Image Description: A photo of Mia. Face tilted slightly to the left, Mia is a Black person wearing a black head wrap and jacket. Their skin glistens in the sunlight and they are unsmiling. Behind them is thick green foliage.
Interviewer: What is your name and what are your preferred pronouns?
Mia: Mia Morris; she/they
Interviewer: What drew you to join DfAB and in particular to the co-executive director role?
Mia: I had been taking online movement classes off and on throughout 2020, but fatigue from classes not being as accessible as organizations claimed became so draining I stopped as 2021 rolled around. Then a post about DfAB showed up on my social media timeline one day, highlighting that ASL and captions would be provided. I was intrigued and decided to sign up on a whim. I had such a great time I signed up for the rest of the classes offered that month. I instantly fell in love with how DfAB ran classes and the dedication to making classes accessible for all. Over the last few years, I have been slowly pulling away from performing and looking for more arts management positions. So I was excited to apply when I saw they were hiring. Even if I hadn’t gotten the job, I would probably be a volunteer because what DfAB does for the dance world is so important.
Interviewer: What are your aspirations for the future of DfAB?
Mia: In addition to maintaining our current level of accessibility, I aspire to help DfAB become a guiding light for all interested in exploring fully accessible integrated dance and artistic movement. I want to ensure our message is clear; it doesn’t matter how your body looks, feels, or even how it moves; if you have a body, you can dance. And that applies to all bodies, not just disabled ones. Dancing is just intentional movement that everyone deserves a chance to experience, and I want the world to embrace that. I also hope we can expand to offer options for disabled participants interested in pursuing dance as a career and provide a space to discuss the importance of intersectional access in the arts regularly.
Interviewer: How do you engage with the arts outside of DfAB?
Mia: It’s somewhat rare to find me not working on a project of some sort. I have dedicated the last 26 years of my life to the arts. I’ve began dancing with a semi-professional ballet company when I was three years old and continued through college, only stopping when doctors expressed concern of permanent injury if I continued. I lasted less than a year before I started experimenting on my own with different movements. Next thing I knew, I was fully out of retirement attending dance intensives and had joined a professional company. I have also worked as a freelance filmmaker for roughly 15 years. Primarily filming live performances for dance companies archives or their company members to enjoy. In short, if I’m not on stage, I’m behind the camera filming whoever is or occasionally consulting with the set designer to make sure the location is fully accessible for the cast and audience.
Interviewer: What is your personal or professional motto?
Mia: “The show must go on. Accept, adapt, and shine.” What started as my dance life motto quickly became my everyday motto.
Interviewer: In times of needed inspiration, what do you turn to?
Mia: I cycle through a few strategies. Sometimes it’s as simple as enjoying a nice cup of tea or going for a quick stroll/roll with my dogs. I keep a playlist on my phone of 15 songs that always help ground me and get the creative juices flowing. Without fail, from the first song to the last, whatever was distracting me or holding me back, melts away. I may be Deaf, but music is a massive part of my life. It’s not uncommon to walking in on me serenading my dogs randomly with old show tunes or my favorite Motown songs. But when I have the time for longer movement, working out or a dance break often clears my mind enough to make way for new ideas. And when all else fails, dropping everything to watch any of my favorite shows/movies, anything Jim Henson or Hitchcock, reminds me of why the arts and following your dreams are so meaningful to me.
Interviewer: Out of your personal qualities and traits, of which are you most proud?
Mia: I try to see the good in everyone I meet and show the level of understanding I hope they extend to me. It can feel overwhelming and like a lost cause when bigotry and unacknowledged bias often give people multiple reasons to dislike me before even getting to know me. But I am genuinely proud of myself for maintaining that trait most of my life through all the ups and downs I’ve faced. I can only hope reflecting the good I see in others helps them see the good in others.
Interviewer: What characteristics do you most admire in other creative people?
Mia: I appreciate anyone with a willingness to be vulnerable in their journey of artistic growth. Exploring new ideas outside of your comfort zone often opens doors you never knew existed. It’s the willingness to potentially fail at something new that opens you to the possibility of excelling at something you never thought of trying.
Interviewer: Name a person (past or present), whom you admire.
Mia: The first person (other than my father) to tell me I could do anything I wanted in life, Claudia Mangan. To this day, I’m not sure what she saw in three-year-old me that she took the chance of casting me in my first ballet a full year before I was old enough to join the company, but I am forever grateful she did. She is the reason I know for a fact that everyone is capable of dance. I never had a “dancer’s body,” which was never an issue in her eyes. My passion for dance was all I ever needed. My disability is genetic, so I’ve had it my whole life, but it didn’t start to noticeably interfere with how I move and navigate life until around age nine. Without even knowing what I was going through, she never made a big deal out of needing to adapt choreography to match how I moved. It took me years after I stopped dancing with the company to fully realize just how much she did for not only me but other dancers as well. It wasn’t until I started branching out to take classes at different studios in college that I learned that her ideology, that dance should be available to anyone who wanted to dance, wasn’t the norm. The shock of how inaccessible the rest of the dance world was on top of doctors recommending I stop dancing is what lead to my early retirement. And it was learning after her passing how badly she hoped I’d find a way to dance again that sparked the fire in me to not only get back on stage but to make dance as accessible as possible for everyone. If I can help at least one person feel as believed in as she continues to make me feel, I’ll consider this a life well lived.
Interviewer: Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?
Mia: In truth, probably more times than I’ve admitted to myself. I typically view what many see as mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. Making mistakes is the only way to succeed eventually. How else do we learn and know when we’ve done something that leads us in the intended direction?
Interviewer: In times of adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
Mia: Remind myself I am the answer to my ancestors’ dreams they didn’t realize they were too scared to dream. Staying true to myself and living my best life, however that manifests at that moment, is the only way forward. As long as I believe that to be true, I can get through anything life throws at me.
Interviewer: What do you feel like the world needs more of?
Mia: Empathy and allyship rather than just compassion. It’s one thing to acknowledge and be saddened that someone is experiencing a struggle in life, but to fully understand how those struggles impact others and do everything you can to better the situation even when it doesn’t directly affect you can literally change the world.