Disability. Dance. Artistry.

Guest Contributor: Corina De Jesus, Associate Director of marked dance project;

DISCLAIMER: Opinions reflected in this piece is that of the Guest Contributor and may not reflect the full opinions of Mark Travis Rivera.

On July 8, 2015 management members of marked dance project went to the Disability Dance NYC event at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It was a day filled with panel discussions, keynotes, and performance viewings focusing on disabilities and dance.

We learned the challenges of people with disabilities are facing and how we can change them. Heidi Latsky, Kitty Lunn, Alice Sheppard and Simi Linton were just some of the speakers.Simi’s keynote address gave all us insight on her experience with being a disabled woman and why disabled persons need a prominent role in the arts.

Some of those reasons were:

-To increase visibility and cultural authority

-Arts play a vital role in democracy

-To foster social change or artistic change

Simi Linton also told us the pitfalls that are holding persons with disabilities away from the arts:

-Objectification

-Using Disability

-Erasing Disability

-Reinforcing Stereotypes

Her advice for choreographers is to be honest in your choreography, “make sure dancers show agency, and to know the limits of your expertise.”

Some of the most important questions of the day were:

-How do we continue to make spaces more and more accessible?

-How invested are we in?

-How do we embrace all of the talent and experiences of children with disabilities as they get older?

At the event, Mark asked the panel, “how can a young person of color, with a disability and with a company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, get their company to the next level if they don’t have the same level of notoriety, as let’s say, someone like Heidi Latsky?”

“Keep knocking until someone listens. There’s no secret. You just have to make your voice be heard,” said Jed Wheeler, executive director of Arts and Cultural Programming at Montclair State University.

I believe everyone who attended this inaugural event learned something valuable. As a non-disabled dancer, I can say that the event opened my eyes to what the disabled community faces on a daily basis. I believe they also deserve equal rights, and despite this year marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still a lot of work to be done. It is our responsibility to continue to spread awareness about integrated dance and highlight possibility models for other disabled dancers. We want to lead by example and give dancers with disabilities an outlet, an opportunity to perform, to be able to express themselves in the arts just like their non-disabled counterparts.

Our dance company started because Mark wanted to be able to dance, knowing he would have to create his own opportunities due to his disability. Shortly after he started MDP, he realized it wasn’t just about him, it was about creating opportunities for all types of dancers, regardless of disability.

To quote Sidiki Conde, a disabled choreographer, dancer, and drummer from Guinea, “Dance is the message of happiness.”

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