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Courage, hope, whãnau and materialism

Rodney Bell in his performance Meremere, starting 5 June.
Rodney Bell
More wisdom from our mentoring series


Rodney Bell (Ngati Maniapoto) acquired paraplegia in the early 90’s after a motorbike accident which left him paralysed from the chest down - he was 19 years old.  Prior to this Rodney was a active sportsman who played a lot of rugby and ran marathons.

He won an Isadora Duncan Dance Award in 2008 and is the only New Zealander to have received this award. He has appeared with Sonsherée Giles on So You Think You Can Dance USA. In 2016 Rodney was the recipient for the Attitude Artistic Achievement Award.  He has toured extensively throughout USA, performing in 32 states and taught at many universities.

He’s now embarking on a North Island tour of his extraordinary performance MEREMERE, directed and produced by M.O.T.H (Movement of the Human) under the artistic direction of Malia Johnston.  The work is inspired by Rodney’s artistic career, the three years he spent homeless in San Francisco and his transition home to Te Kuiti, Aotearoa.   With this extraordinary journey, we wanted to find out what advice Rodney had for his 22-year-old self.

Rodney says: “I would have never guessed at the age of 22 the cards that life was going to draw for me.  At 22, I was going through a mind and body transformation; shifting through blame, shame, and trying to work out how I might rebuild my life with hope.

Dear 22-Year-Old Rodney, these things I would like you to know,

Trust those around you.  They are doing their best to support your needs so you can develop your own way of dealing with things - once you learn the basics.  There will be days where it seems there are no signs of progress but, remember, with maximum effort, small steps become milestones. Trust the body as it is resilient.  Remember this: you are a descendant of Ngati Maniapoto; a seed of Chiefs.

It’s easy to look for excuses; to think the worst and become distracted, but, try your best.  Keep on that positive wavelength: as this is what will give you the foundation for tough times ahead.  Its OK to think differently and want to find new and interesting ways to move, interact, create. Listen to the ones that have had similar experiences to yours, they might make you feel you’re a different person with different abilities, they may end up life-time friends who teach you more than you could ever imagine.

Hold Your Whanau close. Your new body and life discoveries will distract you from your whanau.  Your parents, brothers and sister, and grandparents were broken along with your body. Make more time to see them and be by them as much as possible.  Your dad will be tough and quiet but he needs you to be there the most. Don’t feel like you have to be the young man you once were. Your friends from the past will soon dissipate and you will meet new ones who care more about the person ‘Rodney Bell’ not about the abilities of Rodney Bell.

Money won’t solve the real problems that are occurring.  Don’t waste your money on things you don’t need or to impress others; they will soon disappear out of your life and you will be left with nothing but hope.

Future Goals
Set these for yourself and stick to them.  It will make the future a bit easier for you.  Know you are resilient and you will overcome whatever obstacles come your way.

Believe that you will do well in all the risks you take and the risks you take will enhance all the opportunities presented.

Rodney, I’m proud of you and what you are overcoming.  Who would’ve known that you would end up like a paua? For the beauty of the paua to be revealed, the raw flesh and heart must be sacrificed.

“A muri ki teenaa, kia mau ki te kawau maaroo, whanake ake, whanake ake”

Maniapoto iwi interpret the translation as being:

“Our future well-being will be determined by the strength of our commitment to stand together united in spirit, mind and purpose”

He Waka eke Noa (a canoe we are all in with no exceptions)

Rodney tells us more:
“I had lived without disability until the age of 20, I acquired Paraplegia after a motorbike accident which left me paralysed with no control or feeling below my chest.  Since my accident, I have represented NZ in Wheelchair Basketball and danced nationally and internationally, performing, teaching and choreographing integrated dance.

“I began my performance career as a founding member of Touch Compass Dance Trust.  In 2007, I relocated to California to join AXIS Dance Company, where I remained principal dancer until 2012 returning to Aotearoa in May 2015 wanting to share all my experience with the Dance Communities of Aotearoa, especially the disability communities.”   

Meremere will play at:
Auckland 5th & 6th June, Te Pou Theatre
Te Kuiti Friday 8th June 7pm, Les Munro Centre
Kerikeri Sunday 10th June 7pm, Turner Centre
Waiouru Monday 18th June 7pm, Military Camp Conference Centre
Wellington 21st-30th June, Circa Theatre

For more information visit

For more information on the tour follow us at

Written by

Sam Grover

28 May 2018

Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art.