Gabriel Rodreick, A Cripple's Dance Q&A

By: Kelsey Bolander & Tosin Faseemo

Gabriel Rodreick, a singer, musician, and C5 quadriplegic seeks seeks to present his life story after a diving accident in his teens left him unable to move most of his body. With the assistance of dance trio Kelvin Wailey, the Kreblems Music Collective, and his old band, Treading North, Gabriel explores the themes of acceptance and anger through “music, dance, and words.” “A Cripple’s Dance” will be presented on Dec. 16 at The Cedar.

Leila Awadallah and Emma Marlar of Kevin Wailey

What made you guys interested in dancing originally?

Leila Awadallah: I started dancing when I was young, and I had an amazing teacher who I connected with who kind of showed me how to explore with my body… she always was very clear about that it could be a career and it was the only thing I felt like I should do, to dance.

Emma Marlar: Yeah, I actually have a pretty similar story… I was exposed to it pretty young…  it also matched my energy level… so it just seemed like the right fit.

So what brought each of you to work with Gabriel?

LA: Gabe and I connected in more of the social activism spaces first. I was interested in his way of organizing artists who were using their art to engage in social justice issues and activism and Gabe was putting a lot of effort towards connecting artists… he saw a video I made online, it was a dance film, and he wanted to work with me on a… dance music project about his spinal cord injury and his journey in life. And so, he said, “You know what? I would love to work with multiple dancers. I hear of your projects called Kelvin Wailey.” So I told Gabe that it would be a good fit for Kelvin Wailey to collaborate.

EM: Yeah, we have a group, a collaborative group with us two, as well as another dancer named Laura Osterhaus [Kevin Wailey], and we’ve been working together for a handful of years now and we make work, often collaboratively with musicians and this seems like a good fit for that.

Gabriel Rodreick

How long have you been dancing?

I guess, professionally, for like nine months; not long. This is a very, very new experience for me.

What do you think it is about dancing that makes it so freeing?

The only thing we have control over in our life is… our body. Everything else, we don’t really have a say in. So using that main thing that we have control over, and using it as an expression, as a way to tell a story or a way to heal or figure out what’s going on in your body or your mind is what makes it such a free thing, since you can do whatever you want with your body… I think that that’s what makes it such a free form of expression.

How did you transition your prior music experience in Treading North to become more of a visual, movement-based experience?

So Treading North was…  a band for about five years and I kind of look at that time as kind of, like, regrowth, into music. Because before Treading North…  because before my injury, I played piano for eleven years and I was kind of on track to be a pianist and keyboardist. So Treading North was this period where I kind of... sat in the stories that I’m trying to tell and started to realize that I really miss dancing, even though I didn’t do a lot before my injury. Like, if I could wake up one day without a spinal cord injury, I would wanna go dancing. So that kind of triggered this desire to fuse my musical ability with my desire to dance. 

The title of your performance is “A Cripple’s Dance,”what does the word ‘cripple’ mean to you? Do you find it empowering?

I think I’ve still been wrestling with that…  it’s a heavy word. But I think in this context, it feels very empowering, especially with the word ‘dance’ afterwards, because you don’t think of cripples as people who dance, but in this case, we are. So it does have this really empowering message behind it, in my eyes, and that’s kind of the story I wanted to tell.

What qualities did you look for when you were searching for dancers and musical accompaniment?

That’s a good question. Well, dancers, it started out with… a person that I know, which was Angie…before her injury, she was an acrobat and post-injury she started doing a lot of dance. I met her through… an organization called Get Up, Stand Up. Kind of a spinal cord injury advocacy organization. So my first thought, when I was thinking of dance, was I wanna work with Angie. She has done dance and she has a spinal cord injury. So that was my connection with her. And then, with Kelvin Wailey... I remember reaching out to Leila probably a year and a half ago… and then I started seeing Kelvin Wailey around the city, went to a couple shows, saw some videos and just reached out to them… And then the musicians are Bailey, who is the front person in 26 BATS!, Karl, who is the front person in Lucid Vanguard, Warren, who is the front person in Warren Thomas Fenzi. And they’re all part of the collective called “Kremblems.” And then Jack, who is the bass player in Treading North, will be playing the bass for the project… I reached out to them, asked them to play, and they were down. 

What have you found to be the biggest challenge in the process of creating this project?

I think one is that, as somebody with a spinal cord injury, I’m not able to move a whole lot. I have some arm movement, but I can’t really get my arms up over my head, I can’t really move anything kind of below my armpit level, so it’s been a challenge to figure out what I can do. Especially choreographing with other people that are able-bodied…  I think we’re still trying to figure that out… how do we respect and honor my movement while challenging it. So that’s been a difficult process. And then this is also the first time that I feel like I’m trying to tell a very specific story through creation, and I’ve done it in smaller ways, like in one song or two songs, and this is eleven songs, this is an hour long performance… that’s been a challenging process, like how do I tell that story, how do I thread all of those ideas together.

What do you want other people to gain or learn from your performance?

I want them to come away with a story and I think, specifically, other people with spinal cord injuries or disabilities coming away with this narrative…  that’s being told about people with disabilities or people with spinal cord injuries. And kind of going back to the first thing that I said, about accepting the injury as it is, but also wanting more movement, wanting more sensation, wanting to do a lot more than what is what we’re told that we can… also this idea of anger and how it can be used in such positive ways, and that you need anger to feel any kind of movement or change.

Have you seen any growth in representation of artists with injuries similar to yours?

I think you see more of it these days, but not on a big scale. I only know of one person with a spinal cord injury that was a musician, that was kind of big and toured. His name was Vic Chestnutt, and he also had a cervical spinal cord injury… I think there are more dancers out there who have spinal cord injuries… on the music side, I don’t see it growing. I think part of that is because with a C5 spinal cord injury you lose a lot of your hands, some of your upper-body strength, your diaphragm, you lose the ability to breathe as well, so it’s harder to sing. So there are just, like, physical barriers.

What do you think music industries and communities can do to elevate the voices and performances of people with spinal cord injuries?

One would be teach us. Teach us music, teach us dance. Even if you can’t do it as well as other people can do it. Especially now, there’s so much opportunity through electronic music that anybody can make it as long as you have the ability to understand what music is. So teach it, but also give us spaces to do it and practice and perform. Fund it.

Wake Mag