Photo courtesy of Dance/NYC

Hundreds of NYC-based dance artists, choreographers, teachers, administrators and advocates gathered at Gibney Dance Center for the Dance/NYC 2017 Symposium. The event's lectures and panel discussions covered topics ranging from racial equity to making dance space affordable to improving accessibility for disabled audiences. Here are 3 takeaways from the day.

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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.

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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Heidi Latsky Dance

Dance/NYC announces a new, three-year disability initiative to increase arts access and inclusion for disabled people. The organization recently released a report, Discovering Disability: Data and NYC Dance, which introduces a call to action on four counts: Expand the scope of dance creation that includes disabled artists; improve dance education for disabled public school students; make dance facilities accessible for the disabled; and extend professional development and audience engagement to disabled people.

The initiative comes from a 10-person task force of disabled artists, educators and disability advocates. In July, Dance/NYC held a conference, Disability.Dance.Artistry., to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and build on recent research on inclusion and access.

Infinity Dance Theater

Photos from top: by Darial Sneed; by Sophia Negron; both courtesy of Dance/NYC

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