Critical Need for Inclusion in the Arts
When I describe Full Radius Dance as a physically integrated company composed of dancers with and without disabilities to a new acquaintance, their response is usually along the lines of, “That must be so rewarding.” After hearing this repeatedly, I began asking myself, “Why? Why this reaction? What’s the intent behind this remark?”
The creation and performance of art is rewarding, but experience has taught me that’s not what they mean by “that must be so rewarding.” The comment, and the way it is delivered, implies it must be fulfilling for me to enrich the life of people with disabilities so I must have an altruistic reason for doing what I do. The bias that lurks behind this is supposition is that people with disabilities can’t be dancers so surely Full Radius Dance’s work must be therapeutic and recreational, not professional artistry.
And once again, I asked myself, “Why?”
There is a critical lack of disability representation in the arts – television, movies, live performance, etc. Ask someone to name a dancer with a disability, and most likely, they’ll name Artie from the Fox TV show Glee, who we should note, was an actor without a disability playing a character with a disability. This is a far too common practice in Hollywood. Perhaps they’ll name a current Dancing with the Stars (ABC) contestant, as in recent seasons, who is a person with a disability – just like they’ve got to have an Olympic athlete, a former child star and an older actress.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy the show introduces non-typical bodies to a large audience. But who else is doing so? No one. It’s difficult to find more than a handful of performers with disabilities in popular media. This lack of representation and visibility hampers inclusion of artists with disabilities, and also, in the recognition of their professionalism and artistry.
When Nyle DeMarco, a Deaf model, competed in (and won) season 22 of Dancing with The Stars, I remember a newspaper headline exclaiming, “He’s Deaf! And He Can Dance!” I think we all see the subtext there. Shouldn’t his disability cancel out his talent? Then, how can Full Radius Dance have dancers in wheelchairs as part of a professional company?
How can we combat these unfounded, unfair preconceptions? How can we change the way society sees bodies? By being out there – dancing, singing, acting and creating. Let’s transform the way people look at disability and show that disability is not equal to “less than.” How about showing disability as just another facet of human diversity?
In that respect, Full Radius Dance believes physically integrated dance is not just about the disabled body, but the bodies of all the dancers, with and without disabilities. We communicate an awareness and acceptance of the body and a deep recognition of its power and potential.
To paraphrase a popular English idiom, “A dance is worth a thousand words.” I can write any number of essays but you experiencing our art will convey much, much more.
Douglas Scott is founder and artistic/executive director of Full Radius Dance, a physically integrated dance company that works with people with and without disabilities.
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