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Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

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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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In 2015, Rodgers collaborated with choreographers Kristin Fieseler Alexander, of Annex Dance, and Jonathan Tabbort and Stephen Gabriel, of Ballet Evolution Charleston, for a physically integrated performance. From left: Cathy Cabaniss, Julie DeLizza, Rodgers. Photo by Adam Chandler Photography, courtesy of Rodgers

Life changed for Marka Danielle Rodgers four years ago when a driver ran a red light and T-boned her car. The crash left her an incomplete quadriplegic (meaning she still has some nerve function below the point of injury), but it hasn't stopped her from teaching ballet. Now, she leads class from her wheelchair, using hand and arm motions to explain each combination. She talks through corrections and verbalizes even the tiny technical details that are often just easily shown. When she does leave her chair, she leads floor barre–like exercises on the ground. Then she gets back in her chair.

Rodgers, who worked with Ailey II in the late 1970s, has regained much mobility and strength in her arms and upper torso since the accident. In addition to teaching ballet at several dance studios in the Charleston, South Carolina, area, she leads a total-body strengthening and wellness regimen she calls Ultimate Physicality. And while teaching from a wheelchair poses quite a few limitations, in some ways, those limitations have enhanced her teaching.

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