2006年時，他有了一個夢想及野心，「我希望創造一個由不同能力舞者組成的超級舞團（全明星團隊）」，Lazylegz明言「當時最大的挑戰，是作為加拿大中唯一一個高水平殘疾B-boy，卻未能在這個國家找到可以合作的舞者。不過，到世界各地參與上不同比賽後，我便開始接觸到其他舞者」。Lazylegz隨即邀請世界各地的舞者加入他的舞團。2007年，Lazylegz的團隊超能量街舞團（ILL-Abilities）正式成立，當時共五名成員，包括Tommy Guns、Kuho、Checho及他本人，每個人都有不同能力，每個人都有自己的故事。於2008年，他們為了首個官方活動「No Limits」終於在蒙特利爾見面。現時，團隊活躍成員已經增至七人，分別來自荷蘭、智利、南韓、美國、巴西和加拿大。
ILL-Abilities7人全員合照; 攝：Kien Quan
超能量街舞團（ILL-Abilities）的名字「根據嘻哈文化中，將負面字詞轉換成正面字詞的慣例命名」。所以，ILL-Abilities中的「ILL」不應解作「生病」或「不適」，反作「難以置信」、「不可思議」、「精雕細琢」或「才華洋溢」的意思。而從每個團員的日常生活及工作可見，他們都以「No Excuses. No Limits」（無藉口，無限制）為生活的座右銘。
為了增加影響力，讓更多的殘障舞者可以跳舞，Lazylegz與妻子Melissa Emblin及特殊教育專家Marie-Elaine Patenaude於2012年舉辦了導師培訓工作坊。計劃的目的是為了給予舞蹈工作室認證，確保適合任何人（不同能力）使用的資格。Lazylegz解釋到「我們會訓練那些參加了計劃的導師，讓他們明白怎樣跟不同能力的舞者互動。時至今日，這已經是一個非常受歡迎的項目，剛開始時只有一間工作室和四個學生，直至2016年項目完結前，已經有六間工作室和一百三十個介乎四至六歲，擁有不同能力的學生。」
在工作坊的尾聲，Lazylegz跟Kujo、Redo讓參加者一起大喊「WE ARE SUPERSTARS!」（我們都是超級巨星）Lazylegz解釋每次表演完結後都會讓大家這樣大喊的原因，是想最後激勵大家一下，他們相信每一個人都有他自己的隱藏才能，只是需要時間去發掘。
[ENG] “WE ARE SUPERSTARS!” — ILL-Abilities moves to empower ALL abilities
– interview with ILL-Abilities’ team members Lazylegz, Kujo and Redo
Text: Catherine Yau
Luca Patuelli (a.k.a. Lazylegz), is a Canadian born with arthrogryposis, a neuromuscular disorder affecting the bones and joints of the body. He has undergone 16 surgeries since he was 7 months old, and has to rely on crutches to get about for daily activities. “Your first failure is not to try” his father used to tell him. Despite his physical limitations, that pushed him to try all kinds of physical activities, until at the age of 15 he discovered the world of breakdance, fell in love with the whole culture, and has now become one of the best-known international B-boys. Instead of treating his crutches as a hindrance, he transformed them into extensions of his arms, and with them creates movements that are uniquely his own.
He formed a dream and ambition back in 2006: “I had the idea of creating a Super Crew with dancers who are differently-abled – an all-stars team” Lazylegz explains. “The biggest challenge was that I remained the only high-level disabled B-boy in Canada, there was no-one in the country I could link up with. However, while going through different competitions in the world, I started to meet other dancers.“ Lazylegz therefore invited dancers from all around the world to join his team. In 2007, his crew ILL-Abilities was officially formed, with four members, Tommy Guns, Kujo, Checho and himself, all of whom are differently-abled and have different stories. In 2008, they finally met together in Montreal for their first official event, “No Limits”. Now the crew has grown to seven active members, from the Netherlands, Chile, South Korea, USA, Brazil and Canada.
The name of the crew, ILL-Abilities, “came from the hip hop culture in turning negative terms into something positive”. Therefore the “ILL” in ILL-Abilities does not refer to “sick” or “unwell”, but rather to “incredible, amazing, intricate and talented”. All crew members also live by their very important motto – “No Excuses. No Limits”, which they are certainly demonstrating in their work and in their lives. ILL-Abilities came to Hong Kong in January at the invitation of the local project -- No Limits, and will pay two visits in all, this first one to conduct Artist-in-Residencies in local communities, plus Teachers’ Training workshops; a second one scheduled in March 2020 where they will perform and battle with local dancers.
For the first visit, two other ILL-Abilities’ members, Kujo (USA) and Redo (Netherlands), came with Lazylegz to share their knowledge with the local community.
Left: Lazylegz (Canada); Photo: Jacob Jonas Photography
Middle: Kuji (USA); Photo: Kien Quan
Right: Redo (Netherlands)l Photo: Jacob Jonas Photography
Creating a Second Family
Sitting in front of me are three B-boys in their 30s and 40s. During the interview, they are constantly teasing each other, and sometimes complementing each other on their ideas. I felt there was a playful kid in each of them, filled with sensitivity and creativity. Their brotherhood and tight bonding was also evident.
Kujo says “In the B-boy world, crew is like a second family.” That explains his saying that “all of us are really brothers, we care for each other, and we have a special bond”.
While all of them also have their own crew back in their home towns, with whom they still have a great bond, Redo says “but we don’t have the differently-abled in our home town crew, so we have a special bond between ILL-Abilities, because we understand each other [in terms of] what we have been through in life, in a way that our first family or original crew family may not understand.” Kujo added frankly that in his home crew, “We stand out. In ILL-Abilities, none of us do, cause everyone is weird.” Everyone laughed at his joke, yet while light-hearted it was also a reminder of their core value that “Everyone is the same.”
With this ILL-Abilities family, the B-boys built their first full-length show Dis-Connect, a work about finding connections in a world full of disconnection and confusion. It will be performed with a full crew at Tai Kwun later in March. Lazylegz explained the evolution of the work: “First it was just 5 minutes. Everything snowballed from that 5-minute show.” Without the advantage of being able to get together often, the team created their own solos and had just four days to rehearse the whole work by putting all the material together for the first time. Since they also do not have a home base for creation, they just “created in garages, in Airbnbs”, turning all limitations into possibilities. “It’s a constant evolution. Every time the work is different”, Kujo says, “Each time we perform the show, it’s getting more and more close to finished.”
Sparking something special in the lives of others
Today ILL-Abilities is indubitably one of the most popular international breakdance crews, but they have other important roles in addition to performance and competition.
Redo says, “What differentiates us from the majority of companies is that we have a wide variety of offerings. We also teach and do social work, and do a lot of work within the community.” Lazylegz points out that those other roles have also evolved along the way, “Initially, what helped ILL-Abilities come together was my public speaking appearances. This helped finance our first official tour in 2011. I had organized 28 speaking engagements in 20 different schools, across Montreal and various cities in 30 days. In the evening, we were building a theatre show. In the morning, we were working in schools. The theatre show ended up touring 2 years later.” For their touring work No Limits and the team’s debut at Sadler’s Wells in London, ILL-Abilities was nominated for “Outstanding achievement in dance” at the UK Olivier Awards in 2013.
Although their speeches, performances and their own stories have helped to empower people of different abilities, Kujo says that in the beginning it wasn’t their intention to empower people, it was something that evolved naturally. “We are educating, we are empowering. How we could strive to be the best, and at the same time give or share our stories along the way
This natural evolution has been deeply rewarding. One of their experiences, in a Japanese detention camp for young offenders, touched the whole team.
“When we first started our 2-hour motivational speech/workshop, it was [like] ice, no response.” Lazylegz says, “They are sitting holding their legs tight to themselves. And when I shouted: ‘OK! We are going to do a dance warm-up.’ the participants were looking to the guards and teachers for permission if they are allowed to participate. You could feel their fear. Yet by the end, everyone was dancing. The guards were giving high-fives. Everyone was laughing, they were having fun!” Lazylegz continued, “After we went backstage, Sumuka, the dancer from Brazil, was crying, he said ‘This is the power of dance. I lived in Brazil, and I have seen some crazy stuff, I have seen people get beaten and murdered. That doesn’t faze me. But what I felt today, I felt the fear. And seeing how the students were able to knock that fear away through dance; giving them superpower, making them feel incredible, was a very special moment.”
Lazylegz confirms, “I won’t say that it’s because of us, but the dance sparks something within them, which they always have that drive and determination. And I think we are just helping to give them that little push.”
I am sure their first visit to work with local communities in HK, where they conducted eight workshops within one week and auditioned differently-abled dancers for a finale showing in March in Y-Square, has also helped spark something special in many lives here.
ILL-Abilities hosting workshops in HK local communities; Photo provided by Hong Kong Art Festival
Spreading the Influence
To spread the influence even further, allowing more disabled dancers to enjoy dancing, Lazylegz created a teacher training programme with his wife Melissa Emblin and special education specialist Marie-Elaine Patenaude in 2012. The idea was to “start a programme that certified dance studios, making sure they are accessible [to differently-abled people]” Lazylegz explained. “Then we train the dance teachers within those studios for them to understand how to work with people with differently-abled bodies. It became a very popular programme. We started off with 1 studio and 4 students. In 2016, before we finished, 6 studios had 130 students, aged from 4 to 6, all with different abilities.”
Unfortunately, we were the victims of our own success.” Lazylegz admits honestly, “We ended up burning out. We built the programme with passion, and not with a foundation of a business structure. I was financing the programme through my speaking engagements, and it was burning me out.” At the same time he and his wife were expecting their first child, therefore they decided to stop the programme.
However, the momentum they started has never stopped. Their 32 trained teachers in Montreal still continue to spread the influence. Lazylegz and Melissa were also invited by the Les Grands Ballets (a major modern ballet company in Montreal) to serve as instructors and consultants for their Adapted Street Dance programme.
Dance educators, social workers and professionals working with disabilities had the chance to experience their teacher training workshop held in Hong Kong. A 2-hour workshop was conducted as a crash course of the original 2-days’ training. “Day 1 is all theoretical, and Day 2 all physical.” Lazylegz explains about the original training, “There is a lot more within the 2 full days. After every exercise, we sit and talk, allowing the dance trainers to share their experiences and to help the dance teachers to feel more engaged.” In addition, throughout the year, they host a variety of training sessions, specific to one type of disability or dance style. Lazylegz emphasizes that they do this because they want “to create this family bond among teachers.” Bonding and connection are always central to Lazylegz’s work.
Before the interview, I also attended the teacher training workshop in the morning. What most impressed me was the casual atmosphere when I first got into the studio, with hip hop music playing and people talking to each other like a party or a family gathering; as well as the substantial pack of notes detailing definitions and methodologies in working with different disabilities. Of course, the openness, the stories of the members, and their joy and passion in their sharing were very inspiring.
In order to let us experience different forms of disability to enhance our understanding of potential students, we were asked to use different props, like wheelchairs or crutches for the physically disabled, blindfolds for the blind, ear plugs for the deaf, or weights attached to the body for those with multiple sclerosis. We played a movement game of “mirroring your partner”. I was a “deaf” person working with a “blind” partner. Since my partner was “blind”, Lazylegz asked me to describe our movements to them. At one moment, I turned, and therefore, I asked my partner to also turn around. In the post-session discussion, my partner told me that she felt very dizzy when she turned. It was then that I realized for the first time that being “without sight”, means a blind person will feel dizzy in turning. This shows how the activities achieved their aims in letting us discover things for ourselves by directly experiencing different abilities through our own or our partners’ bodies.
At the end of the workshop, Lazylegz joined hands with Kujo, Redo and all the participants in shouting “WE ARE SUPERSTARS!” Lazylegz explained that they perform this ritual after every workshop, aiming to give the participants a final boost before they leave. They believe that every student has hidden talents within them, it just takes time to discover them.
ILL-Abilities hosting workshops in HK local communities; Photo provided by Hong Kong Art Festival
Inclusiveness does not exist
All the work that ILL-Abilities do brings the meaning of the word “equality” to life.No wonder when asked what ‘inclusiveness’ means to them, Redo says “Inclusiveness does not exist”. He explains “in the world where we came from, women, men, children, different races, poor guys, rich guys all come together to dance. No one judges. Dance is for everyone.” Kujo adds, “Inclusiveness is integral to hip hop. Many people are disabled before us.”
Lazylegz comments: “One of the challenges is we have [is] to create ‘organic inclusiveness’. They have to have a purpose, not forcing the inclusion”. He has witnessed schools seeking to enforce inclusion with people not understanding how to handle it, which can backfire. “It really needs to come from within” he says, emphasizing that we need to find “the intention behind it”.
ILL-Abilities’ own intentions are crystal clear: to empower both onlookers and participants. Kujo says “Our motto, ‘No Excuses. No Limits’, is for everyone, not only for the disabled. To encourage people to live life to their limits, to their fullest.”
 The No Limits project was first launched in 2019, co-presented by the Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, with the aim of promoting inclusiveness through art.
 Hong Kong Arts Festival has announced on 10 February 2020 that all February and March performances are cancelled, as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, resultant closures of venues across the city, and concerns for the health and safety of artists, audience and staff. The No Limits project will also not be held as scheduled in February and March.
Text: Catherine Yau
is a freelance dance practitioner focusing on dance education, research, and writing. She is Guest Lecturer in Dance at the Education University of Hong Kong. She obtained an MFA and MA from New York University and the University of Hong Kong respectively.