Campus & Community

Staffer Bob Mesko dances against cancer as part of Newman Center show

AXIS Dance performs Saturday at the Newman Center. Photo courtesy of Newman Center Presents

As a former dancer, Bob Mesko is familiar with the rigors of the art form. But before he auditioned for Saturday night’s AXIS Dance Company performance at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, Mesko had to consider his body’s limitations.

That’s because Mesko, director of development in the Office of University Advancement, is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

“With everything, homework and preparation are so important,” says Mesko, 49, who carefully studied the movements required of the dance piece before he decided to audition. His part in the performance will last 10 minutes. Before the audition, Mesko had to assess whether he had the stamina to make it through four nights of three-hour rehearsals. After all, one side effect of chemotherapy is debilitating fatigue.

“I knew that I would be in week three of chemo, when my strength is coming back,” Mesko says. “And I checked the weather — it was going to be warm, good for my muscles.”

Mesko is one of 11 dancers chosen to perform Saturday with AXIS, an award-winning professional company that incorporates dancers with and without physical disabilities into its performances. The company has a core group of five dancers — some of whom perform in wheelchairs — and chooses another 10 to 11 dancers from the community for each performance, says Judith Smith, artistic director of AXIS, which appears at DU as part of a 10-city tour across the United States.

“We do physically integrated dance,” Smith says of the California-based company, which was started in 1987. “We’re very much a contemporary company equally reliant on the whole spectrum of ability.”

Mesko, the married father of a 3-year-old daughter, took up Slovak folk dance in his 20s and later switched to modern dance.

“It was never my primary job, but I was a very passionate amateur,” he says with a smile.

His last dance performance was 15 years ago.

Why return to dance now?

Mesko looks away and struggles to keep his composure before answering. “To show that I can beat this cancer,” he says.

“I thought dance was a chapter I had closed,” says Mesko, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2009 and more recently with myelodysplastic syndrome. “But you get a different set of books when you’re in treatment for a life-altering disease.”

“I want to make the absolute most of my time. As a father. As a husband. As a colleague,” he says. “I haven’t done it all. I have a daughter to raise and a lot of other things to do. But this is a rung.”

Mesko is using the performance as an opportunity to raise money for cancer research; learn more about pledging at his site.

The Newman Center Presents Axis Dance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $33–$49; visit the Newman Center website for more information.





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