Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — The dancer in me can work with the wheelchair.
That’s what I kept telling myself as I nervously waited to go on stage two weeks ago.
I was dancing in “The Battle 4 the Cure” fundraiser.
Last December, needing a break from grading papers, I took myself to the NMC Hip Hop dance class finale performance in Milliken Auditorium. I witnessed men and women of all shapes and backgrounds take the stage and express themselves in their way, to their music. I saw former students who had developed incredible self-confidence despite having formidable challenges in their lives.
The teacher and emcee was a welcoming, supercharged 4-foot-11 dancer. I was intrigued by her. I sat in the darkness of the auditorium and felt tears running down my face. One of the custodians, a friend, asked me if wished I was on stage. Neither of us knew in that moment, that he’d plucked a chord deep inside of me.
Returning to my office, I emailed the instructor a thank you for her work with our students.The instructor, Joedy Annis, wrote back. In passing, I asked her if she’d ever taught someone using a wheelchair to dance. She said no, but had wanted to. We agreed to meet before her new hip hop class.
At our first meeting, she told me about an annual dance benefit she started to help provide respite services for families dealing with cancer. She’d created the benefit in honor of her beloved mother-in-law, Karen E. Annis, who died from cancer in 2011. Karen had been a teacher of children with special needs. Joedy beamed when she spoke about Karen’s spirit. Though I’d never danced in my wheelchair professionally, she invited me to be part of the benefit.
We emailed ideas back and forth. I told her I really liked Adele’s cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong.” In a short time, we were practicing the dance Joedy created for us. The first time we performed it, friend and battle dancer, Jacob, aka “Moon breaker,” watched and told me it was beautiful. His opinion and comments from the other dancers helped me feel confident that I had a place in the benefit.
Joedy then created a tutorial video of the steps in our dance and sent it to my phone. I watched that recording nearly 50 times a day. I practiced until my arms and shoulders ached. I was exhausted. At night, I set my phone near my pillow. I imagined becoming each step in my dreams.
Finally, it was the night of the dance. I got an Adele-inspired hairdo, make-up and dress.
Cheering on all of the dancers in the first half of the show helped to calm my nerves a bit. I also looked at the large screen in front of the stage that displayed photos and names of the honored. Sitting there I remembered my own loved ones. I also thought of all of the cancer survivors.
Just after intermission, Joedy introduced our dance and told the audience how we’d met. She began dancing freestyle as our music played. On cue, I slowly came out on the stage. Before my whole body and wheelchair was fully visible, the crowd was cheering.
I sailed, rolled, spinned, circled, glided, floated and twirled. My hands shadowed Joedy’s, hand over hand, hands like snakes swimming through the air. We zigged and zagged, swayed, looped, slid, turned and rocked. Side by side and one in front of the other, we shadowed each other’s movements. The music revolved around and followed me.
As our song ended, we went back on stage and took our bows. The audience gave us a standing ovation.
Afterwards, complete strangers told me how much they enjoyed our dance. School children said I looked cool. People I hadn’t seen in years sent texts describing how joyful I was to watch. Repeatedly, I heard folks ask themselves, “Why don’t I dance anymore?”
Since that night, I’ve rediscovered the lines from this Yeats poem.
Among School Children
by William Butler Yeats 1928
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Hall of Fame: Joedy Annis, OB /maternity nurse at Munson Hospital and the creator of "The Battle 4 the Cure 2013," for taking her family's private grief and turning it into something helpful and honoring for all members of our community. If you want to support Joedy's continued efforts, go to http://main.acsevents.org/goto/dancebattle4thecure Resources for Wheelchair Dancing: Many YouTube videos…put wheelchair dancing in the search box. www.ncpad.org - National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability www.ipc-wheelchairdancesport.org - Wheelchair Dancing as a Sport www.americandancewheels.com - American Dance Wheels http://www.paralympic.org/sport/ipc_sport - Dancing as part of the Paralympics www.dance-whisperer.com - Training and resources for wheelchair dancing