When I was 15 years-old, or 20, or 25 even, if someone would have told me I would be a professional dancer one day, I would surely have thought they were crazy. If they had gone on to say not just a professional dancer, but a professional dancer who uses a wheelchair, I would have recommended a good psychiatrist to them.
On July 4th, 1995, I dove into a pool, hit my head on the bottom and broke my neck, leaving me paralyzed from the chest down. Many thoughts ran through my mind the following weeks and months, none of which included me traveling the world performing and teaching dance. I did however begin competing in wheelchair track and field. After literally going in circles (on the track) for four years, I decided to spend an off-season doing something different, with full intentions of returning to competitions the following summer. I met a woman who offered to teach me to dance.
We began meeting once a week, working on some basic Ballet for wheelchair users. Soon we got a call from Disney World in Orlando asking us to perform at one of their events. We put a duet together and that, just 4 months into my introduction to dance, was my very first dance performance. I remember the feeling of accomplishment I got as the audience showed their appreciation with a roaring applause. I also remember how many people came up to me and told me how inspired they were by the performance. This feeling and interest in motivating others launched me into seeking out more disabled adults and children and using dance to show them that anything is possible. Four years later I started REVolutions Dance, an inclusive dance program for adults and children with and without disabilities. I began showing up at local Ballet and Modern dance classes and going to dance festivals trying to learn as much as possible. Now, fifteen years later, my racing chair still hasn't made its way back to the track.
The focus of REVolutions Dance is to bring disabled and non-disabled people together in a creative environment that encourages a deeper understanding of each other and their communities. Since creating it, I have been invited as guest teacher and performer at many universities and dance companies across the United States. REVolutions Dance has also performed and taught internationally, visiting places such as Russia and Palestine where we visited schools and communities that had virtually no form of social inclusive events or opportunities for disabled citizens.
Currently we have an ongoing children’s dance class in Tampa that has children with a variety of experiences including Autism, Spina-Bifida, Cereal Palsy and non-disabled students as well. All taking dance class together, all of them learning from each other. In the spring we are returning to Russia and we are looking into other international outreach opportunities.
Before breaking my neck, I was working for UPS in Buffalo New York. I had a stable, well-paying job, comfortable home and a secure future. I would’ve been content living that life for the rest of my days, not knowing the art and creativity that was welling inside me looking for an outlet. If I were to go back in time, to that moment when I was standing on the edge of that diving board, and a little angel appeared on my shoulder and said “if you dive in that pool, you’re going to break your neck and go through a lot of pain and suffering, but in the end, this is the life you will have”, I would take a deep breath … and jump.
This is Week 32 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Dwayne's story today. To connect with him and see videos of his work, visit his Facebook page.