AXIS for Everyone

By Emmaly Wiederholt

November 1, 2009, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

Here’s the number one reason I love AXIS Dance Company: it celebrates the individual. Yes me, you, him, her, and each of us in turn. It celebrates aesthetic, line and form by celebrating my big feet and your wheelchair, his small stature and her big thighs. It celebrates our bodies, and not as an idealized sculpture, but in a very real embrace. It celebrates movement, the kinetic embodiment of our own kinesiology. It celebrates the reality that yes, we don’t all share the same physical abilities, but we each have our own unique physicality. Dancing viewed in this light is almost akin to penmanship; for each person in the world that can write, not one of us forms letters quite the same way. Two people may lift their arms above their heads, but it will be two different bodies, two different people with two different thoughts, hopes, dreams, anxieties, and stories. And so this is why I love AXIS, because it begs the question, “What can I do with this body?”

Every Monday evening for this past month I’ve taken BART to Oakland to participate in AXIS’ weekly open class at the Malonga Center for the Arts. It attracts a generously assorted group of students: experienced dancers, new dancers, high-schoolers, seniors, dancers with two good feet, one good foot, dancers in every kind of wheelchair imaginable, mixed ethnicities, mixed genders, mixed everything. And every class I leave feeling grateful that dance is something everyone can do. How dreadful were dance something only the few and elite could truly love and enjoy. No, dance reaches its greatest height when it is simply movement for the sake of movement, a celebration of our flawed, varied, and ever universal humanity.

Last August I attended the preview of David Dorfman’s commissioned piece on AXIS Dance Company, to premier on November 6- 8 at the Malonga Center. Watching the forty minute guided improvisation, I fell transfixed. What I saw weren’t two dancers in wheelchairs and three dancers on their feet moving in tandem on stage. What I saw were five dancers, each as different as can be, but no less or more able than the next, generating momentum and each pushing their own unique physicality. It was beautiful, engaging, and everything I wish dance always was.

Beyond transcending dancer stereotypes is the other fact that AXIS is fun. Yes genuinely fun. People smile. No one aims to compete, to show off, to please. We’ve all come together to move. You’re in a wheelchair and my knee is bothering me so let’s be careful, but let’s have fun as well. I’ll dance how I dance and you dance how you dance and together we’ll relish in our differences, enjoy our similarities, become more than we could individually. Dance need not be a lofty, idealized, or antiquated art form. Dance can be something anyone can do, regardless of physical ability. Thank you AXIS for demonstrating how.

This article appeared in the November 2009 issue of In Dance.

Emmaly Wiederholt is the founder and editor of Stance on Dance. She danced in the Bay Area for six years before pursuing her MA in Arts Journalism. She currently lives in Santa Fe, NM.