Read more to learn about how we are changing the face of dance and disability.
The photo includes a dancer holding the wheel of her wheelchair with her left hand hand and reaching out with her right arm to hold hands with an individual with her back turned to us. The young woman who is seated on the floor reaches her right arm to hold hands with another dancer in a wheelchair, located behind the other wheelchair user. Another individual in the background gazes at the dancers while they hold the pose. The photo is taken in a dance studio with a wide mirror on the wall and with bright lighting.
I (Yağmur) grew up in a world of dance where people looked like me. I knew that I could easily step into a dance studio and the dance education would be taught in a way that accommodated my abilities and needs.
I didn’t meet any disabled dancers until I was 20 and I hope that none of us have to wait so long. However, this will require us to change not only our beliefs about dance and disability in our society, but also take action to restructure and redistribute resources to support dance education for individuals with disabilities.
Organizing Physically Integrated & Inclusive Dance Classes
When Tess and I first started organizing physically integrated dance classes in the Bay Area, we were expecting 15-20 people to come to our dance classes, expecting a majority of them to be individuals with physical disabilities. We thought, “Yay! We are offering these great dance classes, working with amazing instructors. People will definitely want to come.” But I think at that point, we haven’t fully acknowledged the everyday realities for people with disabilities.
When we realized that these dance classes don’t exist in an independent reality, we also realized that we can’t expect to have 15-20 people to come to our dance classes (especially when we were still having in person classes).
That is why we strongly believe that providing equitable resources in dance cannot exist without improving accessibility in our world.
Our work does not exist independently of disability justice.
Although I might believe that “every body can dance!”, others in our society might not think of disabled individuals as dancers, which can explain the limited resources available for individuals with disabilities who want to dance. However, this is changing thanks to many wonderful physically integrated dance companies and teacher training programs like DanceAbility.
What We Are Doing As Dance for All Bodies
As Dance for All Bodies, we are just doing our part to be a part of this change, one dance class at a time. So here is a list of objectives that we want to address in dance & disability through our work:
1- Changing societal perceptions on dance and disability.
In our society, we might think of dancers as looking a certain way. Most of us share similar images of non-disabled dancers holding beautiful and breathtaking poses, like jumping very high or doing standing splits. However, there is more to dance than the expressions of the beautiful non-disabled bodies.
The more physically integrated dance classes I took, the more disabled dancers I met, I started noticing that dance does not have to look a certain way. I remembered what dance is really about; your expression, your body and your voice.
As I danced with people of mixed abilities where everyone found their own artistic expression, I felt a sense of freedom and creativity. That feeling of freedom, creativity and endless options of artistic expression of disabled dancers is what I love about physically integrated and inclusive dance.
Unfortunately, these classes are not as commonplace in our society yet. As we offer more dance classes on a regular basis, we hope to change people’s long held beliefs and perceptions about dance. In the Future of Physically Integrated Dance by AXIS, one of the participants had mentioned that “recruiting individuals with disabilities to participate in dance and who want to commit to training seriously” can be challenging, due to the lack of resources in dance education as well as representation.
At Dance for All Bodies, we hope to tackle the long-standing ableism in dance and in our worlds through our inclusive dance classes and increased representation of dancers with disabilities on our social media platforms.
This is a collective work that we have to all be a part of and by we, I mean all bodies and abilities. At the same time, we strongly believe in the disability rights model of “nothing about us without us,” and therefore making sure that the leaders who are at the center of the change are those with disabilities.
2- Creating more dance education resources for disabled artists
“Dancers born with disabilities, and those who acquired disabilities without having had prior dance training, have few ways to become familiar with dance studio practice. Teachers may or may not understand the dancer’s constraints or be able to help them expand and deepen their abilities.” (AXIS, The Future of Physically Integrated Dance)
We are changing this through working with dancers with disabilities, who have extensive experience in teaching and choreographing. Our goal is to make dance more accessible to the disability community by offering open level inclusive dance classes. Additionally as we expand our services, we want to work with our instructors to make more nuanced dance education a reality for people with different kinds of disabilities who want to receive more extensive training and education in dance.
3- Creating more financial stability for individuals with disabilities.
We realize that individuals with disabilities are more likely to face an undue financial burden and distress. That is why we offer our classes for free or at a low cost. However, we understand that the work should not and does not end at that.
We are also addressing the issue of economic disempowerment for artists with disabilities by creating more employment opportunities for disabled dancers as dance instructors.
Additionally we hope to create more employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the administrative level. We are hoping to apply for more funding for workforce development in this area. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to support DfAB’s workforce development goals!
Thank you for reading. Please let us know in the comments if there is anything else that DfAB can and should do to support the disability community.