Judith Smith, the co-founder and director of AXIS Dance Company, a trailblazing Oakland performing arts organization that works with disabled dancers, announced her retirement Wednesday. She is 57 years old.
Smith co-founded AXIS Dance in 1987, a decade after a car wreck left the former accomplished horse-rider disabled at the age of 17.
AXIS was one of the first contemporary dance groups on the planet to specifically choreograph works that integrated dancers with and without physical disabilities.
"I had this hunch that we could make a place in dance for integrated dance and dancers with disabilities," Smith wrote in an email.
Over 30 years with the company, Smith commissioned works by the likes of Meredith Monk and Bill T Jones. She co-curated the First International Festival of Wheelchair Dance. And AXIS appeared twice on FOX TV's So You Think You Can Dance, bringing choreography by performers in wheelchairs, on crutches and with prosthetics to audiences of millions.
"The greatest achievement has been changing perceptions about dance and disability and changing lives," Smith said.