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Why Us? Why Dance for All Bodies? (Part 2)

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

Yagmur and Tess smile at the camera, holding white paper cups that have Yogurt Park written on them in green and there is a florescent green plastic spoon in them. Yagmur has long brown hair, she is fair skinned, wears a dark green scarf and dark green top. Tess has a big smile on her face, has white skin and her hair in a bun. She wears a dark blue top. In the background is a grassy area and a big tree with many branches and green leaves.
Yagmur and Tess

Hello, thank you for reading along on our journey. This is part 2 of how DfAB got started, highlighting the chance occurrences, questions and obstacles Tess and I have faced on the road.

Ideation Phase

After the info session, where I coincidentally ran into Tess, I started meeting one on one with Big Ideas advisors. I remember my first advising session with Francis, where I had some possible ideas in my mind for what I wanted to do but they weren’t very clear or defined. I knew I really enjoyed the dance class I organized at ZSFGH, but I wasn't sure what the project would look like.

As you might have guessed, at the time our target audience for these dance classes would be amputees or individuals with limb differences, as that was the community I had the most experience with. However, this has changed over time to include a broader community of people with physical disabilities and most recently, people with disabilities. We have embraced this community as we got to know many disabled dancers and noticed the need to address the lack of dance classes for people with different kinds of disabilities.

Chance #5: Meeting Judith Smith

While working on the Big Ideas pre-proposal, I met with another very influential individual, Judith Smith, one of the founders of AXIS Dance Company and our chance #5. I reached out to Judy online and she was kind enough to make time to meet with me in person to discuss my ideas. At the time, as I was working alone on this project, I was seeking a lot of advice from mentors and experts in the dance and disability field. If I didn’t have Judy or the Big Ideas advisors to give me the validation and the information I needed, I would have been running around in circles in my head.

A photo of Timeless Coffee in Oakland. The coffee shop is photographed from the street, with wide glass windows and dark brown window muntins. Inside the coffeeshop there are chairs and seating and a counter. There is a tree on the left that has branches reaching towards the TIMELESS label on the center glass window seen on top of the photo.
Timeless Coffee Oakland

We met at Timeless Coffee Shop in Oakland, which I also learned that day from Judy to be a vegan bakery! “Yeah, they really don’t advertise themselves as a vegan bakery” I remember us saying. At the time, the fires were going on in California and the air quality index in the Bay Area was starting to get really high so people were advised to stay home and wear masks when they left. So I felt extra grateful that Judy met with me that day. I shared my ideas about the project, asked her for her thoughts and suggestions for dancers with disabilities who might be willing to teach. I was looking for new dance instructors who could teach at the amputee support group, as AXIS Dance Company dancers were very busy.

Chance #6: Meeting Stephanie Bastos

Judy suggested a couple of instructors we can work with and mentioned Stephanie Bastos, our chance #6, who is a previous AXIS dancer and who also happens to be an amputee due to a car accident. “She might not get back to you though, so don’t keep your hopes high!” I remember Judy saying, but she was actually the only instructor to get back to me. And we are so glad she did! I gave Judy a hug, thanked her for her time. I was excited about the idea of working with a new instructor.

Stephanie holds a pose with her arms lifted up to her right side, her head twisted to the left as she stands on her left toes and points her right lower limb to her left side. The background is all dark, but there is a patterned light shining on her as she holds the pose. She has dark black hair that covers her face and she is wearing a purple pastel colored crop top and shorts, as well as a white knee brace on her left knee. She wears a limb socket for her right lower limb.
Stephanie Bastos

I reached out to Stephanie online and she invited me to observe one of her youth classes in Oakland. I was excited to meet Stephanie but also to spend time with some 7 year olds for the afternoon. I even got to do a little swing dance performance, showing them the Tranky Doo, a line dance done to Ella Fitzgerald The Dipsy Doodle. I got a very positive energy from Stephanie that day and we stayed in touch to schedule another dance class for the amputee support group. That was the second time I organized a dance class and it was met with a similar very positive response from the participants. I was feeling hopeful! In November 2018, I submitted a two page pre-proposal for Big Ideas with the idea of organizing more dance classes for amputees.

Tess is in!

Although submitting the pre-proposal felt good, I knew I won't be able to do this by myself. I needed additional brains to work on this project with me - and I knew Tess had both the brains and the heart to do it. Together we went to another dance class I organized at ZSFGH on December 7th, 2018. A day we hope to celebrate every year! (You will see why in a minute.) This class was taught by Richard Gibran, who is a dancer from Mexico who completed the AXIS Summer Teacher Training and many other teaching programs. We got 4-5 amputees at the class who were taking a dance class like this for the first time. It was an experiment for all of us, but I could see Tess blend in seamlessly.

Tess smiles at the camera while holding two boxes of pies. On the left side is a bourbon pecan pie and on the right side is a pumpkin pie. The photo is taken on the pavement next to some cars.
Tess with Pies

Once we left the class and were standing outside of the hospital building, waiting for an Uber on Potrero Avenue and 23rd Street, Tess said: “I think I want to do this. That was so great!” That one sentence right there made a huge difference in this journey, because together we created Dance for All Bodies, which we secretly call our mochi-ball.