Disabled dancers redefine contemporary dance

AXIS Dance Company’s dancers are exceptional in more ways than most performers. Four of the company’s seven members, including artistic director Judith Smith, have physical disabilities and dance in wheelchairs. Since AXIS’s founding in 1987, its dancers have been exploding conventional notions of contemporary dance.

Like any professional dance company, AXIS observes a rigorous schedule of weekly rehearsals, classes and performances. In February, the company prepared pieces from their repertory for two performances, in Denver, Colorado and at the Temple Sinai in downtown Oakland, in honor of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.

Working long hours in their downtown Oakland studio at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, the dancers did what dancers do. They ran through their pieces, helped each other recall musical cues and spacing, and took notes from Smith. Their works exude a playful frankness about the parameters of disabled movement, juxtaposing seated gestures with the speed and fluidity of wheelchairs and the leaps and footwork of non-disabled movement.

AXIS’s dancers are also its choreographers; several of the company’s repertory works were choreographed by company members. AXIS also makes dance accessible to disabled communities traditionally excluded from dance stages and studios. The company regularly offers mixed-ability movement classes for adults, teens and children.

For information on AXIS’s upcoming performances and movement classes, visit: http://www.axisdance.org

Sophia Wang is a photographer and PhD candidate in UC Berkeley’s English Department working with visual and verse narratives.

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