Dancing with Disabilities | The Rhythm of Life-Changing Passion
Some of us can’t carry a beat for anything, but others are born to dance! Meet Olesia Kom and Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli. Both have physical disabilities but Kornienko and Patuelli are a testament to the indomitable will to be free through music and motion.
Kornienko and Patuelli are opposite genders and have vastly different dance styles; Kornienko was raised in Russia and Patuelli in Maryland. Regardless, they have many similarities. Kornienko, from Labytnangi in Siberia, has cerebral palsy. She has difficulties speaking, and some facial muscles are difficult for her to control. She and her mother, Tatiana, moved from Russia to Poland, and then to British Columbia in 2011. The Russian attitude toward CP is that it is an intellectual disability – an attitude that the two could not endure.
Due to the Russian perspective, Kornienko did not receive her first wheelchair until she went to Poland at age 15. While the wheelchair greatly aided Kornienko’s mobility, Poland’s lack of accessibility did not. This was the pair’s impetus to move on to Canada in 2011. Once in Canada, Kornienko became enamored with the idea of wheelchair dancing. She started with salsa dancing and progressed to ballroom dancing with the help of trainer and partner Andy Wong.
Her life is a testament to the things she can do, not what she can’t. Her instructor, Andy Wong, is quoted in Dance With Us Ottawa as saying this about his 35 year old student and partner:
“Olesia is someone who has strived all her life. Her motivation is off the scale and higher than most people without disabilities.” In addition to being B.C.’s only wheelchair ballroom dancer, Kornienko is also a published author and poet, an artist, and a rock-climbing enthusiast. In her interview with the staff at 101 Friends, she says this about rock-climbing, “Rock climbing is a huge effort for me, but when I conquer another rock, I look down at my wheelchair from up above, and… I feel free. By climbing, I am pushing the boundary of physical and psychological endurance. Every time, it seems to me that I can do even more.”
Her life story is the subject of a self-funded documentary entitled Life Locked in a Suitcase which won two international awards in 2013.
Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli would understand Kornenko’s motivations and desires. Born in Montreal, Lazylegz’ biography on his personal site states that he developed a condition called Arthrogryposis. This rare condition is characterized by limited joint movement and slow muscle development. He also suffered from scoliosis and had several invasive surgeries in his youth to help straighten his spine.
In his interview with CBC’s ‘The National’, Patuelli quotes his reason for touring schools and facilities for kids with disabilities as an understanding that growing up was difficult and boring due to frequent hospital visits. Distraction was key while in hospital, so that’s what his speaking and breakdancing provide to today’s children with disabilities. Patuelli states that since falling in love with breakdancing at age 15, he has had concussions, sprained joints, and a broken leg, but he’s never lost his love for dancing. With four other breakdancers with physical disabilities, he has formed a dance group called IllAbilities. Under the IllAbilities label, the team travels internationally as motivational speakers and entertainers, starring in theatre productions, running workshops, and organizing an annual inclusive breakdancing festival.
Luca and his fiancé have recently opened an inclusive dance studio in Montreal.
What motivates individuals like Kornienko and Patuelli to touch so many people through their dance? Their starting place is not to change the world, but to change and challenge how the world perceives them. From that point, their passion is like a wildfire, challenging Canadians to be open to a culture where everyone can follow their dreams.