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The Buzz, 6-14: Homer's Legacy
Let's Prevent Future Homers

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

There are two primary reasons Homer Avila's story has resonated so profoundly with the dance community and particularly with Homer's fellow dancers: His personal heroism, and that every dancer knows his story could be theirs. By some accounts, Homer delayed getting his nagging leg pain checked out because he wasn't insured. By the time he did, and was diagnosed with cancer, it was too late; the cancer took his leg and, on April 25, his life. If Homer's courage in the three-year odyssey that followed his diagnosis is inspiring, the lesson of his story will be lost unless we use it as a catalyst to act so that in the future, no dancer will die because he or she couldn't afford to see a doctor.

I would like to propose the creation of a Homer Fund, with two principal goals: Facilitating free check-ups for dancers, with no questions asked about their means; and providing care for life-threatening conditions. The chief fundraising device for the Homer Fund would be a Homer Night, one evening per year -- perhaps on Homer's birthday or the anniversary of his passing or diagnosis -- when theaters would set aside all of their box office for the fund. Dancers, tech, and other staff could contribute by working for free that night. Publications like the Dance Insider, Village Voice, Dance Magazine, New York Times, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Voice of Dance and others could contribute by not charging for advertising for the evening's events. It may not be as sexy as commissioning a new work, but a Homer Fund would provide an opportunity for dance theaters to take care of a critical part of the dance food chain, the work-a-day dancers who supply the art with a steady stream of talent and ensure its survival. A dance organization like Dance Theater Workshop or a re-granting agency like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council could coordinate the fund. Perhaps an uber-arts organization like Arts Presenters could get into the act. (After all, without dancers like Homer, there would be nothing to present!) What do you think, dance community? Are we just going to beat our breasts again for the poor dancers, or are we going to do something to make their lives better? Drop me an e at paul@danceinsider.com and let me know what you think.

And while you're pondering that question, here are a few more letters we've received over the past month or so remembering Homer, from his childhood friend Patrick Goodman and dance world colleagues Giovanna Gioe La Paglia and Sally Rousse:

Before the barre, the bar

I only recently learned of Homer's cancer and death. I have not seen Homer in 20 years. He and I were best friends from childhood through his move to New York. I wanted to share a story that exemplifies Homer. He and I were gymnasts in high school. One day Homer had a fall off the horizontal bar and dislocated his elbow. Where most people would have screamed in pain and laid on the floor waiting for help, Homer picked himself up and walked over to the coach. Coach immediately located an orthopedic surgeon who happened to be in the locker room. They reset Homer's arm right there, no pain killers or medicine of any kind. Coach had to make Homer skip the rest of practice and go home. He later mentioned taking a couple of aspirin to help him sleep. He showed up for practice a couple of days later when his arm felt better and resumed practice as if nothing had happened. What would have cost most athletes a whole season with months of rehab only took Homer a couple of days to shake off before getting back in action. This indomitable spirit obviously stayed with him right until the end. Though I had completely lost touch with Homer, I still feel the sense of loss that those of you who were his current friends must feel. The whole world loses when a spirit as wondrous as Homer departs.

Patrick Goodman

Play-by-play Homer

It was with great sadness that I learned of Homer Avila's death.

As director of Backstage Ballet Ensemble in Nantucket, MA, I invited Homer Avila and Edisa Weeks to perform with us the summers of 1998 and 1999. Homer's talents as choreographer and dancer profoundly touched our dancers and the entire audience.

And beyond that was his spirit.

A few years later, I went to Northampton, MA to see both Homer and Edisa perform. It was the baseball season, and Homer, baseball cap on his head, was glued to the TV set watching an important game. We couldn't get him to leave. (In fact, I almost missed my bus connection back home!) But that image of Homer "moving" with the pitcher, catcher, runner, and "fired" by the umpires' calls will always be with me.

My heart is heavy.


Giovanna Gioe La Paglia

The running man

I knew Homer for over 20 years but I didn't know he knew me until he hugged and kissed me "goodbye" after David Howard's class -- the one we both attended daily until the studio closed. That was in 1993.

Last summer Homer and I created and performed "Floor Show" in Minneapolis, commissioned by 3 Legged Race for its final Blizzard In August series. I, too, experienced the frustration associated with getting ahold of and scheduling time with Homer! Phone calls from San Francisco, e-mails from Dresden and Frankfurt. Finally, he arrived, calling me from the airport on Mikhail Baryshnikov's cell phone (Misha even helped carry Homer's bags).

There are so many details from that time, the creation process, his interactions with my daughter (who has cancer as well) to his views on Misha, the New York dance world, the European dance scene. What I'd like to share most of all is the amazing solo he made for himself specifically for the Southern Theater's stage left doorway/proscenium area:

Homer enters the dark space moving his arms, making sharp angles and testing the air. Then, you begin to hear soft chuckling. You think it's someone in the audience ("How rude!") but then as it grows louder and more in synch with the spastic movements and the brightening lights you realize it's coming from Homer. He's laughing. He's laughing and dancing and climbing the gritty stone wall. The laughter is real open mouthed "ha-ha" and "ho-ho" and now he is jumping, throwing himself onto the arch of the proscenium. It looks like a man's last dance. Then suddenly he clams up and scoots demurely, matter-of-factly offstage. It is the most chilling, profound solo I've ever seen Homer do.

Later on in "Floor Show" Homer gets into the fabric hanging down from above and we do a sort of aerial tango and a pas de deux before he breaks into a run around the entire stage. That run is so breathtaking. To see him with such speed and taking up so much space makes my heart explode.

-- With Love,

Sally Rousse
Artistic associate
James Sewell Ballet


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