When you live to dance, your greatest fear is that an injury might suddenly strip your body of its abilities. After an accident at age 15 left jazz and tap student Bonnie Lewkowicz paralyzed from the neck down, she thought she was experiencing just that nightmare. But now, 38 years later, she has proved that she can still live out her dream of dancing professionally. As a founding member of AXIS Dance Company, a contemporary group that welcomes dancers with or without wheelchairs, she helps people understand that physical limitations, when seen from a different perspective, actually present new possibilities for self-expression. Today Lewkowicz continues to dance and teach in California and is also the author of A Wheelchair Rider’s Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast, a resource for wheelchair-bound travelers. —Ashley Rivers
You knew from the moment you took your first dance class that you wanted to be a dancer. You loved the physicality, exhilaration and absolute abandon of dancing. You dreamed of a career on the stages of NYC.
Then, in an instant, it seemed that that dream was forever gone. Right now even the simplest movements, like bringing a fork to your mouth, feel impossible. You think your body is your enemy.
But keep hope alive. One fateful day someone will suggest that you come explore dancing with other disabled and non-disabled people. While right now you can’t imagine how you could ever dance in a paralyzed body, or that it could be enjoyable, you will realize that even though your body can no longer move the way it used to, the core of who you are—a dancer—is still very much alive. You will rediscover the thrill of dance.
It will take courage to go down this uncharted path. You will have to learn to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t, and to not let other peoples’ ideas about who can dance detract from the pure joy you get from it. But it’s worth it. Eventually you will realize that, ironically, becoming disabled actually enriches, not limits, your dance experience.
Photo by Matt Haber
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.