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Zazel-Chavah O’Garra    

Performing Artist & Brain Tumor Survivor

Zazel-Chavah O’Garra is the founder and Artistic Director of ZCO/DANCEPROJECT, a physically integrated dance company whose goal is to create performances that are witty, soulful, intelligent, powerful and intriguing. ZCODP seeks to encourage the integration and inclusion of people with disabilities in dance and in society, to present new, exciting, challenging, and inspiring contemporary dance performances to the widest possible audience.

A native New Yorker, O’Garra attended the University of Michigan and Empire State College where she received a Bachelor of Arts in dance performance. A Presidential Arts Scholar, she performed with Mark Dendy Dance Company and Alvin Ailey Wksp II, as well as performing Off-Broadway and in numerous musical theatre stage productions in the U.S. and abroad. She has also served as movement coach for “As the World Turns”. As a professional model, she has appeared on two Essence Magazine covers and several other print and runway jobs. She also appeared in national, regional commercial industrials and supplied voice overs for a number of ads.

In December 2003, O’Garra discovered that she had meningioma, a benign brain tumor, which proceeded to paralyze her right side and resulted in a slight speech impediment and cognitive loss. After receiving extensive treatment at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (East Orange, NJ) and New York University Rusk Medical Center, O’Garra was able to overcome the speech impediment, cognitive loss, and paralysis.

Consciously deciding to make best use of this debilitating circumstance, O’Garra transitioned into teaching dance as a healing form to the disabled and non-disabled alike, continuing to share her infectiously positive and fun spirit with others. Her objective is to give those with disabilities a vehicle for self-expression, help them build a sense of self-esteem and self-reliance, and provide them with opportunities for community recognition and acclaim. She is also passionate about raising public awareness about the challenges facing and the gifts offered by those with disabilities. ​ O’Garra can be heard on numerous podcasts and webinars including the National Foundation for the Arts, Preparing Students with Disabilities for Careers in the Arts: Approaches for Arts Educators, and most recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show to share her life as a brain tumor survivor. Wanting to share her story, she performs Inside/Out (voices of the disability community), directed by Ping Chong, nationwide.

O’Garra is the recipient of the VSA-John F. Kennedy- National Teaching Artist fellowship and was named the inaugural member of the White House Disability Liaison 2014.

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