How The Tragedy Of One Woman Led To Everyone Dancing: The Story Of The Gabriella Foundation

29 May 2019

 The Gabriella Foundation was founded twenty years ago to honor Gabriella Axelrad, who loved to dance. Unfortunately, Gabriella passed away in a biking accident in Grand Teton National Park while on a biking trip with her family in 1999. A report in the Los Angeles Times after the incident states, “A van appears. The young man at the wheel is changing a CD. In an eye-blink, he swerves and hits Gabriella at 50 mph. Her mother remembers almost nothing of the tragedy beyond that moment. The daughter whom she describes as ‘the light of our life’ is dead.”


Overcome with anguish, Gabriella’s mother, Liza, was not sure how she would cope with the sudden loss. 

Her daughter’s greatest passion was dance, and so Liza decided to create The Gabriella Foundation, a non-profit that creates after-school dance programs for inner-city youth. In 2000, the organization launched its first program, Everybody Dance!, which serves K-12 students who do not know how to dance. 


The foundation serves children who reside in underprivileged neighborhoods just west of downtown Los Angeles. By providing free-to-low-cost dance classes, Liza’s vision continues to flourish with the overflowing love and support from its students and faculty members. To this day, Everybody Dance! is transforming countless young lives.


Take Katherine Gomez, who has benefited from being a student in the Everybody Dance! program. “I have been in Everybody Dance! for ten years,” she says, “I learned many things from this program that not only have to do with dance but also with life. It improved my ability to be engaged and focused during class.”  

Their strict standards for anti-bullying provides an honest environment to freely voice one’s thoughts without being burdened. As Katherine shared, “It is a very comfortable and safe environment.” This enables students to gain a deep feeling of self-awareness and self-discipline.


Students are encouraged to perform in front of large audiences, which helps in building self-confidence and empowers students with a lifelong appreciation of dance. “The journey of learning to accept my identity began with, Everybody dance!” Katherine shares, “I did not have very high self-esteem at all, but now I do. I think this is because the program cultivates a sense of inclusivity, so regardless of my economic or racial background, I was never denied respect nor support.”


Their heartfelt ambition is to be a supportive community where, “youth...are leaders engaging positively in their communities, serve as role models and mentors to new generations…” The Gabriella Foundation intends to be recognized for not only expressing the artistic realm of dance but to also promote healthy youth development. 


Ultimately, Liza Bercovici, a mother of three children, stood strong during the most devastating moment in her life and turned a fatal misfortune into a beautiful gift to share with the new generations. 

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