Choreographer and Dancer Alice Sheppard Writes a Letter to Her Teenage Self

September 29, 2020

Up until 2004, Alice Sheppard was a medieval-studies professor. But after seeing disabled dancer Homer Avila perform, Sheppard took her first dance class—and loved movement so much that she resigned her professorship to pursue a career in dance. She made her professional debut with Infinity Dance Theater, and has since danced with AXIS Dance Company, Full Radius Dance, MBDance, and more. Today, Sheppard also works as a choreographer, creating movement that challenges conventions surrounding dance and disabled bodies. Follow her on Instagram @wheelchairdancr to see more of her work. —Cadence Neenan

A rehearsal moment from Wired. Alice Sheppard, a light-skinned Black woman with short curly hair, leans back into a black cable and closes her eyes. Her hands grasp her wheelchair wheels. An outstretched strand of silver barbed wire extends across the forefront, mirroring Aliceu2019s horizontal body.

Sheppard in rehearsal for Wired at the Jacob’s Pillow Lab in 2019 (Grace Kathryn Landefeld, courtesy Jacob’s Pillow)

Dear Teen Alice,

You are not yet a dancer. I know you worry about your body, sexuality, hair, money, and place in the world. Don’t. You will have an uproarious life. You will one day be one of the magical humans dancing on the stage, above the orchestra pit.

I know, right? That seems unimaginable. Right now, you are peeping at these seemingly unreal humans. But one day, you will use a wheelchair and crutches and you will dance on the floorboards, bathed in incredible light.

You do you, right now. Read books; train hard in music. Practice every hour of every day. Nothing will be lost; everything will come together. You will never lose your music, even if you don’t become a professional musician. You will never lose your love of books. All of this will matter someday. Your heart will lead you.

One day in the future you will take a huge risk. And then another. And another. Someone will dare you to dance and you will accept that dare, and you will fall deeply, wildly in love with movement, the connection to other dancers onstage, and the relationship with people in the audience. It will be everything you sort of suspected those gorgeous dancers knew. You and your wheels will fly.

You will continue to learn and grow and fully evolve into your disabled, queer, artist-of-color self. Don’t be afraid to take risks, even when it seems like your life is over. Even when you crash and burn (and you will), someone will be there for you. *You* will be there for you.

You and a loving, challenging, brilliant disabled community will imagine a new kind of future, and you will live in it. It will be hard and heartbreaking at times, and it will also be magical.

With love,