Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Where I come from, it's nothing special to sacrifice a little to fulfill your aspirations. But even the average American will agree that giving up a leg may be going too far.

This extremity has just become my reality. I write at the 11th hour prior to the amputation of my right leg; by the time you read this I'll be on the other side of a passage I never dreamed I'd have to negotiate. I arrived in New York in 1976, packing little more than a passion for dance and faith that I'd find my own path to a career—no family support, no friends here, few job skills, an incomplete education, no clues for surviving in the big city, and no idea what a life in dance would entail. All I knew was that dancing let me live larger than I thought possible.

With Edisa Weeks, I direct Avila/Weeks Dance. Since 1991, we have persisted in developing our artistry and vision. My sense was that we were heading to higher ground as measured by the level of professional activity coming our way. We sacrificed much as we devoted ourselves to the future, yet our growth was steady and we expanded to include other dancers.

For a year I've endured incredible pain while maintaining my professional responsibilities and completing all our performance engagements save one, Symphony Space's Dance Sampler on April 28. Never pulled out of a performance due to injury, but this one finally caught up with me. Demand long ago dried up dancer health resources like the Harkness Fund and the Fokine Fund, so I tried to handle what appeared to be a chronic dance injury as best I could. Personal debt incurred to produce our art, plus the rise in rents, made it impossible to afford personal health insurance and access to proper medical attention.

But I have to believe angels exist! I am finally receiving the medical care I require because Ron Thornhill came from Europe last spring with my name and number as a prime candidate for a role in an opera he was choreographing in Santa Fe. Joining a union got me two months of health insurance, which I carried over through COBRA (paying about $300 a month). So I finally consulted a dance-savvy doctor, who called for MRIs when the X rays proved inconclusive.

Acknowledging the challenge I now face, I'm lucky. I'm being attended by the best doctor for my chondrosarcoma and have felt the presence of our dance family through this passage. But it should not have come to this. When will enough voices come together to cut through the usual crappy excuses and social divisions that leave people with no health services?


A benefit performance to support Avila's rehabilitation and establish a fund for other dancers surviving calamitous situations is scheduled for June 3 at 3 p.m., at St. Mark's Church. Contact elsieman@artswire.org or 718-638-9862.


Other veterans share their stories in What's Eating the Dance World?

 
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