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