Where Race and Disability Intersect

At the first Disability. Dance. Artistry Town Hall in July, Simi Linton, Marc Brew and Dianne McIntyre discussed dance makers on disability.

Last night I attended Dance/NYC’s second Disability. Dance. Artistry. Town Hall event at New York Live Arts. The topic of discussion—disability, race and the practice of dance—brought together Dr. Carrie Sandahl, associate professor of disability and human development at University of Illinois at Chicago, and anthropologist and choreographer Dr. Aimee Meredith Cox of Fordham University. With activist/dance artist Alice Sheppard moderating the conversation, the women discussed their collaborative research on the intersection between race and disability in dance and ways in which the dance community can move forward toward increased inclusivity. Here are some memorable moments from the evening:

Dr. Carrie Sandahl

On the topic of dance-making as a disabled artist, Sandahl stated, “One thing we haven’t been allowed is the dignity of risk.” The misconception that disabled artists constantly need to be helped has been a significant limitation. Moving forward, Sandahl suggested taking the time to become familiar with differently-abled bodies through contact and communication.

The panelists addressed criticism and audiences' responses to disabled and minority artists. While Cox discussed how the underlying aesthetic of protest affects how people view black artists’ work, Sandahl expressed dismay that the majority of reviews about disabled artists’ work consists of the reviewer’s “reckoning that the performer is a human,” and mere movement description.

When asked how we talk about race and disability, both panelists agreed that we have to be able to talk about the body. “We can use fancy words like ‘intersectionality,’ but what does that really feel like?” asked Cox.

Dr. Aimee Meredith Cox

Ending on a positive note, Cox summed up why dance is, in many ways, leagues ahead of other disciplines in its ability to challenge social norms. “Dance allows for possibility,” she said. “It allows for different ways of thinking and feeling.”

The series continues with additional Town Hall meetings on October 17 and November 15. For more on dance and disability, check out Lea Marshall’s special report on mainstreaming disabled students in dance education in our September 2016 issue.

Photos (from top) by Jailene Restituyo (1), courtesy of Dance/NYC (3)

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