How did you handle this situation?

Many lose faith in themselves, unfortunately. But there is no need to despair! Everything has its advantages, so I feel special, I am not like everybody, but I am not different though. Everything that is done, done for the best. This is my motto. If I didn’t get this injury, I would never become the world champion (laughing). I live, I am happy as before. I go to the gym and swim in the pool, study, participate in competitions and my wheelchair does not stop me of doing it. The main thing is just not give up. You should always hope for the best.

Gulnaz Akbasheva. Freedom. Photocredit:
Gulnaz Akbasheva. Freedom. Photo credit: Elmir Gabidullin

 –  Why have you decided to go to ballroom dance club?

I got over myself and realised that it is not the end, it is a beginning of new life. And my life story began with a magical luck for me. Even after a car accident I was still looking for opportunities how to dance. Because I always loved dancing. And it is a magical story because after realising that I want to dance, I got a call and was invited to wheelchair ballroom dancing. Right that time there was a new social project “Dancing on Wheels” starting up in my city. Of course, I immediately agreed. I was so happy! Six months later, I started dancing with a professional partner Vitaly Morozov.

Vitaliy was my first partner and we got well quickly. But what is funny is that when I came to dance class, all the partners were already busy, they had their partners. And Vitaly also had one, but she skipped the class the day I came in. So our couch told us that we can dance together for one day. But this day transformed into 2 years (laughing). He was very supportive and always made me laugh. He was surprised how fast I learnt and remembered all the things we were asked to do.

 – Where was your first competition?

Our first competition was a championship in Russia. I was so excited and nervous at the same time. I had so many emotions. We got bronze medals there. I was so surprised because I didn’t think that we would have such a great result dancing just the first time.

 – How did you know that you would represent your country in the World Championship?

After the competition in Russia, we performed abroad a lot: in Amsterdam, China, Netherlands, Ukraine, Italy…I have never been abroad before the accident happened. I thought I would even not be able to visit Moscow (laughing). We started gaining more experience and then finally won Russian Championship. Then we have been invited to Wheelchair Dance World Cup in Beijing along with one more couple from Russia. As one of the leading couple,  we represented our country in the Wheelchair Dance Sport World Championships in Tokyo.

 – What did you feel standing on the first place of the pedestal in Tokyo?

I was shocked in a good way. We cried and laughed at the same time. I didn’t think we could win something. We have been always told “hold hands higher”, because we were nervous a lot.  And when you are nervous you can forget everything you have learnt before. So thanks to this support we won this World Championship. I was grateful to my partner, coaches. It is hard to describe what I felt…

World Championship. Gulnaz Akbasheva and Vitaly Morozov. Photocredit: Gulnaz Akbaheva
Weelchair Dance Sport World Championship. Gulnaz Akbasheva and Vitaly Morozov. Photocredit: Gulnaz Akbaheva

 – Do you have any plans for the future?  

I do not see myself sitting in the wheelchair. I liked one quote. It says, when the person wants something, all the universe conspires in helping him to achieve it. I want to live without wheelchair. And I believe that one day I will just get up and go. I close my eyes and imagine how I move on the dance floor in high heel shoes, in a beautiful dress…and wake up with this exciting feeling of happiness.

I really want to get a master degree and use my experience and knowledge to help other disabled people to go through this hard period of life. I never gave up and I will never do. I want other people to understand that a person can overcome all difficulties on his way.






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