Against all Odds: Dancing with Cerebral Palsy

One man's journey from dragging feet to dancing feet.

ByABC News via logo
January 18, 2010, 4:53 PM

Jan.19, 2010— -- 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.