As a troubled kid growing up in foster care in Cleveland, Demarco Sleeper fell in love with dance in middle school. It became the bedrock of his life even after he was in a car accident at 19 that paralyzed him from the waist down. Demarco’s deep devotion to dance and his amazing resilience has led him on a remarkable life journey to health and fulfillment.
The short film “For Me, It’s Dance” tells his inspiring story and illustrates how each of us can turn to the things we love, even in the most difficult circumstances, to improve our health and well-being. I had the pleasure of getting to know Demarco when he joined AXIS Dance Company, a renowned group that integrates dancers with and without physical disabilities. As former creative director of AXIS, I also had the honor of serving as an advisor on the film, which is part of TakeCare, a national initiative that offers tools to help people improve their lives through inspirational short films.
At the age of five, Demarco was separated from his mother and siblings, and entered foster care. He felt increasingly lost and angry. It was only when he discovered dance at a middle school party that he found his spark. “Dance was a way to channel being lonely and express myself,” he says in the film. “But it also gave me a place where I could be safe.” He quickly excelled, becoming a dance captain and then a choreographer, energized by the prospect of a dance career.
His devastating accident left him struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, driving him to the sobering realization that “I needed to start all over again.” For him, that meant reinventing himself by reengineering his dancing–and his entire life.
Demarco gave his first dance performance in a wheelchair at the hospital where he was recovering from the accident. He created his own unique art, moving and balancing in his wheelchair, and even leaving it aside to dance on the floor. Through his remarkable effort and determination, he joined AXIS as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer. “It felt amazing,” he says, “I was able to pick back up on this purpose that I found when I first started dancing…In the times when I thought I can’t make it or I can’t go on, dance has allowed me to come out of this cocoon.”
Self-expression and self-healing
Being able to tap into his emotions and express himself through movement has been critical to Demarco’s healing and his sense of purpose and joy. “Self-healing comes from finding something that pushes you to take care of yourself,” he says, “For me it’s dance. That’s what gets me up in the morning and pushes me to keep going.”
For each of us, the thing that gets us up in the morning is different. For some people it’s family or work. For others it’s a hobby they love—whether it’s a physical, creative, or social activity–over even a beloved pet. In good times, that thing you love can offer endless joy. In hard times, it can provide the invaluable comfort and the strength you need to keep going.
In the film, Demarco reflects: “Dancing in general has allowed me to be self-sufficient. I’ve been able to gain mental stability and mental strength out of it, and a feeling of connection.” I share Demarco’s love and appreciation of dance, but the most important thing is that each of us finds something that can lift and inspire us at all stages of our lives.
You can read this blog on TakeCare.
Marc Brew served as advisor on the film, “For Me It’s Dance,” as a part of The Healthy US Collaborative’s TakeCare initiative. He is an acclaimed international disabled choreographer, trained as a professional dancer at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and The Australian Ballet School. He has been working internationally for over 24 years as a director, choreographer, dancer, teacher, and speaker. Marc was Associate Director with Scottish Dance Theater, Associate Artistic Director with Ballet Cymru in Wales, Associate Artist at Tramway Theater in Scotland, and Artistic Director of AXIS Dance Company. For more information visit www.marcbrew.com.