“The best possible preparation for being an amputee,” Homer Avila told me recently, “is being a dancer.” Twenty-five years into his dance career, in April 2001, Avila lost a leg and a hip to a rare cancer. This past Sunday, April 26, he succumbed to that cancer, which had metastasized to his lungs-and, he told me at our last meeting, to his heart.
He had known about this recurrence, he said, for two years, but he continued to operate as if everything was fine. He looked great. He used crutches, instead of a wheelchair, because he liked being eye to eye with the rest of the community. He had the most extraordinary biceps I have ever felt. Faced with a door, he’d swing his good leg up and kick it open. He outlived his doctors’ expectations by close to a year. He was still dancing on Friday; on Saturday he checked himself into Sloan Kettering.
In the three years since his surgery, Avila, a native of New Orleans whose family hailed from El Salvador, retrained himself to function as a monopod. He continued to take class, to choreograph, to participate in the dance life of the world. Choreographers like Vicky Marks, Alonzo King, and Dana Casperson made pieces for him. He traveled constantly. Last month he was a featured speaker at an Atlanta symposium on disability, and an adjudicator at the American College Dance Festival at Emory University. Last year he performed with Ballett Frankfurt and at Dixon Place; the year before at P.S.122 and the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.
He will be cremated. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.