Rodney Bell's journey from homelessness to dance wins Attitude award video

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/Stuff.co.nz

Rodney Bell uses a wheelchair and is a dancer. The Te Kuiti man is shown speaking after he won the Attitude Artistic Achievement Award at the 2016 Attitude Awards.

When wheelchair-bound dancer Rodney Bell heard his name announced as a winner all he wanted to do was break out in dance.

The Te Kuiti man took out the Attitude Artistic Achievement Award at the 2016 Attitude Awards on Tuesday night.

"It made my heart skip a beat," Bell said. "I usually have a lot to say but what can I say? It felt very honourable to be up there around such a strong and powerful community."

Bell says the struggles he's been through helped him to win the award.

Bell says the struggles he's been through helped him to win the award.

In its ninth year, New Zealand's Attitude Awards celebrate the excellence and achievements of Kiwis living with a disability.

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After a motorcycle accident in 1991, Bell was paralysed and lost all feeling from his chest down.

He spent years undergoing extensive rehabilitation but then he found dance.

In 2007, he was granted a five-year contract with Axis in Oakland, California. But after the contract ended he found himself living on the streets of San Francisco for three years.

"It was a day-to-day life that was extremely hard – accessing food and water, showering and toileting and navigating the homeless shelter."

Bell said he became a vampire for safety.

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"I had to stay up all night and sleep during the day in the parks, otherwise you could get taken out or get your stuff stolen.

"I saw people get stabbed and killed, I witnessed shootings, even I had guns pointed at my head."

He said he had to fight for his life on many occasions and made a flame thrower out of an aerosol can to protect himself.

Bell said the time he spent on the streets helped him to become the man he is today.

"I went through a lot of struggle but the trials and tribulations are what balance life out."

Bell returned to New Zealand in May 2015 and devoted his time to creating Meremere, a solo performance based on parts of his experiences in America.

"It's therapeutic to revisit those emotions, feeling and memories. It has also helped building some clarity around why and what happened over there. From coming off the street, to where I am now."

Bell performed Meremere at the Tempo Dance Festival at Q Theatre in Auckland in October, where he received international interest to start touring, he said.

Locally, he's been doing motivational talks at Te Kuiti High School.

"To have the opportunity to do this in my hometown is huge."

Next year, Bell wants to continue dancing and motivational speaking but his next major project is to build a house.

 - Stuff

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