Nyfa Works to Bring Dancers One Step Closer to Health

Article excerpt

"When you're young, you think you're immortal," said choreographer and teacher Alan Danielson. But in fact, dancers, many of whom can't afford health care, don't always get essential medical treatment or diagnoses--a reality that can cut short a career or even a life. And those who do get help often need financial assistance while recuperating from an injury or illness. Hoping to fill this gap, New York Foundation for the Arts Executive Director Theodore Berger has created One Step Forward, a program that offers financial help to dancers recovering from medical catastrophes while also looking for ways to put health care within dancers' reach.

One Step Forward kicked off with two benefits for artists who have suffered traumatic disease or injury. On Sunday, June 3, at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church in Manhattan's East Village, twelve dance companies, including Twyla Tharp Dance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Mark Morris Dance Group, and John Jasperse Company, performed to help Homer Avila, choreographer and founder of Avila/Weeks Dance, who had his right leg and hip amputated in April because of a malignant cancer.

For Avila, lack of health coverage led to a critically late diagnosis of chondrosarcoma. He obtained medical insurance only after a job with the Santa Fe Opera last spring enabled him to join the union, and by then the cancer had already taken hold. The need for universal health coverage is one of the issues that One Step Forward plans to promote. "It should not have come to this," said Avila. "When will enough voices come together to cut through the usual excuses and social divisions that leave people with no health services? …