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ILL-Abilities b-boy crew celebrates 5 years of living by the motto, 'No Excuses, No Limits'

Luca Patuelli was born with arthrogryposis and scoliosis. He walks on crutches. Tommy Ly battled bone cancer and has an amputated leg to show for it.

They are also professional breakdancers.

Five years ago, Montrealer Luca "Lazylegz" [Ed's Note: whom we featured in our May 2010 magazine cover story, Montréal's Got Talent] was paired with Oakland, California native “TommyGuns” for a dance competition in Toronto. They had great chemistry and made it to the finals, so they thought: “Why not start a b-boy crew together?” Today, ILL-Abilities is a five-man crew of dancers from around the world: Redouan “Redo” Ait Chitt from Holland is missing a few joints, fingers, and a right hip; L.A.’s Jacob “Kujo” Lyons is mostly deaf; and Chile’s Sergio “Checho” Carvajal was born with his feet at his knees. “We’re all best friends,” says Patuelli. “It’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives, when in reality we’ve only known each other for the past five years.”

The crew also has an official DJ, Marc “Benny Lava” Briffaud, and networks with about 30 unofficial worldwide members, most of whom also have physical limitations. But what some might think of as limitations can be a blessing, as they push the dancers to develop new, unique moves. Patuelli, for instance, uses his crutches as a signature prop.

To celebrate their fifth anniversary, ILL-Abilities is hosting the NO LIMITS 3 Festival in Montreal from October 19 to 21. Activities include the premiere of a show wherein dancers reinterpret their life stories through a mix of modern dance and breakdance, a first-of-its-kind b-boy battle that will challenge able-bodied dancers to perform with the limitations of ILL-Abilities crew members, and a full day of dance workshops.

Credit Ben Li - Rawedge Photography

Tapping into hip hop’s community roots
ILL-Abilities prides itself on straddling both the worlds of hip hop and community outreach. According to Patuelli, this is representative of a general shift: “In the last five years, there’s definitely been a greater understanding of the hip hop world within the general community,” he says. “Hip hop has a community aspect to it that’s becoming more highly regarded.”

Community outreach became an integral part of ILL-Abilities’ mission three years ago. “In 2009, we performed at the San Francisco Hip Hop Festival and at the end of the performance, there was a standing ovation. We actually had people crying,” Patuelli explains. “That was the moment where each of the members was like ‘wow, what we’re doing really means something. It’s more than just dance.’” Since then, the crew has extended its reach beyond dance gigs to include both motivational speaking and teaching on its calendar.

Patuelli understands the importance of encouragement. Despite his condition, he’s always been a sports lover. He even skateboarded on the competitive circuit—“I found my own way of skating, which was skating on my knees” —but knee surgery put an end to that. “I was heartbroken,” recalls Patuelli. That is, until a friend inspired him to get into breakdancing. Within years, Patuelli was making TV appearances on The Today Show and America’s Got Talent; making it to the finals of So You Think You Can Dance Canada and performing at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games’ opening ceremonies.

Credit Ben Li - Rawedge Photography

Since embracing their motivational mandate, ILL-Abilities has expanded rapidly. They moved into a proper office last year at the Belgo building. From there, they’ll try to launch nothing short of a worldwide campaign: “I really want to develop No Excuses, No Limits and make it a global movement. Living with a disability or not, I want the whole world to live by that motto,” says Patuelli. “Dance and hip hop really give the opportunity for people to express themselves.”

NO LIMITS 3 Festival
October 19–21
For more info: illabilitiescrew.com