Educating Dancers with Disabilities

Last night, I experienced the third town hall forum in Dance/NYC's Disability. Dance. Artistry. series. Before taking questions from the audience, panelists Victoria Marks and David Dorfman talked with moderator Alice Sheppard about the challenges and joys of educating dancers with disabilities.

Moderator Alice Sheppard (dance artist/advocate), David Dorfman (Professor of Dance/Chair of Dance Department at Connecticut College), Victoria Marks (Professor of Choreography/Performance in the Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA), sign language interpreter for Dance/NYC

Sheppard, a wheelchair-bound choreographer, asked Dorfman and Marks—both professors—to turn theories and principles into concrete plans that dance classrooms can use. Marks, a professor at a large public university (the University of California at Los Angeles), and Dorfman, at a small liberal arts college (Connecticut College), also talked about how different college environments can support disabled students.

Marks admitted dance training is usually for a "normal" body, or even a "super-body." Still, she hopes dance programs like the MFA at UCLA can become more welcoming, explaining, "Our graduate program is less about physical training and more about thinking about the body." Marks thinks dance programs are responsible for letting the general public know they're open to dancers who do not have this "normal" body.

Dorfman offered one example of what a dance education for disabled students might look like. When a Connecticut College student with cerebral palsy wanted to minor in dance, the department worked with the student on a self-designed program that took into account his physical limitations. Dorfman acknowledged the short history of making individualized accommodations in dance education. At the same time, he noted that making space for disabled dancers is just one part of dance teachers' goal: teaching to each individual body.

The last town hall in this series will take place November 15 at Barnard College, on the subject "Disability and National Synergies in Dance." For more on how disabled dancers' are finding and making more opportunities, check out the special section in our September issue.

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