"The Spirit Is Not Disabled"

Zina Bethune--Born To Dance


By Rena Dictor LeBlanc

There are people who just won't take "impossible" for an answer when it comes to confronting adversity in their lives.

Dancer and actress Zina Bethune is one of the most remarkable examples of this phenomenon I've ever encountered.

She not only overcame seemingly "impossible" obstacles in her own life, but she went on to help others as well.

Followed Her Passion

Zina was four years old when she started dancing and acting. At six she began her career as a ballet dancer with the famed George Balanchine School of American Ballet. When she was sixteen her doctor told her it would be impossible for her to continue as a ballet dancer. Her medical problems were too severe.

For most people, that would have been the end of their career. But, despite the dire warning Zina followed her passion and continued dancing.

Why did she ignore her doctor's pronouncement?

Born To Dance

Because, as she puts it, "I think I was born to dance. You can't not do it. You might not be born to dance in your body, but you're born to dance in your spirit and your soul.

"The bottom line is you need to know what your passion is. That is what drives decisions any of us make. That's what gives you the fortitude to get through problems. You may make a conscious decision about something. But, if it isn't driven by passion your potential is that you'll stray from that decision. It comes down to what price are you willing pay. We are willing to pay for that which we really, really need and want."

Helping Disabled Children

Through the years she has suffered from scoliosis (in her case a double curvature of the spine), dysplactic hips, and lymphedema. Despite all this she said, "I never thought of myself as a person with a disability." She sought out doctors who could help her, and underwent ten surgeries to enable her to keep dancing. What's more, she went on to help thousands of disabled children learn to dance. Many were in wheelchairs and on crutches, and there were those who only could move their eyes to "dance" to the music.

Zina, who now is "over fifty", was a member of the New York City Ballet and appeared worldwide as guest prima ballerina with many renowned dance companies. It likely would amaze audiences to know she dances with prosthetics in both hips.

She's also an actress who starred in Martin Scorsese's film "Who's That Knocking At My Door", in the prime time television series "The Nurses", and in the Greta Garbo role on Broadway in "Grand Hotel" among others.

The unstoppable actress, dancer, director, and choreographer started the Bethune Theatredanse dance company more than twenty years ago. She is the organization's executive and artistic director. The company performs multimedia dance productions. It's web address is http://www.bethunetheatredanse.org/ .

Infinite Dreams Dance Program

She began her non-profit Infinite Dreams dance outreach program in 1980 to provide physically, emotionally and mentally disabled children an opportunity to dance and act.

The program is run mostly on grants and donations from community businesses. In ninety percent of the classes students are not charged a fee. At others the fee for a class may be $5.

According to her, the dance classes are available regardless of the youngster's ability to pay or the type of disability. Infinite Dreams continues to be the only professional dance company of its kind, Zina said. Today there are dance classes for more than 1,000 physically, emotionally and mentally disabled children throughout Southern California. The program has 6500 graduates who had taken classes for a year or several years.

President Clinton

It's all in keeping with Zina's outlook, "The spirit is not disabled."

Perhaps the most powerful description of the program came from a twelve-year-old participant named Diego who said, "No one ever told me I couldn't dance, they only said I couldn't walk." President Bill Clinton told Zina, "I commend you for your exemplary commitment to improving our world."

Numerous prestigious awards have been presented to Infinite Dreams including acclaim by the National Endowment for the Arts. Celebrities on the advisory board include Liza Minnelli, Ricardo Montalban, Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones...

On November 9, 2007 Zina's Theatre Bethune presented a multimedia music theatre production in Los Angeles called "Frost and Fire" based on a science fiction short story by Ray Bradbury. Zena adapted it for the stage. Video guest artists were actors Michael York and Lee Meriweather.

Triumph Of The Human Spirit

Like the nature of Zina's real-life story, it's a tale of triumph of the human spirit against tremendous odds. Proceeds from the opening night celebrity gala benefited the Infinite Dreams program.

Two of the dancers in the show were men in their twenties who are prime examples of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. One of them has spina bifada and ordinarily walks with crutches. The other is totally deaf.

Art Transcends Limitations

Zina is living proof of her philosophy that art transcends limitations, which gives a voice to each individual's creativity and soul.

Previously published on Eons.com


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