The wheelchair dancer taking centre stage in the game with inclusivity at its heart

As Florent Develsaver brings his moves to Just Dance 2023, he talks representation and dancing differently

For a video game that involves dancing in front of your TV, often with a risk to nearby pets if you get too into the music, it’s surprising that the Just Dance series has had accessibility at its beating baseline heart much longer than in countless games where you mostly sit still and press buttons.

Since it launched in 2009, annual versions of this ever-popular rhythm game have kept everyone dancing to the year’s hottest songs. Available on most consoles and smartphones, it scores you on how accurate and in time your movements are with the routines on screen. 

Perhaps reflecting the way dance can bring people together, it’s also blazed a trail across the dance floor for inclusivity which other games are starting to follow. Beginning in 2015, players have been able to perform a dozen or so routines designed to be danced seated. Tags for accessibility mean you can choose routes through the game that don’t require floor work or jumping. In 2021, Ubisoft’s director of choreography Estelle Manas created a routine with French amputee Angelina Bruno. Dancing to The Weekend’s Blinding lights, she wears a custom prosthetic that forms part of her glowing suit of armour costume. 

The 13th edition of the best-selling series, Just Dance 2023 elevated this inclusive approach to the next level, making history with the first-ever appearance of a wheelchair performer. Taking centre stage and dancing to Radioactive by Imagine Dragons was Florent Devlesaver. This 37-year-old dancer from Belgium appears flanked by two standing dancers who follow the flow of his precise, powerful arm movements. The routine was inspired by the stunning performance at the handover ceremony for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Featuring 128 dancers, some in wheelchairs, and one of the first people in the world to be fitted with a bionic arm, it was choreographed and led by Saddeck Waff. Estelle Manas collaborated with him to create the routine in the game for Florent.

The result is both a powerful piece of representation and very cool to play, introducing the dance style of tutting to gamers worldwide. Young wheelchair users like Georgia Head from Whizz-Kidz's Kidz Board noticed the game’s increasingly inclusive ethos. She said she used to get frustrated playing early versions of Just Dance as a child because they took so much energy to play and “required me to be out of my wheelchair for long periods, which was hard on me and my body in general.”

But when she found out the series had introduced seated dances and more accessible routines, she was keen to get back into the game as these were “something I could've only wished for when I was younger. Perhaps I would've found and followed my love of dance sooner,” she says.

Georgia is a member of Liberate Dance, a dance company exclusively for wheelchair users. She says:

I've seen first-hand the advantages both physically and communally dance can bring to people. 

“It’s been life-changing for me not only to be part of Liberate but to follow my passion for dance, and I hope the inclusion Just Dance is now bringing to their game can do that for someone else, and they'll follow their own passions.”

Just Dance 2023 recently won the award for Best Representation at the #GAconf Game Accessibilty Awards. The appearance by Florent in the game is the first by a wheelchair performer. But we’d be surprised if it was the last. Just Dance’s lead UX designer Adrien Morisse said: "The inclusive approach we have on Just Dance, trying to include as many players as possible, is something I'm particularly proud of. Designers are in an 'accessible-by-design' mindset that leads everyone to try to make the game accessible as much as possible by default… I can tell you that the accessibility future of Just Dance is bright."

It's not only in Just Dance that wheelchair dance is starting to be seen. There is news that the hugely popular TV show Strictly Come Dancing will feature a wheelchair-using celebrity for the first time in this year’s line-up. A BBC source told the Express: “This is an extremely challenging project but one that Strictly bosses think is worth it and believe it is going to be absolutely brilliant. It is yet another example of how progressive and inclusive the programme is.” In huge, mass market games and the country's most-loved Saturday night TV show, wheelchair dancers are starting to take their rightful place in the spotlight. 

"I feel free when I dance": Florent Devlesaver talks to Whizz-Kidz

Born in Belgium in 1985, Florent Devlesaver grew up in Rochefort in his family’s bakery. At 17, he was in an accident at work that left him needing to use a wheelchair. In 2011 he “met dance”, and it changed his life. In 2017 he appeared on France’s Got Talent with another dancer, Justin Collin. Since 2018, he has trained in contemporary dance at CRA Art-T in Brussels. He dances with European theatre and dance companies and holds inclusive dance workshops.

Kidz Board and Liberate Dance member Georgia Head (above) was the perfect person to ask Florent Devlesaver some questions, with fellow Liberate dancers adding their ideas.

How did the Just Dance opportunity come about?
First, I had to send in a mini video with simple movements to find out if I could participate in the project. Once I was brought onto the project, I went to Paris around four to five times to learn and rehearse the choreography while testing different make-ups. Once we wrapped up the filming, I also did the post-filming tests.
The creation was done in a specific studio, and we had to do the choreography at once, so we had to do it several times to have the most accurate movements possible.

Why did you want to get involved in the project?
I think it is important to show the difference in art, whether on stage, in video or a video game. This has a positive impact on inclusion and makes other companies want to promote inclusion.

How did you first get involved with dance?
I wanted to learn to dance, so I went to a dance school and asked to be taught. It took some time, whether it was on adaptation or even the creation of a new language for my own movements.

What impact do you think Just Dance will have with their inclusion on the dance community and other budding disabled dancers?
Representation matters and I think if a person with a disability sees someone like them in a video game or on stage, it could encourage them to try and explore new artistic paths. I hope this song in Just Dance has a positive impact on budding disabled dancers and makes them feel like they belong.

What was it like working with people who didn’t have physical disabilities, and how that worked with featuring them in the dance?
I think I have a very specific vision about this. I don't see the disability but the possibilities. When I work with people who are not in wheelchairs, I look at how I can create material that is related to what they offer. This requires a good analysis of the movement.

I like to work with difference. For me, it is a source of diversity of a greater possibility of creation. In dance, we always say that constraints are creative.

What should you consider with the dances between wheelchair users and standing dancers?
I have to take into account the different tempos they use in the legs and that I have to adapt to my body. There is also a certain illogical movement between people standing and people in wheelchairs. So I have to find adaptations or counter-movements to be in the same dynamic as them.

How did you find the behind-the-scenes and filming process as a wheelchair user, and what was your involvement with the development team at Ubisoft?
This was my first experience with this, and the Ubisoft team made sure that everything was accessible so as not to put me in a disability. They listened to my needs. They had to deal with unforeseen events, such as how to erase the traces of the chair's tires on the green floor. They did their best to respect me as a person and as an artist.

Their goal was to put the artist forward and not the disability forward.

I’d love to know more about the tutting style of the dance used in the game and where the influence to incorporate that came from?
I did not participate in the creative processes of the choreography, but we had to make some adaptations in terms of tempo or space.
Apart from this game, I don't necessarily practice tutting, but it was very pleasant to participate in this choreography. It gives me the opportunity to work on my body and my movements differently.

How do you feel when you dance, and what benefits do you get from dancing?
I feel free when I dance. Disability does not exist on stage - on stage, we see an artist with a wheelchair and how he can use it. I don't feel intimidated by dance because I don't compare my possibilities with other dancers. We are all unique with different abilities.

What would you say to young wheelchair users who dance or want to dance?

Never forget that, above all, we dance for ourselves and to share something. You should never judge yourself or be afraid. If you want to move when you hear music, then do it!

Do not wait for an authorisation to do so. It is not you who must adapt to the world, but the world that must adapt to you. The more we see the difference in art, the more the difference will be asked for. So, keep on dancing! And enjoy :)

Just Dance 2023 Edition is available at the Ubisoft Store. For more information, visit

Read Next