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ILL Abilities- The Disabled Hip Hop Group

May 3, 2013

His nickname is Lazylegz but he is quite a mover. Born with a rare joint and muscle disorder, Canadian Luca Patuelli even uses his crutches in his act. And, having shown that physical virtuosity is by no means restricted to the able-bodied, Patuelli went on to form ILL-Abilities, an international supercrew of b-boys who all have some kind of physical limitation, but who have all managed to translate their disabilities into a unique movement style.

Formed in 2007, the troupe now perform – and compete – around the world. Ahead of their return to London this weekend, Patuelli and three other dancers speak about dancing through deafness and cancer – and the maverick potential of crutches.

Jacob ‘Kujo’ Lyons (US)

Nothing is freer, nothing is more chaotically sublime, than this 40-year-old mess that is hip-hop dance. Hip-hop becomes the person who does it. Ballet can be hip-hop. Circus can be hip-hop. Postmodern dance can be hip-hop. Through hip-hop, I’ve come to study all these forms – and more.

I was born with hearing loss in my right ear and, from the age of four, suffered infections and head injuries that ruined the hearing in my left. Although I can hear music, it is only as a dissonant, static drone. I have to play it loudly to myself then memorise it – and when I’m dancing, I follow visual clues like the movements of others in the group. But I don’t worry too much, because there’s an unexpected freedom in not being able to hear: I can dance independently of the music, meaning my movements are off-beat, figuratively and literally.

Deafness diminishes your ability to speak clearly and I grew up with tremendous speech impediments, including a stutter. Dancing gave me the confidence to overcome it.

I was raised in a poor part of Pasadena, in Los Angeles, during the 1980s and I was always around urban culture. There was something powerful about the music and the dance that I was too young to articulate. It wasn’t until high school that I stumbled upon a group of hip-hop dancers who showed me a few moves. As a deaf person I felt isolated, though, and I had to find my own artistic voice. When I surrender to the moment, it can be amazing.

Redouan ‘Redo’ Ait Chitt (Netherlands)

I have been extremely active all my life. Not only do I play soccer and basketball, I also practice various martial arts, from judo to jiu jitsu – despite the fact I have a total of five fingers, two on the right hand, three on the left. My right arm is short and lacks an elbow joint, too, and I’m missing my right hip. That leg is shorter and I walk with a prosthetic. When I discovered b-boying in my first year at high school, I fell in love with it. It allowed me to be myself and be respected for that. You learn to strive to get the best out of your body.

Tommy ‘Guns’ Ly (US, currently living in Japan)

I always wanted to learn popping and locking, but after my leg was amputated – there was a tumour in my tibia – I focused on b-boying. It’s such a captivating dance, especially the signature power movements like head-spins, windmills and air-flares. Some aspects are very leg-intensive, like top-rocking; and there’s footwork which involves transferring your weight from one foot to the other while making step patterns. I’ve had to be clever and creative, expanding the possibilities of what I can do with just one leg.

People in the hip-hop community have shown nothing but love for ILL-Abilities. We see each other as dancers first; other characteristics come after, or are irrelevant. Because every member has a different physical ability, it’s a challenge creating choreography all of us can do. But it also means we stand out in our solos – by default, we all have a unique style.

Luca ‘Lazylegz’ Patuelli (Canada)

I’ve had 16 operations and use crutches to walk and dance. I was born with a rare joint and muscle growth disorder that primarily affected my legs and shoulders. When I was 15, some skateboarding friends introduced me to b-boying and I was hooked immediately. There’s a lot that I’m not able to do, but the beauty of this style of dance is that I can adapt the movement to my capabilities.

Walking with crutches has built up my upper body, which helps with my moves. But the crutches themselves have opened up my creativity. That’s what inspires me as a dancer and also as a teacher, passing the artform on to younger generations.

• Breakin’ Convention is at Sadler’s Wells, London EC1, from Saturday 4 May.

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