Advocacy is at the heart of AXIS' mission to change the face of dance & disability


Judith Smith, Founding Member and Artistic Director Emerita of AXIS Dance Company, is one of the world’s driving forces in physically integrated dance. She was born and raised in the mountains of Colorado. Prior to becoming disabled in a car accident at age 17 in 1977, Judith was a champion equestrian. She transferred her passion for riding to dance after discovering contact improvisation in 1983. Judith helped launch AXIS in 1987 and she grew the Company to be the nation’s leading physically integrated dance ensemble. She has left an amazing legacy and vision for the future of AXIS and integrated dance.

Under Judith’s artistic direction from 1997-2017, AXIS commissioned more than 35 works from the nation’s best choreographers and composers; toured to over 100 cities; appeared twice on FOX TV’S So You Think You Can Dance. She led the development of one the field’s most extensive integrated dance education/outreach programs with a range of programs serving all ages and interests from recreation to the pursuit of a professional career.  Cornerstone programs she created were AXIS’ in-school assemblies, Dance Access Day free in-theater performances, Summer Intensive and an apprenticeship for dancers with disabilities.

Her advocacy and equity work led to the first-ever National Convening on the Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA, followed by six regional town halls throughout the country in 2016. This project, supported by the prestigious Doris Duke Charitable Foundation National Project Program, culminated in an extensive report and the launch of the AXIS Artistic Advancement Platform to Advance Artistry, Opportunity and Equity for Dancers with Disabilities. She has been instrumental in the creation of the Dance/USA Disability and Dance Affinity Group and co-chairs the group. 

Judith has taught and presented at community organizations, schools, universities and conferences. She has been on the faculty of Florida Dance Festival and Bates Dance Festival. In addition, she serves on numerous arts review panels and is on the advisory board of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, The National Art and Disability Center, Dancers’ Group and City of Oakland’s EQTDTO Plan Community Advisory Group.

Her accomplishments include participation in Stanford’s Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders in the Arts and Dance/USA’s Leadership for Artistic Directors. Judith has received the 2010 Dreamspeakers’ Award, the 2009 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award, KQED’s Local Hero and the Homer Avila danceAble awards in 2005 and Artship Foundation’s Local Hero award in 1999.  She was honored with an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Sustained Achievement in 2014, the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award in 2015 and in 2016 she was honored as one of Theatre Bay Area’s 40 people that have changed the face of Bay Area theatre. In 2018 she was honored with the Red Oak Foundations’ Community Excellence Award.

Judith is currently working as an independent consultant in dance and disability. She is an activist for the environment, animals and people with disabilities. She gardens for pollinators, bird watches, raises butterflies and is involved in thoroughbred racehorse rescue and adaptive carriage driving.

AXIS is proud to announce a report on The Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA. The report summarizes a three-year initiative that launched during AXIS’ 30th anniversary season to assess the current state of the field of physically integrated dance in the United States, articulate shared concerns with stakeholders across the country, and strategize for a future in which the participation of artist with disabilities is recognized as a matter of both aesthetic inquiry and social equity. 

“Now more than three decades into its emergence in the US, the field of physically integrated dance continues to grapple with issues of context, visibility, artistic quality, and professional development for dancers with disabilities” states AXIS Founder and Director Judith Smith.  This report highlights the findings from AXIS’ research, a national convening and six regional town halls across the country surrounding the possibilities for growth within the field of integrated dance.

The report chronicles issues that surfaced and were discussed along with actions being taken nation-wide in particular looking at ways to: 1) improve and expand training opportunities and develop pedagogy for dancers with disabilities; and 2) improve training and expand opportunities for disabled choreographers and nondisabled choreographers to work with disabled dancers or integrated ensembles.

“Significant momentum across the field has been established through this initiative including the development of an Affinity Group through Dance/USA” states AXIS Artistic Director Marc Brew.  AXIS was honored to have the opportunity and the support from activators, funders and partnering organizations in our efforts to unite the field and move integrated dance forward.  The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation provided major funding for the initiative with additional support provided by National Media Partner Dance/USA.  


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