Luca ‘Lazylegz’ Patuelli’s crutches become an extension of his arms as he swings in mid-air, effortlessly performing breakdance moves that most can only do on the floor.
Next to him Jung Soo Lee, who was once told he’d never walk again, spins into a pose, working to match each movement to the beat.
The two are members of ILL-Abilities, an eight-member crew of dancers with disabilities who have drawn international attention for their abilities and a positive message exemplified by their motto: “No excuses, no limits.”
Patuelli, who is from Montreal, says the group’s secret is that each dancer is different and brings his own unique strengths to the table.
“The beauty about hip hop is that being different is a strength,” said Patuelli, the group’s founder.
“You want to be unique, you want to stand out.”
Patuelli, who suffers from a neuromuscular disorder affecting the bones and joints, had 16 surgeries at a young age. He turned to breakdancing after a knee operation at the age of 15 forced him to give up skateboarding.
In his routine, he uses his exceptional upper-body strength and his crutches to perform moves both alone and with others.
WATCH: No excuses or limits for Everyday Hero born with neuromuscular disorder
On Wednesday, he and three other members of the group gathered in a studio in east-end Montreal ahead of a 10-year-anniversary performance at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.
The show will include performances by ILL-Abilities as well as head-to-head performances featuring dancers with disabilities and those without, some of whom will be challenged to incorporate wheelchairs, crutches or other aids into their performances.
Patuelli says the performance will include a couple of firsts.
It’s the first time the well-known ballet venue has ever welcomed a hip-hop group, he says, and also the first time the group’s eight members — who hail from Canada, the United States, Brazil, Chile, Holland and South Korea — have all performed together.
Like all good hip hop, he says there’s likely to be some improvisation.
“We’ll look at specific movements,” he said.
“And if we can’t replicate because our body doesn’t allow that, we’re going to find ways to collaborate and do something that might enhance the dancer’s movement in the background, or we just offer encouragement.”
The dancers rehearsing Wednesday included Lee, a 24-year-old South Korean dancer also known as “Krops.”
WATCH: Christian Sénéchal and Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli on the first International Symposium for Dance and Well-Being
After he suffered a severe neck injury in 2013 that left him paralyzed from the neck down, his doctors said he would never walk again, let alone dance.
Today, while he’s not as quick as he used to be, he focuses on the details of each movement as he works to regain his full range of motion.
He said dancing is a way of thanking those who donated to his medical care after his accident.
“I couldn’t give their money back, but what I could do is go on stage and dance again, and give them back their love,” he said.
Patuelli, who is also a dancer and motivational speaker, says the Grands Ballets show is a way of both erasing stigma and reinforcing the group’s message that dance is for everyone.
“No matter what age, gender, race, what ability, anyone can dance,” he said.
“It’s about how the slightest movement can make the biggest difference, and learning to do things your own way.”