Against all Odds: Dancing with Cerebral Palsy

Man with Cerebral Palsy makes debut performance in a Manhattan ballet company.

Living with cerebral palsy his entire life, 31-year-old Gregg Mozgala is no stranger to the feeling of being onstage as he walks down the street.

Mozgala said all his life he's received "stares and looks" because of his uncontrolled walk caused by the debilitating brain disorder that has no known cure.

However, last month, people stared for a different reason. Mozgala performed as the lead in the ballet performance of "Diagnosis of a Faun" at New York's La Mama Experimental Theater Club.

It was a role even Mozgala never dreamed possible because of his cerebral palsy.

"Your body does not cooperate. There's a big disconnect between the brain and the body. ...There is a great deal of frustration that goes along with it," Mozgala explained.

After a lifetime of physical therapy and countless doctors visits, it seemed even the medical professionals could not fix his walk, a result of the inability of his brain to send signals to his muscles.

But where doctors and conventional medicine could not find answers, Tamar Rogoff, a choreographer with no professional medical experience, got results.

Mozgala and Rogoff's journey began when Rogoff saw Mozgala in a performance of "Romeo and Juliet" and dreamed of one day seeing the actor perform ballet.

"Tamar looked at my body and said this is too short, this is too long, let's fix this," Mozgala recalled.

For eight grueling months, Rogoff and Mozgala trained, armed only with big hearts and a lot of determination.

"We weren't even interested in curing cerebral palsy, or anything like this. We were just interested in getting his heels down, so he could balance for the performance," Rogoff said.

But they said what happened next is nothing short of a miracle -- Mozgala was learning to control his movements and challenging long-held beliefs about cerebral palsy.

"The prognosis that nothing can be done, which is what I heard for most of my life, doesn't hold water for me anymore," Mogzala said.

"You know if you've had your heels up for 30 years and then suddenly you feel your heels on the floor, there are all kinds of different connections that make you feel different things, and I think his whole energy started to change," said Rogoff.

Progress Through Dance

These changes for Mozgala have meant the world to hundreds of others living with cerebral palsy, such as the children at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where they are already making progress through dance classes.

"This is life-changing, when the kids start to feel new parts of their body," said Dr. Citlali López-Ortiz at the Institute. "I can see it in the class, their eyes light up."

At the Institute researchers are now using motion-sensing cameras on the children to track their progress and try to explain how dance might have the potential to rewire the body.

"What's great about this work, all this attention, hundreds of e-mails from parents of children with disabilities, thank you, this works, I don't feel alone anymore, I don't feel crazy." Mozgala said.

Now from a stunning dance performance debut to inspiring a generation to believe that there is hope for improved movement in the future, Mozgala walks down the street in a whole new way.

"It feels wonderful. It's an amazing feeling. The fact that I can experience all of this change and a better understanding of myself and create a wonderful piece of art at the end of it, that's a dream," Mogzala said.

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