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Why Dance for All Bodies? Why Us? (Part 1)

Learn more about DfAB story told from Yagmur's perspective.

Yagmur and Tess at Big Ideas Awards Ceremony

Welcome to DfAB's blog, we are so glad you made it here. We have decided to start a weekly blog where we’ll not only share our story as a non-profit but also highlight our instructors, participants and dancers with disabilities. Get ready to hear more about social entrepreneurship, disability advocacy and dance.


This first blog post, I (Yagmur) would like to start off with our journey and especially the small chance occurrences in my life that has led us to where we are now.

I really like to share this journey with others, because I like reflecting back on the seemingly small moments of luck that give the story a touch of life. Additionally, as a non-disabled individual, sometimes I get questions about “Why are you actually doing this?” or “What is in this for you?”. What led me down this path was a feeling of empowerment to address the long standing, inequitable social structures that have impacted communities. When I noticed these injustices in my community, I didn’t want to forget about them. Instead I felt a need to take it further. And I’ve been very fortunate because life presented so many opportunities for DfAB to grow; from brilliant individuals to experiences full of learning and failing.

In regards to my identity as being a non-disabled individual, I believe that it is the shared responsibility of non-disabled allies to take on disability advocacy work. I want to keep listening, growing and learning how I can be a better ally every day. As DfAB, we know that disability rights have long been forgotten in our societies call for equity and inclusivity. However, we are hopeful and become more hopeful every day as we see bright new faces in our dance classes who believe in a more just world.

Read ahead to hear more about the small chance opportunities that has opened the way for us to create DfAB and take a step towards the future we believe in.


Chance Occurrences on DfAB's Journey

I started volunteering at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFGH) in January 2018, where I was working at the Orthopedic Trauma Institute’s Functional Limb Service (FLS). This was chance #1 on DfAB’s journey. I came across this opportunity when I received an email from the Career Center at UC Berkeley. Although I’ve never really had a specific interest in orthopedics, I was really interested in learning more about it. Once I got to meet the team members at FLS and the interdisciplinary service they were providing to amputees, I was in. It was really a dream team, where prosthetists, physical therapists, physiatrists, surgeons, social workers and even volunteer amputees were participating in the clinical visits. I hope that one day all patients can have access to a holistic and multidisciplinary health care experience like the one with FLS.

Over time, I started getting to know our patients more closely and noticing the multiple challenges they faced due to the long standing structural inequities across racial, ethnic and disabled communities. In the clinic, amputations are usually viewed as a medical condition, looking at functionality levels, where things like movement and strength are measured. However, once patients step outside of the clinic, their amputation becomes a part of their social identities and gets labeled as a disability. FLS’s peer amputee and social workers were great sources of support for our patients as they navigated this new part of their identity. After talking with our patients, attending monthly amputee support groups and talking to FLS team members, I learned that physical activities like dance would be of interest to our patients.

At that time, I didn’t know what inclusive, adaptive or physically integrated dance meant or what a dance class for amputees would look like. It just never occurred to me as I never came across amputee dancers, except for the remarkable amputees who danced on TV and were portrayed as a miracle dancer. I didn’t have any friends who were dancers and who also used a prosthetic or a wheelchair. I lived and danced in a world where people’s bodies looked similar to mine and I didn’t think that there was a problem with it until I started working on DfAB.

As I started searching for dance teachers who could potentially teach a class at the amputee support group, I learned about AXIS Dance Company. This was chance #2. We were so lucky to be located so close to Oakland, where AXIS was founded in 1987. Once I reached out, I got very positive responses from the company, who then put me in touch with Dwayne Scheuneman, who was the teacher for the first dance class at the support group. There were about 6-7 participants for the class, which was our usual turnout. I remember I was worried before the class because I wasn’t sure if Dwayne would be able to find a parking spot or the right building and the room we were in at ZSFGH (It’s really a maze!). When Dwayne came in, I took a sigh of relief and took a second sigh of relief when I saw how our participants engaged with him as he shared his story. I could see that all participants thought “I can dance!” as they listened to Dwayne. This class was my first time dancing in a physically integrated space but also the first time many of our participants danced since getting their amputation. At the end of the class I could feel the energy in the room had changed, people were thanking Dwayne and everyone asked when the next dance class would be. This was really the most exciting part of summer 2018, which I mostly spent studying for the MCAT. I left the class hoping I would never forget that experience. As someone with a pretty bad memory, I wasn’t sure if I would really retain the memory, but I have a really good reason to never forget it.

A month later in September 2018, I came across chance #3, when I heard about the Big Ideas Contest in a Geography class I was enrolled in as a senior at UC Berkeley. Again it was totally by chance that I was in this class that fulfilled a requirement. Before the start of the class, a lady with short brown hair, Dani Bicknell, who then became one of our most devoted advisors, announced Big Ideas, an early stage social innovation contest. I thought it sounded like a cool opportunity but I didn’t have any ideas at the time, so I decided to go to an info session to learn more about the contest. It was a Wednesday night, I got off from BART and was hiking up hill to Blum Center at Berkeley where the info session was and there was chance #4. I got into the room panting after hiking from Downtown Berkeley BART all the way to the top of the campus and I saw one of my closest friends and favorite people on campus, Tess - yes the co-founder of DfAB!

“Hi, surprise! What are you doing here?” I said and Tess responded “Well I am here to learn more about Big Ideas, it seems really cool”. Then we just started chatting and talking about whether we had any ideas and we were both not sure about a project idea. I started sharing some ideas about offering more inclusive dance classes and in my head I thought “Wow, it would be great if Tess and I worked on a project together.” But before we got to that stage, I knew I had to make a convincing argument to Tess about how amazing inclusive dance is. The next post will go more into detail about the other chance occurrences that have come our way on the road. Stay tuned!


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