Leaving AXIS Dance Company and setting sail as my own artist
If there is any silver lining to my becoming paralyzed, it is that I was able to find a pathway to becoming a professional artist -- something I had always dreamed of but never took the time to seriously pursue. I trained in classical piano and dance since childhood; however, growing up I was always told that professional artistry was an unpredictable path that often ended up in failure, so the wiser choice was to keep my dancing and musical interests as hobbies. That notion never sat well with me, but the pragmatic guiding voices of my family always veered me on a traditional pathway of climbing the corporate ladder.
I joined AXIS Dance Company as an apprentice a year after I became paralyzed. When the former artistic director Judith Smith extended me a job after only a few weeks of dropping in on company classes, it felt like a serendipitous opportunity to finally be the full-time artist I always wanted to be. Despite this exciting prospect, I still wrestled with the fact that the reality of my life was so far from what I had envisioned. For the first few months of my apprenticeship, I was extremely resistant to the idea of dancing in my wheelchair as I no longer felt like a graceful dancer. I avoided watching myself in the mirror: always struggling to keep my balance, slow, and uncoordinated. To me what I was doing was definitely not dancing, it was just me waving my arms around in my chair. Fast forward two years later -- I had become an official company member, toured around the country, performed for thousands of children who had never seen a person with a disability on stage, taught numerous workshops for dancers ranging from novice to professional on how to create dance that is accessible to people of different abilities. Although most days I still don't feel as graceful as I want to be, my experience with AXIS has completely reshaped how I view inclusivity in the arts and my role as an artist.
In integrating my unique movement as a dancer using a wheelchair with that of other dancers of completely varied body types, we were able to produce beautiful and unexpected results that I could have never predicted at the beginning of my AXIS journey. After performing in AXIS's 30th home season in both the Bay Area and New York City, I felt a great sense of pride in being a part of a small but powerful movement to demonstrate how dance, a traditionally exclusive art form, can be opened to people with disabilities yet still maintain the same rigor, physicality, and artistic integrity as any well-known dance company. After two intensive yet enlightening years with AXIS I am now preparing to embark on a separate journey as a dancer on a Fulbright Fellowship to Uruguay. I've gained an incredible amount of knowledge as a practitioner of inclusive dance and taking these lessons abroad is a terrifying yet thrilling thought.
In the few years that I have been disabled, I've come to personally experience what exclusion and discrimination feels like. To being chased out of a restaurant who did not want to accommodate me to continually receiving the question "how does dancing a wheelchair work?", the world doesn't quite feel like an accepting place yet. However, having had the opportunity to be back on a stage and be told that I can still bring something valuable to an audience has given me so much power to share my music full force. I always lacked the confidence to declare myself as a musician, I always feared people's judgment of what I created. Right after I was injured that fear intensified -- who would want to watch a girl in a wheelchair perform? That fear still creeps in the back of my mind but the positive experiences that I've had as a disabled performer eclipses it most of the time, and I'm ready to get out there and sing my heart out.