by Kimberly Peterson
When I first began college at Texas Woman’s University, there was a slogan – a motto of sorts for the department: Every Body Dances.
Not everybody dances, but Every Body Dances. The distinction is important – because it necessarily includes every body: type, shape, size, age, and ability. This belief is so integral to TWU’s Department of Dance, that it radically changed how I approached movement, creativity, my body and my journey as a dance artist.
Ability is something most dancers pride themselves on: the ability to execute movement well, the ability to perform, the ability to manipulate their bodies to do as they desire. However, ability is a spectrum – and the loss of an ability need not negate the ability of an entire body. And it certainly does not consume the identity of the person.
Adaptive dance seeks to allow for differences in ability while creating high caliber performances. In essence, it treats all dancers, regardless of ability, as dancers and works within whatever levels of technique, skills, performance they bring with them. It is a deceptively simple concept – and marvelous to behold!
Two fascinating examples of great work come from DV8 Physical Theater and AXIS Dance Company.
What I find most engaging is that David Toole makes full use of his abilities. He’s not attempting to look like he has legs, he simply moves without them – furthering the creative development of movement within the pieces he dances in. I find the perspective shot from David’s level to be highly interesting, and find the movement his body attains extremely engaging. The perspective of these shots highlight the relationship between the dancers’ bodies and space which, in some instances, is much more interesting to me than the actual movement. (Video 2) David displays a level of physicality and commitment to his movement that is equally impressive!
AXIS Dance Company, who you may remember as a guest performance from So You Think You Can Dance, has stunning work involving a wheelchair.
The fantastic movement made with the bodies they have, highlights their ability rather than the differences between them. The movement varies in tempo and intensity, dynamically pushing the limits of what is “safe” into realms that are both interesting and captivating. I was especially excited to see that they utilized the full range of possibilities with the chair: using the chair off balance (1:27, 1:31, 2:16), utilizing weight sharing (:45-:51) from both partners (3:15), both physically initiating (1:14) and receiving partnering (1:20), and was especially excited to witness the chair in use for counter-balance (1:00) and the initiation of bodily momentum (3:00). The choreographer, Alex Ketley, really utilized Rodney Bell and engaged his whole body, which includes the use of a wheelchair.
However, there is no condescension, no “inspirational” tone. There are just artists, doing what they cannot help but do – dance beautifully. However, this lack of “inspiration” is important. While it is always enlightening and exhilarating to see amazing work, we do the dancers a disservice if we only focus on what ails them – or what makes them different. What is most important in a dance work, has to be what the work is saying to you, the communication and dialogue happening between you, the dancers and the choreographer. We take away the beauty and magic of that moment by reducing the whole to the sum of their parts.
Accepting that no body is the same, that no mind thinks alike, that no one interpretation of movement can encompass the whole of the experience – this is what makes our medium a lived art, an experience rather than a stagnant piece.
Every Body Dances.