Have you ever felt the inner need and desire to dance, to express yourself through movement, as YOU want, as you FEEL it? Have you ever stopped yourself even before trying? Imagine if one day you did not have such an opportunity for reasons out of your control. Would it stop you from wanting to move, to dance, to connect?..
As someone interested in dance and movement, I remember how impressed and touched I was about 10 years when I first saw people dancing in wheelchairs, dancers without legs or arms on screen, in the dance films Outside In by Viktoria Marks and Margaret Williams, and The Cost of Living by DV8. It was moving, and beautiful… By chance, in November 2014, I had a glimpse of something fascinating going on in the dance room in Roundhouse. People were moving on their feet and in wheelchairs using props – such as a pile of chairs looking like a piano. Was it an impov class? A theatre rehearsal? It was so engaging that I decided to join them for their last class in the fall session and interview a few of the participants.
“We are interested in making art together… showing something that is engaging and real.”
The facilitator of the project, All Bodies Dance, Naomi Brand, mentioned that integrated arts in Canada are still lagging behind Europe, USA and Australia. There are a number of companies in Canada, yet it is a fairly new art form for Canadians. The foundation for the project was Naomi’s training with internationally recognized teacher and choreographer Alito Alessi who created the DanceAbility method. She has also drawn from her experience as a contemporary dancer and theatre performer, and combines a lot of creative games – what she refers to as “bringing a lot of mish mash of things together” – to figure out what will work best for a particular group of dancers.
In December, All Bodies Dance presented their first public performance – a short, partially improvised piece of choreography – and now they are working towards a performance sometime in spring. Naomi and a few “All Bodies Dance” participants – Harmanre, Danielle, Cherylann, Alan, Candice and Neil – shared their impressions about the project.
Q: Can you tell us please a few words about the project?
Naomi: The All Bodies Dance project is a free community engaged mixed ability dance project. It is a practice of dancing with people with disabilities and people without disabilities and for all types of bodies. We have a pretty diverse group of people that showed up and brave souls that are interested in exploring dance together and a really amazing mixture of standing dancers, dancers in wheelchairs and all different kind of movers. Lots of participants came in fresh and new having no previous experience with dancing.
One of the things that is important to distinguish in this kind of work is that it is NOT therapeutic by any means. It is not physical therapy, we are not trying to heal anybody, we are not interested in working through people’s emotional processes, we are interested in MAKING ART together.
Q: Do you have a goal in mind in terms of the project as an artwork?
Naomi: I think what we are doing is creating a skill set. We are training. You can’t just go and take a ballet class if you are in a wheelchair. What we are doing is a way of building a skill base for this kind of dance.
Q: If you get some feedback from the audience, what kind of response would make you happy?
Naomi: An audience’s response is always tricky. Of course you want people to enjoy what they see and to be engaged. I don’t think that anyone here is so much interested in showing anything that is inspiring, I think we are interested in showing something that is engaging… and real.
Q. What was the most challenging and rewarding part of this project for you and what was your take away?
Cherylann: It became such a vivid experience of newness and imagination like no other creative movement class I had ever taken. I learned so much about working with mixed abilities and the potential of this genre of dance… The most challenging aspect was to explore appropriate ways to dance with seated dancers and those with limited mobility. To respect the chair as part of someone’s body and to ask what was permissible regarding touch or movement. Also making eye contact at all times was very important to the connection… When we found something that really clicked then the connection was quite powerful… What I took away from this learning experience was a stronger sense of total communication.
Photo by Chris Randle
Harmanre: The most challenging thing was building skills, which is also the most rewarding. You learn new skills, you open your mind to the improvisation. And I am also learning how to teach and develop as an artist and get to work with new people. It’s an incredibly rewarding art form. It is amazing to realize that the like mind exists and we can build amazing dance.
Candice: My most challenging thing was finding how the chair can cooperate in different dance movements. The most rewarding is dancing with bodies that are free spirit and they want to put a new flavour on in the artistic world of freedom of movement. When I come to dance, I have to freely explore and let go of being restricted… like restricted down from being in the wheelchair.
Neil: The challenge when I first got there was to slow down, then make a decision about staying in the course. The reward by the end was to be part of a well-functioning dance group and make a contribution that was appreciated. I gained in dance technique but, more than that, was to see how disabilities didn’t prevent a single person there from doing the same. This was humbling.
Danielle: I came out of curiosity and I was quite taken the first time round and I’ve discovered that not only did it help me kind of stretch my body, it also helped in remembering the gestures and the choreography. So it’s exercise for the brain as well as your body. I had a stroke about 4 years ago. My left side is paralyzed. I can walk with difficulty and I can move my right side… I was impressed how we came together as virtual strangers and with various abilities. Within the first session, which was two hours, we knew each other’s names and we were becoming quite friendly and the relationship has just grown and it has crossed many barriers… The most challenging part was getting here (smiles). Especially with the rainy weather and the icy weather.
Alan: Growing up and seeing my twin sister in ballet, I’ve always wanted to do ballet but I was not allowed to do it because I was a boy. What I found is that it’s broken my boundaries. I did not realize how many boundaries I’ve set up for myself physically in dance so I’ve freed myself. The project also brought down my comfort level to talk to people who are disabled. And it’s just been a real freedom for me to socialize no matter you are in a wheelchair or not. It is one of the highlights of my life, to be able to free myself up in my dance which is affective of other parts of my life. My biggest take away is friendships.
Naomi: Our goal is we build choreography, and we make performance, build opportunities for this work to be visible and shown, shared with the public. We will be having the opportunity for all the participants to experience being the choreographer and us choreographing together and working on something larger. We are working towards doing something in the spring.
Sa | Jan 10-Mar 28 | 2:30-4:30pm | Free – Registration Required | 41783.101RH | 18+ | Dance St
Instructor: Naomi Brand. No previous experience required.
By Tatiana Balashova, Roundhouse blogger. Tatiana is an aspiring writer with experience in blogging, social media, communications and community events organizing. She is an Argentine tango dancer and instructor, as well as a photographer, indie filmmaker and designer, interested in encouraging people to explore dance of all sorts, visual arts, filmmaking and theatre. Tatiana is passionate about intercultural exchange, community building, healthy lifestyle and communication, sustainability and green living. She is currently studying alternative medicine. Follow Tatiana on her blog.