We are so thankful to have Rebeccah Bogue on the ETD Outreach team. A true warrior, Rebeccah brings her pure love for dance with her to every class. Inspired by her strength, we asked her to share her story of how dance heals. Read her amazing journey below!
I trained in classical ballet until I was seventeen. Which is actually kind of misleading because just saying that “I trained in classical ballet” seems to imply that I was good at it or at least half-way decent and I wasn’t. I’ve always been inordinately tall and the awkwardness of teenage-me was through the roof. But I danced every day anyway. Not because I looked suitable but because I was in love. How the music held me…how I felt new muscles that I didn’t even know I had…how I felt so much joy when I finished a phrase of movement with the other dancers…I couldn’t get enough. In my final year of high school I arranged my schedule so that I could go to ballet class during second and third periods every day. On March 15th—the Friday morning before spring break—I went to ballet, as usual, but after that class I didn’t return home for five months.
While standing at the barre, warming up before plies, I suddenly vomited and passed out. At the hospital, CT scans showed a giant aneurysm in my left-cerebellum. I was in a coma for three weeks and in the hospital for the next five months. After three brain surgeries, six stomach surgeries, and four spine surgeries I was eighteen and had to learn to walk and to talk again. Although I was only in a coma for three weeks I only remember the last two weeks of my five months in the hospital. During this period I remember fighting with my nurses everyday while trying like hell not to go to physical therapy. PT was tedious and difficult and an insult to my eighteen-year-old-ballerina-self. When therapy hour came, I would lace my arms and legs through the bars of my hospital bed, making it as difficult as possible for the staff to pry me out of bed and get me to physical therapy. And then one afternoon my childhood ballet teacher came to the hospital to visit me. When I saw her I remembered that I used to dance and I remembered how much I loved it. So—that same day—I asked my mom to please bring my pointe shoes to the hospital. I imagine that she thought I just wanted to see them or something but—no—I actually wanted to wear them. And even though I couldn’t walk at that point, I strapped my pointe shoes on and I pushed a wheelchair in front of me as I icepicked my way back and forth down the hall outside of my room. I was released from the hospital shortly thereafter and I’ve danced almost every single day since then for the past eighteen years. I’m still not very “good” at it, but now, I especially don’t care. I love movement. I love good music.
I graduated from college in 2008 and I moved to New York City the next day. At the time (post-surgeries) I was relatively and inexplicably fine. Though there were some things I couldn’t do in ballet class (think tour-jetes and multiple pirouettes), I could still run, see, speak, and all around function pretty normally. But because I couldn’t do my tour-jetes and pirouettes I believed myself to be profoundly disabled and, well, this was my attitude: woe is me. Then I was walking to the subway one evening in 2010 and I tripped on the sidewalk and I hit my head really, really hard. Over the following three years I lost what still feels like everything sometimes. Today I am losing my hearing, my vision, my speech, my fine and gross motor-skills, my balance…even my ability to pee. I began walking with a cane in 2012 and, in 2013, I was declared “disabled” by the State of New York. Although I’m smart and creative and capable in many ways, between my limp and my new label, I’ve had a really difficult time finding work here in the city. Thanks to the connections of a friend, I found AHRC three years ago and began working as a “Dance Consultant” for the organization. In addition to teaching with AHRC, I now also teach with Eryc Taylor’s organization ETD Outreach. With both ETD and AHRC, teaching movement to people with disabilities is one of the happiest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s amazingly rewarding to see people find movement and unique potential within themselves that only they possess. And their smiles!! There’s nothing better than that.
With AHRC, my clients are pretty evenly split between adults with autism and adults with Down Syndrome. With ETD I’m honestly not sure what some of my clients’ diagnoses are and I’m happy with that. I think it’s beside the point. As far as I’m concerned, “the point” is that my clients have a good time and learn how to enjoy being in the body they’ve got. Today I was working for ETD at a site in the Bronx and one of my clients said to me “Whatever you do, make it your own. As long as you try it’s all good.” And I know he was speaking to me but I could say the same thing to many of my clients.