Brave New World: Dancers and Choreographers on Surviving and Thriving with HIV

Article excerpt

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since reports of a voracious disease with an ability to destroy immune systems appeared in The New York Times. At the time, neither the disease, nor the agent that caused it, had names. Today they are known only too well: The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS cut a devastating swath through the dance world, cutting short too many lives and careers.

HIV remains an enormous global problem in 2005, despite the fact that break-through medications like protease inhibitors and antivirals have saved a lot of lives in the last decade. In the dance community, HIV has many faces--male, female, black, white, straight, gay, healthy, or compromised. Five dancers, choreographers, and teachers stepped forward to tell DANCE MAGAZINE how HIV has rerouted their lives--and to demystify the issue.

One dancer who has weathered his fair share of ups and downs is Jaime Galindo, who began his dance training at age 17. Galindo came to New York in the early 1980s, performing with the Eleo Pomare Dance Company and in numerous industrials. In 1986, when many in the dance community were dying of AIDS, Galindo suddenly suffered spasms of vomiting backstage during a performance. His subsequent hospital stay proved unbearable. "All the doctors wore masks," says Galindo. "Food trays were left in the hallway. They put tape around my room, and no one would enter or clean my room."

For eight years, through bouts of streptococcal meningitis and wasting syndrome that, at one point, cut his body weight in half, Galindo somehow boomeranged back and kept dancing. To keep his HIV status a secret, he says, "I would work some, and then just disappear for a while." Eventually, doctors consulted him on his survival techniques, which included the steadfast support of his ex-wife, Victoria Burke, and a sense of humor. (Galindo devilishly liked to stun nurses by jackknifing himself into a completely folded hospital bed.) Despite a sight impairment in his left eye from a bacterial infection ("It's hard to spot," he jokes), Galindo adheres to a combination drug therapy regimen that's working. Recently, he completed a degree in dance education through the 92nd Street YMHA Dance Education Lab and SUNY Empire State College with an aim to teach kids in city schools.

Richard Daniels, on the other hand, returned to dancing at the age of 43 after his HIV diagnosis. Having stopped 15 years before to work as an arts manager, producer, consultant, and interior designer, Daniels resumed dance classes to counter the burnout of caring for his hospitalized life partner, Curtis Sykes. When Sykes died from AIDS-related causes in 1994, Daniels concentrated on taking care of himself--and that meant rejuvenating his body and soul by dancing and choreographing. Hungry for a serious artistic outlet, Daniels called his friend Molissa Fenley, the choreographer. "Mo, can I have a solo?" he asked. Fenley danced three solos for him in her studio and said, "Pick one." Since then he's performed works by choreographers like Zvi Gotheiner and Peggy Baker.

Though he's remained asymptomatic of AIDS, Daniels has experienced debilitating side effects from the medications. Crixivan, a protease inhibitor, bloated his rib cage. "I can look at videotapes of my dancing and tell you what drugs I was on because of my body shape," says Daniels. Although his own choreography doesn't deal directly with AIDS, he says it's informed by "looking at an altered world." As far as what keeps him going, Daniels says, "Dancing is the only thing I really want to do."

For Fay Simpson, the connection between dancing and healing also bestowed a new sense of life's purpose. After dancing for six years with the Erick Hawkins offshoot Greenhouse Dance Ensemble, and RUSH Dance, Simpson became disenchanted with the modern dance world and considered jumping ship. …