In the summer of 2016, shortly after completing her freshman year, Anne Nelson was in a car accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury and leaving her in a wheelchair.
Nelson, sophomore in nursing, alongside her dance professor, Adrienne Wilson, refused to let this accident rob her of her ability to dance.
This year, Nelson and Wilson traveled to San Antonio, Texas, for the National Dance Education Organization yearly conference. This year, the theme was equity and accessibility, and they presented a dance piece they created that Nelson can perform from her wheelchair.
“We took a mixture of my choreography and hers and presented them as a movement study for 20 people at the conference,” Nelson said.
Nelson said she enjoyed the conference and was able to meet other different-abled dancers.
“A studio in Oakland, California, called Axis approached me while I was there," Nelson said. "They have lots of both wheelchair and standing dancers, and I got to meet the directors of that company who encouraged me to come out for their summer intensive."
Nelson said she found it neat to make these connections a the conference.
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“After my accident, I thought I would maybe take up volleyball or basketball or some sport or activity that I could do from the wheelchair, but I didn’t think I could continue to dance," Nelson said. "But while I was in rehab in Atlanta, a member of the Full Radius Dance company met with me and showed me how she could dance from her wheelchair.”
When they returned to Auburn, Nelson approached Wilson about the possibility of her continuing to minor in dance.
Wilson, the head of the department of dance at Auburn, readily agreed to the challenge.
“I am used to teaching people of all different skill and ability levels, but this was completely new,” Wilson said. “I was a bit daunted, but I was even more excited. I really believe that dance is for everyone, and I really believe in Anne. I knew her before her accident, and I saw how talented she was and how much she loved it, and I was excited to help her pursue it further.”
It was not an easy road for Nelson, and she described the the first months after her return as very challenging.
“It was really hard at first,” Nelson said. "It was an emotional struggle because I so wanted to move like the other dancers. That is still a challenge, but I still am able to have that same sense of love and passion that dance has always brought me. I still love dance.”
Wilson said she, too, found it challenging in the beginning.
“I would conduct a regular class, and Anne would follow, adapting every movement as best she could," Wilson said. "It was a puzzle, and Anne really worked at it. Our choreography was born from that challenge."
Wilson said she began with having Nelson adapt and mimic the movements of able-bodied dancers, and then she had the class adapt and mimic Nelson's movements. Wilson said the dance was born from this.
They performed that class-wide piece at the yearly final dance outcome last year. They built on this routine to create the piece, “A Dancing Body: Sudden Challenges” that the pair presented in San Antonio, Texas.
Nelson still dances and will perform as a member of the Auburn University dance ensemble in the upcoming show, “Take a Walk in Her Shoes,” conceived by Wilson and Jeri Dickey.
“I would never be glad to watch a student encounter such a tremendous challenge,” Wilson said. “But it has been and will continue to be such a triumph and a joy to be apart of Anne’s success as a dancer in these circumstances.”
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