Hello from Olivia O’Hare, project coordinator of Body Shift! A few weeks ago a group of long time Body Shifters had the pleasure of participating, teaching, and performing at the 10th annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival (TDIF) hosted by Texas Women’s University. Thanks to Veronica DeWitt, our lead instructor, we were accepted to teach a workshop in the DanceAbility method (the videos below capture a few short moments of our workshop) as well as perform a new piece titled, Being Together, in the festival concert. A collective of eight of us (Olivia O’Hare, Juan Munoz, Susie Angel, Tanya Winters, Kelly Hasandras, Errin Delperdang, Dany Casey, and Veronica DeWitt) that included three dancers with disabilities caravanned up to Denton.
Reflections from Tanya Winters:
“Any disability advocate will tell you change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes the strength of many to blaze a trail toward full inclusion and equality. That’s why I am so proud to be a part of Body Shift. Together we danced our way into the Texas Dance Improvisation Festival and created a path that will make it easier not only for dancers (people) with disabilities but anyone who wants to explore the world of movement.
“Every time I dance I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. I get so excited when I see all the different bodies moving together. Whether it’s in a class or in the community, the advocate in me says you are making a difference. But, performing at a festival like TDIF, on a traditional stage, in front of a captive audience, makes me feel like I am breaking down walls; really challenging people’s perceptions of who a dancer is. I not only feel included, I feel a sense of equality. That’s what real change is made of.”
We arrived Friday night just in time for the evening dance jam. It was clear pretty quickly that the community of able-bodied dancers was welcoming but not quite sure how to approach the dancers with disabilities. The next day we taught our workshop as a collective with Veronica and I as the lead instructors with strong support from the rest of the group taking turns demonstrating and leading the exercises. Teaching together felt easy and without ego interference. We taught an introduction to the DanceAbility method with an emphasis on relationship and consent (i.e., saying yes or no through touch). The students were so concentrated that they improvised for two hours without music.
Their movements were generated by sensation (from the inside out), deep listening with their whole body and non-verbal communication. In our closing circle many students commented that they felt liberated to move in new ways and had a new depth of understanding about how to stay connected while improvising even when not in physical contact.
That night we performed as part of the larger concert on a traditional proscenium stage. Our piece Being Together is a structured improvisation that we are developing for future performance opportunities. After the show we went to our second jam. This time the community embraced the dancers with disabilities fully and without hesitation. The shift was profound and left us all feeling grateful for the experience and like we had made a positive impact.
Reflections from Susie Angel:
“About 40 years ago, as a small child, my dream was to be a ballerina even though I couldn’t walk. Nobody could tell me otherwise, but when I became a teenager, I came to accept that I had a disability and society wasn’t ready to have dancers with disabilities.
“Fast forward 30 years to 2008. That’s when Body Shift, a fully inclusive dance group for people with and without disabilities, started. I was part of the group from day one. At first, we only had workshops to teach us the different elements of dance and choreography. Once a core group of us became skilled as dancers, we started doing performances throughout the community in Austin, TX in public places where people could just stop and watch us. Some of us even became certified in DanceAbility, the method of teaching dance to people of all abilities and levels.
“Although I was content with this, I didn’t realize that there was still another level I could take. A couple weeks ago I got to travel with seven other Body Shifters to teach and perform at the Texas Dance Improvisation Festival on the Texas Women’s University campus in Denton. This was a totally different experience for me. The people we taught and jammed with were mostly all strangers and we performed on stage in front of a captive audience. We went for the 2nd night and the whole 3rd day of the festival. When we arrived, it was in the middle of the jam. For me, it was uncomfortable because I felt like the other dancers were protective of me and afraid to let me give and take weight from them. In other words, they weren’t challenging me as a dancer.
“The second day, we taught in the morning, performed in the evening, and went to our second night jam. By the time we got to the jam, I had a much better experience. People were coming up to me and actually dancing with me. In fact, there was a time when I was dancing with a guy that we had in our class that morning. We were creating dance moves like I’m more used to. We were using counterbalancing: he was leaning on me and my wheelchair, counting on me to pull him up from the floor, flipping over my back, and using my wheelchair to do a handstand.
“I left the festival wanting more.”