This Tap Dancer Needs a Kidney—And He's Asking You to Help

August 8, 2017

At 18, Baakari Wilder was flying high. The tap dance kid, who began lessons at 3 in a community center in Laurel, Maryland, was dancing every night on Broadway as part of the hand-selected cast of the George C. Wolfe/Savion Glover vehicle Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. But in the middle of one show, he came off stage so out of breath the stage manager sent him to the hospital. “I didn’t wake back up until months later,” he wrote recently. “After leaving the hospital, I recall seeing my fellow dancers promoting Noise/Funk on Jay Leno. That was my motivation. I was determined to dance again. Months later I rejoined the cast on Broadway and when Savion left the show, I assumed the lead until it closed.”

Wilder has Lupus, an autoimmune disease that, in his case, has targeted his kidneys. Last week, he opened the Facebook page “Wanted: A Kidney for Baakari,” where he tells this story. Back when he was 28, his brother donated a kidney, “And I sure enough felt the difference.” Now 40, Wilder is hoping another donor will come forward as his kidney is failing again.

Even with this challenge to this health, Wilder continues to dance. Settled in the Washington, D.C. suburbs (and the father of a rambunctious 7-year-old), he teaches, performs and has an evening-length show in the works. The show, The Grasshopper’s Song, is based on poet Nikki Giovanni’s retelling of an Aesop fable and premieres this fall at Dance Place. He teaches at the renowned Knock on Wood tap studio in D.C. and co-directs the youth ensemble Capitol Tap. And he will be part of Lotus, a one-night only showcase re-uniting dancers from Noise/Funk at the Kennedy Center October 7 including Joseph Webb, Omar Edwards, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Derik Grant, Dulé Hill and Jason Samuels Smith.

Despite being hampered by his failing kidney, Wilder is busier than ever. But, he protests, “I’m an artist. That’s what I do.” We talked to Wilder about his current medical challenges.

Tell us what Lupus is.

Without getting too technical, it looks at your body and tries to get rid of the healthy things. That’s what’s twisted about it: It attacks the kidneys, which are trying to help you by cleaning out toxins. It can attack your brain and your thinking, your joints your lungs. It happens in a series of flare-ups and it comes and goes. I have not dealt with the extreme symptoms for the most part. As for losing my kidney, it just stopped working and I get tired because there are toxins in the body. But it’s not a painful thing. It’s a dwindling thing.

Right now you’re on dialysis.

Yes. I started back in February, when I caught the flu. The doctors constantly monitor my kidneys. Within the past year, it was clear my kidney was not operating as well as it should and we were already discussing my transition to dialysis. I was still feeling fine enough to do things but then I got sick.

Right now I can do dialysis at home manually. I have to do four exchanges a day. It takes about 20 minutes each time. I go upstairs and sit on the couch. My son can come in if he puts a medical mask on. And you have to figure out when you want to do it, how long you want to sit and exchange. It’s time-consuming.

But you can’t stay on dialysis indefinitely.

Your lifespan is shorter on dialysis. It doesn’t perform the same way a kidney would, so it’s better to have a kidney.

What can you tell us about being a kidney donor?

The most important thing is I want people to do their own investigating. It’s a generous act, not just for me but for the many people who need a kidney. Fortunately, by the grace of God, we only need one kidney. I would encourage people to do the research on that and see if helping someone in that way might be something that would work for them. It would mean giving someone more energy and a more peaceful life not bound to a medical routine. I’m not trying to force anyone to do this and neither is the Kidney Foundation. The Foundation fully investigates donors to ensure that no one is trying to force their generosity. It’s something that I would be grateful for.

And in the meantime?

This is what I do. I’m an artist. This is what I love doing. This is what I’m always going to be doing: dancing. I’m grounded in the tap dancing.