AXIS Dance Company

AXIS Dance Company is a professional physically integrated contemporary dance company and dance education organization founded in 1987 and based in Oakland, California. It is one of the first contemporary dance companies in the world to consciously develop choreography that integrates dancers with and without physical disabilities. Their work has received nine Isadora Duncan Dance Awards and nine additional nominations for both their artistry and production values.

Physically integrated dance

Founded in 1987[1] by Thais Mazur, Bonnie Lewkowicz, Judith Smith and others, AXIS was one of the first contemporary dance companies in the world to consciously develop choreography that integrates dancers with and without physical disabilities.[2][3] AXIS dancers with disabilities have included wheelchair users (both manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs), crutch users, and people with amputations using prosthetic limbs.

AXIS dancers who are not disabled come with training in a variety of contemporary dance, improvisation and other movement practices. Through interactions between these dancers and nondisabled dancers, a new dance vocabulary began to be developed. This started a trend, which eventually became known as physically integrated dance, which seeks to broaden the definition of ‘dance’ and ‘dancer’ and increase opportunities for artistic expression through movement for a wide spectrum of physical attributes and disabilities.[4][5] The physically integrated dance movement is part of a broader disability culture movement, which recognizes and celebrates the first-person experience of disability, not as a medical-model construct but as a social phenomenon, through artistic, literary, and other creative means.[6] The AXIS Dance Company has commissioned works by a number of renowned choreographers, including Ann Carlson, Sonya Delwaide, Joe Goode, Joanna Haigood, Margaret Jenkins, Bill T. Jones, Victoria Marks, and Stephen Petronio.

National convening

In May 2016 during its 30th anniversary season, AXIS Dance Company hosted the first, three-day National Convening: The Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA at Gibney Dance in New York.[7] This event was supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation National Project Program, and culminated in the creation of the report, The Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA, which looks at “ways to 1) improve and expand training opportunities and develop pedagogy for dancers with disabilities; and 2) improve training and expand opportunities for disabled choreographers and nondisabled choreographers to work with disabled dancers or integrated ensembles.”[8]


The Company has created more than sixty repertory works, two evening-length works, and commissions for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Bates Dance Festival, San Francisco Exploratorium, and CAL Performances-UAM/PFA.

AXIS has performed in more than sixty cities, Europe, and Siberia. Notable performances include the Olympic Arts Festival, 2002; Meredith Monk’s 40th Anniversary Celebrations at St. Marks & the World Financial Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Scottsdale Center for the Arts; UC Santa Barbara; Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago ; SF Internat’l Arts Festival; The Kentucky Center for the Arts; Paralympics 1997; Walker Arts Center; Dartmouth College; Flynn Center for the Performing Arts; UMass Fine Arts Center; University of Cologne, Germany; Dance Umbrella’s Internat’l Festival of Aerial Dance; and Railroad Theater, Novosibirsk, Siberia.

AXIS’ education programs, Dance Access and Dance Access/KIDS! offer an extensive array of events for adults and youth of all abilities.

AXIS has received numerous Isadora Duncan Dance Awards (IZZIES) including:

  • Sustained Achievement in 2014 to Judith Smith, Founding Member and Artistic Director Emerita
  • Outstanding Achievement in Performance - Individual in 2012 to Marc Brew for Remember When
  • Ensemble Performance in 2008 to Rodney Bell and Sonsheree Giles in To Color Me Different by Alex Ketley
  • Choreography to Joe Goode in 2008 for the beauty that was mine, through the middle, without stopping...
  • Ensemble Performance in 2002 to Nadia Adame and Jacques Poulin-Denis in Sans Instruments choreographed by Sonya Delwaide
  • Costume Design in 2001 to Mario Alonzo for AXIS’ entire Home Season Voyages Elsewhere and Between, choreography by Sonya Delwaide, Bill T. Jones, Stephen Petroni, AXIS’ Stephanie McGlynn and Uli Schmitz and AXIS’ Alisa Rasera and Megan Schirle
  • Company Performance in 2000 for AXIS’ entire Home Season The Ground, the Air and Places in Between, choreography by Sonya Delwaide, Joe Goode, Joanna Haigood and Bill T. Jones
  • Choreography to Bill T. Jones in 2000 for Fantasy in C Major
  • Individual Performance in 2000 to Uli Schmitz, the first disabled dancer to receive this award

The company has also received numerous IZZIE nominations for artistic work and production elements. [9]


  1. Weber, Bruce (2009-11-01). "A Dance Company Mixes Arms, Legs and Wheels". The New York Times. p. A37B. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  2. Ulrich, Allan (2009-11-08). "Review: Axis Dance Company at Malonga Casquelord". San Francisco Chronicle. p. E-1. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  3. Marech, Rona (2002-03-08). "Rebel filmmaker's movie about Burning Man screens in Oakland". San Francisco Chronicle. p. EB-3. Retrieved 2008-01-09.
  4. Pamela Kay, Walker (2005). Moving Over the Edge: Artists with Disabilities Take the Leap. Davis, California: Michael Horton Media. pp. 112–117. ISBN 0-9771505-2-6.
  5. Interview, Judith Smith, “Artistic Director, AXIS Dance Company” conducted by Esther Ehrlich in 2005, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2006. Artists with Disabilities Oral History Page
  6. ABC-CLIO Companion to the Disability Rights Movement, p. 97
  7. Smith, Judith (2016-12-01). "Activating National and Local Connections to Further Physically Integrated Dance". Dancers’ Group. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  8. Smith, Judith (2017). "AXIS Dance Company: Advocacy". AXIS Dance Company. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  9. Lee, Jez. "Award History". list of awards from 2000-2010. ISADORA DUNCAN DANCE AWARDS COMMITTEE. Retrieved 2011-09-15.
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