Wheel­chair dancer’s big am­bi­tion

Pint-size Chris­telle Dreyer is hap­pi­est when she’s on stage ex­press­ing her­self through dance

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By PI­ETER VAN ZYL Pic­tures: PEET MOCKE

WHEN she took to the stage at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town friends and fam­ily could not wish her luck with the cus­tom­ary “break a leg”. Be­cause just a week ear­lier she’d done just that – she’d bro­ken her right leg.

Not on pur­pose, of course. It’s just one of the many things Chris­telle Dreyer has to live with be­cause of her con­di­tion.

The 31-year-old and her twin sis­ter were born with os­teo­ge­n­e­sis im­per­fecta, a con­di­tion that causes bones to be brit­tle and some­times lim­its growth – and this makes Chris­telle’s achieve­ments all the more re­mark­able.

Chris­telle is dis­abled and barely a me­tre tall but packs a punch when it comes to tal­ent and drive. She’s an ac­com­plished dancer, ac­tress and graphic de­signer. She’s just fin­ished a suc­cess­ful run as the nurse Si­monne Evrard in the chal­leng­ing stage play Marat/Sade at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, de­spite her bro­ken leg.

“It’s just part of my ill­ness,” she says. “I prob­a­bly need to be care­ful but some­times I don’t think about it. I must dance and be ac­tive. I have to move.”

Wheel­chair danc­ing is her pas­sion and she’s a for­mer world cham­pion in ball­room and Latin dance. Chris­telle also teaches and in­spires chil­dren born with dis­abil­i­ties to ex­press them­selves us­ing their body. The Western Cape govern­ment has just recog­nised her ef­forts with an award for a con­tri­bu­tion made to the arts by a per­son with a dis­abil­ity.

“Peo­ple think it’s safer to use terms like ‘dif­fer­ently abled’ but I don’t care if peo­ple re­fer to me as dis­abled. That’s how I was raised. If you’re born as a so-called dis­abled per­son it’s just part of your re­al­ity,” she says at her par­ents’ home in Brack­en­fell, Cape Town, where she lives.

“I don’t feel dif­fer­ent. I can move. I can dance and ex­press my­self. What I want to say I can bet­ter ex­press through dance than just with lan­guage. It says more about me than words.

“There are times when I can’t walk and have to use a wheel­chair. All my life my fam­ily and friends have helped me to par­tic­i­pate in life.”

“We never spoilt her and her sis­ter,” mom Heather (52) says. She and her hus­band, Lionel (52), are es­tate agents in the Mother City’s north­ern sub­urbs.

“We look ex­actly the same but we’re very dif­fer­ent,” Chris­telle says about her and her twin. “I’m the more flow­ery one, a hippy and an artist. She’s more se­ri­ous.”

THE twins, who were born at Tyger­berg Hospi­tal in Cape Town, were ini­tially di­ag­nosed with dwarfism but when they were two weeks old Chris­telle’s sis­ter broke her left fe­mur, which led to their con­di­tion be­ing di­ag­nosed. “It wasn’t a shock,” Heather says. “They were my chil­dren and I had to raise them.”

They at­tended the As­tra School for Learn­ers with Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tional Needs then Mon­u­ment Park High School in Kraai­fontein.

School was a happy time. “I was never bul­lied. My friends would never al­low it,” Chris­telle says.

All over the house are pho­tos of the twins, who seem to have en­joyed a care­free child­hood: frol­ick­ing in the snow in the Western Cape town of Ceres; hav­ing fun at par­ties; as grad­u­ates pos­ing with their proud par­ents.

Chris­telle stud­ied graphic de­sign at the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

“Through the years I’ve known peo­ple have been rude to the girls,” Heather says. “They don’t even know I know. But it was never nec­es­sary for me to step in. They han­dled it them­selves. They’re strong women,” she adds proudly.

She pro­duces photo al­bums from their early life. They’re iden­ti­cal but from birth she says she could tell the twins apart.

“If a mother can’t, who can? I’m ex­tremely proud of the women they’ve be­come.”

Chris­telle in­her­ited her artistic streak from her mom, who in­dulges her own cre­ative side in her gar­den and home. The front gar­den fea­tures mul­ti­coloured peb­bles ar­ranged in pat­terns. They’ve taken the place of a lawn be­cause of the drought in Cape Town. The house is also dec­o­rated in a colour­ful, cre­ative way.

WHEN Chris­telle’s not on stage or do­ing wheel­chair danc­ing she de­signs lo­gos, posters and pam­phlets for com­pa­nies and shops. She wants to have a place of her own one day but for now she’s sav­ing her money. Her sis­ter moved out last month to her own flat and Chris­telle turned the TV room into her of­fice.

She has a driver’s li­cence but is wait­ing to be able to af­ford a re­li­able ve­hi­cle that can be adapted with higher ped­als for her to reach.

In May she’ll be wow­ing au­di­ences in No Fun Ction All An­guage, pro­duced by the Chaeli Cam­paign, which em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity and in­clu­siv­ity and how the com­mu­nity can learn from dif­fer­ently abled peo­ple.

The vi­brant show fea­tures able-bod­ied and dis­abled artists who daz­zle au­di­ences with their moves. It was one of the most pop­u­lar pro­duc­tions at a pre­vi­ous Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val in Gra­ham­stown in the East­ern Cape.

“It takes a mi­cro­scopic look at the spa­ces in be­tween, where words fail us, where we des­per­ately look for mean­ing,” Chris­telle says.

Later this year she’ll also have a small role in a film. “I don’t know yet what ex- actly it’s about.”

Last year she was a har­le­quin for a Hal­loween func­tion and at Christ­mas she was one of Fa­ther Christ­mas’ elves at Grandwest Casino and En­ter­tain­ment World in Good­wood. “Chil­dren love me!”

Chris­telle may want chil­dren of her own some day but for now she’s fo­cus­ing on her ca­reer.

Her role in Marat/Sade, which is set in an asy­lum, was a ful­fill­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing piece of theatre. It’s been chal­leng­ing but I’ve em­braced it. So much hap­pens on stage all at once. You’ll still be pro­cess­ing it for a while af­ter you’ve seen it.”

Chris­telle might be cho­sen only for par­tic­u­lar roles but she doesn’t feel held back by her ap­pear­ance. “I’m used to al­ways be­ing the lit­tlest per­son. The fact peo­ple are cho­sen for roles depend­ing on their build and colour is just the way things are. I don’t feel judged by that. I feel com­fort­able with who I am.

“I think if some­thing re­ally in­spires you and talks to your soul, you’ll per­se­vere no mat­ter what. Some­times the most dif­fi­cult things in life make you a stronger per­son.”

Chris­telle is full of hope for her future. Per­haps she’ll have her own pro­duc­tion one day or more roles on stage or in front of the cam­era.

“I firmly be­lieve the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. What­ever I do I’ll give it my all and never stop dream­ing. And who knows what un­tapped tal­ent lies in­side me.”

OS­CAR O’RYAN

LEFT: Chris­telle Dreyer at her par­ents’ home in Brack­en­fell, Cape Town. ABOVE RIGHT: She stays in shape with ac­ro­batic ropes. RIGHT: As Si­monne Evrard with Charl­ton Ge­orge as Marat in Marat/ Sade at the Baxter Theatre.

ABOVE: Chris­telle (right) and her sis­ter 20 years ago in the snow in Ceres in the Western Cape. RIGHT: Chris­telle with her mom, Heather Dreyer, in their lounge.

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