Dance concert benefits former dancer

With her new wheelchair, former dancer Chelsea Libitzki is no longer confined to a seated position.  PHOTO BY NAN LINCOLN

With her new wheelchair, former dancer Chelsea Libitzki is no longer confined to a seated position.

Chelsea Libitzki is literally standing tall these days.

Those who associate the Libitzki name with dance – from adorable little pot-bellied tots in sparkly leotards shuffling shyly across the stage while squinting past the spotlights to see their parents, to lovely young women like Chelsea herself, executing graceful pirouettes en pointe, arabesques and jetés – may not see that as a big accomplishment. But it is; it is a huge accomplishment.

Five years ago, at age 22, Chelsea was in a traffic accident that left her a quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down with only partial use of her right hand.

While Chelsea’s dancing may have ended that terrible day, the dance in her life has continued. She now assists her mother, Cheryl, with her many dance classes, teaching yet another generation of tots how to point their toes and assume the five ballet positions.

But by necessity, she was sitting down on the job and in life, confined to one position in an electric wheel chair.

That changed last December when, thanks in part to the local dance community, Chelsea received a new motorized wheel chair that allows her to move about at the flick of a switch. It allows a range of positions from prone to vertical.

“This has made a huge difference in my life and my health,” Chelsea said at her Trenton home last week, explaining that the chair allows her multiple visual perspectives, and perhaps more importantly, improves her blood pressure, bone density, bowel function and offers a host of other benefits.

“And if they ever come up with a cure for spinal cord injuries like mine,” she said, “my body will be in better shape to take advantage of it.”

Chelsea dancing before the accident.

Chelsea dancing before the accident.

With such obvious benefits, one has to wonder why it took Chelsea and her family so long to get such a vital piece of equipment.

Well, it cost about $50,000, and insurance doesn’t cover it.

That’s when Chelsea’s extended community stepped in to hold a variety of fundraisers – bake sales, dance concerts, you name it – and last December, they were able to purchase a floor model Invacare C500 for a “measly” $27,000.

“These fundraisers have helped so much, and this chair has changed my life,” Chelsea said after demonstrating the full range of motion she now has at her fingertips.

“The thing is that having a spinal cord injury, there’s always going to be a need for money,” she said. “Whether it’s for physical therapy or supplies we need at home. Being a quadriplegic is very expensive, and every little bit helps!”

With that in mind, Bar Harbor dance impresario Sheri Keane has organized another fundraising event for Chelsea.

The third annual Bar Harbor Dance Festival will be held at the Mount Desert Island High School Higgins-Demas Theater on Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m. A portion of the proceeds will go toward Chelsea’s continued expenses.

The concert will feature a variety of acts from cute little kids dancing a hula-inspired number to some Irish line dancing, a bit of swing and even a professional ball room tango.

Keane, who reconnected with ballroom dancing herself just a few years ago, said it has become such an important part of her life now that she wanted to share it with her community through this series of concerts.

“When I learned about Chelsea,” she said, following a dance rehearsal she was monitoring at the Tremont School, “I realized that not only could I give people a chance to perform and enjoy a variety of dancing, it could help someone like Chelsea lead a fuller, healthier professional and personal life.”

Her desire to help out with Chelsea’s new standing chair was frustrated last year when the concert had to be cancelled at the last minute because the Criterion Theater was in the midst of environmental remediation.

While she is crossing her fingers regarding the weather next weekend, she expects no such snafus this time.

Chelsea herself is expected to appear on stage at the concert. She said she wanted a chance to show off her new chair to all the folks who helped her buy it.

“A lot of people don’t get to see me around,” she said. “And the one way I can think of to thank folks like Sheri and Sarah Phillips who have done so much – and other people who never even met me, but just wanted to help – is to show them what they made possible for me.”

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You can go!

Bar Harbor Dance Festival

Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m.

Adults $12, seniors and students $9, children under 6 free

Tickets at the door only.

At the Mount Desert Island High School Higgins-Demas Theater.

A portion of the proceeds will go toward Chelsea’s Libitzki’s continued expenses.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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