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|AXIS Dance Company dancers Sonsheree Giles and Judith Smith. Photo by Trib LaPrade.|
At the time, Thais, AXIS' founding Artistic Director and originator, was teaching a movement class for women who use wheelchairs. Through this class, Thais and others, some with disabilities and some not, were creating a dance piece based on the story of a young dancer who acquires a disability but begins to dance and perform again - in a wheelchair. Even though Judy knew nothing about dance, she agreed to join the project. She was curious enough about movement and 'crazy enough to give it a go.'
The dance piece was performed at a local dance festival and received a standing ovation. The performers weren't sure whether the ovation was for the dance itself or because some of the performers had disabilities. But immediately, there were requests to create works for other performances. The AXIS dancers improvised and choreographed collaboratively, with everyone– with a disability or without - contributing ideas and movement. Everyone in the company, including Judy, was hooked on the innovation, process, and importance of the work. So without even realizing it, AXIS Dance Company was created.
Since its start in 1987, AXIS has performed and taught locally, nationally, and internationally (as far away as Siberia), in a wide variety of venues and situations. They have commissioned some of the nation's best choreographers to create work. Who knew this outrageous idea to create a dance by people with and without disabilities would go so far?!
In addition to physical activity, Judy incorporates various other health promotion-related activities into her life and attributes important positive impacts to each of them. For fun, Judy attends dance concerts and loves being outdoors. In fact, she is proud to say she has hiked where no one in a power chair has gone — or probably should go! For years, Judy has also practiced Zen Buddhism, which she feels has given her a great foundation to deal with life and its curious twists and turns. Both Zen and psychotherapy have helped Judy work through difficulties related to her disability, the loss of horses, family crises and deaths, and the day-to-day drama that comes with being human. She follows a vegan diet and feels lucky that her weight and health in general have not been an issue, though she remains active in rehearsals as well as being a self-professed workaholic. Judy also feels extremely fortunate to have a home that is a sanctuary and the support of her partner of 12 years, Iva.
Kung fu and dance have dramatically affected the relationship Judy has (both past and present) with her body, specifically regarding self-esteem and self-confidence. What she values the most about dance is the freedom it has given her to explore who she is, to be challenged and creative with her mind and body, and to move in ways, both in and out of her chair, that she never imagined. Dance also brought discipline, focus, and direction back into her life. Judy loves doing things that are unusual and pushing the boundaries of what most people think is possible. She says that performing, teaching, and presenting the work that she has been part of creating with a group of such incredibly wonderful and talented individuals has been most rewarding and challenging. She sees dance as a way to give something back, to challenge people to always question assumptions, and to keep their minds open to the endless possibilities and potentials inherent in us all.