Lizbeth Wawrzonek is known by her friends and community as a generous spirit. Whether dancing, organizing an art event, helping local businesses with marketing and brand consulting, or being a part of the Twin Cities bike community, she’s someone known to be “all in.”
Now, as she faces recovery from brain surgery after discovering a tumor six months ago, her friendswant to give something back.
Sunday, they’re holding “A Fundraiser for Liz,” with tunes DJed by Lori Barbero, a live auction, a dance party, photo and dance booths, and surprises. (2-5 p.m. Sun., A-Mill Artist Lofts, 315 Main St. SE, Mpls., $20/person, $40/family.)
Her friends are hoping to raise $10,000 to help offset her loss of income over months of recovery and chemotherapy.
“She’s about as generous as anyone I’ve ever met,” says Hannah Kramer, who knows Wawrzonek through the dance community since their days studying dance at the University of Minnesota. Together they were back-up dancers for drag queen Monica West, and were both in a piece by Maggie Bergeron, as part of her Momentum performance at the Southern Theater.
“She’s really an intelligent mover,” Kramer says of Wawrzonek’s dancing style. “She moves with a lot of soul — she has kind of a funky edge to her movement.” Kramer notes that Wawrzonek is a community-oriented person, which shines through in her dancing.
Bergeron said Wawrzonek has a contagious energy. “She’s a generous dancer. She has a wide reach — a physical reach and a performative reach. When she’s dancing, she’s all in. Everything is there.”
She was also a part of a tap dancing group called the Shim Sham Shufflers who performed in rock shows and in bars, and appeared in the movie “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Late last summer, she experienced spells that she later found out were seizures caused by her tumor. “It was like I had a headache, but it wasn’t really a headache,” she recalls. “Smell was a big part of it. I would feel really sad.”
She went in for her first MRI on Sept. 4, 2015 — she remembers the date because it was Beyonce’s birthday, and she asked for Beyonce’s music during the MRI. She learned she had a tumor the size of a fist. Two months later, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic removed 80 to 90 percent of her tumor.
“In the early months, everything was really slow,” she says. She wasn’t sure if she could dance again. “I just felt sad and even angry.”
After being such a positive person her whole life, the depression she felt scared her, but after receiving so much warm support from her family, her boyfriend, and her community, she decided to let go of the worry. She now lives at her parents’ house in Wisconsin, and has found the beauty of nature to have a soothing effect.
In fact, she feels a deeper spiritual connection than ever before. “I’ve always felt spiritual, especially because I did yoga in depth, but now it’s another level,” she says. “My yoga is something I do every day, every night, all the time. It’s very meditative.”
She is on a break from chemotherapy, just in time for the party. She’ll continue two more rounds of chemo, to be wrapped up in September, and then has six weeks of radiation.
For now, she doesn’t use the word cancer. “I have a brain issue,” she says. “My brain is healing right now.”
Eventually, she would like to write a book about her experiences. In the meantime, she’s journaling, processing all that’s happened.
Dance will remain a big part of her life, but “what that means I don’t know yet. At the fundraiser, it will be a big deal.”
The fundraiser will be the first time since last fall that she’s been able to see many people.
“When you’re going to treatment, it can be hard to see a lot of people at once,” she says. “But I’ve gone through four of six cycles of chemo, so I’m relieved and happy that I’ve gone through that."
Some of the auction items for Sunday’s event include a private tour and tasting at Sociable Cider Werks; growlers, six-packs and other merchandise from a number of local brewers; items and gift certificates from local record stores such as Electric Fetus and Vinyl Me, Please; a high-end dining experience from the Kenwood’s chef Don Saunders, and a personalized bike courtesy Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop and One on One Bike.
There also will be dancing at the event. The details are a bit of a surprise, but just a heads up to be there between 3 and 4 p.m.