Think of a dancer dancing. Now think of how the perceived dancer’s body moved. Now think of that dancer, dancing how you imagined, but in a wheel chair. Now imagine that dancer without legs, without an arm. That perception, joined with physically disabled dancers, is AXIS Dance Company.
AXIS Dance Company is based in Oakland, California and has been changing the way the world thinks of dance since 1992. ”We don’t look at being disabled as an obstacle or a limitation,” said Judith Smith, 49, a company founder who dances in a motorized chair. ”We look at the possibilities. There is a potential for movement that is radically expanded from what another dance company would have,” (Webber, 2009). This approach to dance allows AXIS to create and perform dances that people aren’t used to seeing, but are drawn into, nonetheless. This newly achieved aesthetic of dance: dancing in a wheelchair, without ‘necessary’ limbs to dance with, with a muscle control disorder, allows AXIS to create the un-creatable, a dance that shows dance as a movement, a passion, a life form that is without boundaries, and without stereotype. The ‘impossible’ that AXIS found possibilities in is changing the way the world looks at dance.
The article “A Dance Company Mixes Arms, Legs and Wheels,” featured in The New York Times November 2009, by Bruce Webber, interviews AXIS company members and how they feel about dancing either with physically disabled, or dancing as a physically disabled company member. There are many quotes from the company members that show their support of their fellow dance company members, and continual excitement about what the company is bringing to the table in the world of dance. One of these quotes I found very telling of the physically abled dancer in a physically integrated dance company: “…company member, Janet Das, said the ability to create ensemble work with disabled dancers was a talent, a gift that some have more than others. The hardware, she said, takes some getting used to, but she likened it to learning to work with the floor, another unyielding barrier that is nonetheless, at times, a foil.” I love how this company and everyone in it is so willing to incorporate physically disabled dancers into a world of dance that, to seemingly everyone else, is so picky, unyielding and for lack of better words, mean.
AXIS does a remarkable job of creating dances that evoke emotion and stir the imagination. It’s companies like these that remind me that no one is ‘disabled’, but differently abled, as there are many things these dancers can do, that I could never do as a physically abled dancer. Their pieces are so inspiring and beautiful that I have used clips of their performances countless times for presentations and discussions. The members of AXIS are remarkable movers and, I’m sure, remarkable people. Working with their company, or a company like them, would be a dream come true. Creating a company like them in Alaska, would be Utopia. Along with creating dances with such limitless possibilities, there would be opportunity to change a company member’s life, and an audience member’s perception.
by Hannah Gauthier
WEBER, B. (2009, November). A Dance Company Mixes Arms, Legs and Wheels. New York Times. p. 37B. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..