This one may venture slightly away from Crohn's for a moment, but I promise I'll circle back to it. I just need to get this off my chest, be patient with me for a minute.
I went to a panel earlier this week on dance and disability. The panel itself was incredibly diverse, with disabled dancers and choreographers, a research scientist, educators, and a dance critic, among others. Each person had a unique perspective on the subject, which made the discussion interesting and inspired a lot of thought.
However, there was this moment about half-way through the night when one of the panelists whose experience was mainly in the dance world said that there's really no difference between a modern dance company like Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) and a physically integrated dance company like Axis Dance Company, both of whom just happen to be showing in Chicago this weekend.
To give a brief overview, Merce Cunningham was a pioneer in modern/post-modern dance. His company is among the most respected in the world. The bodies in MCDC look exactly like what you think of when you think the word "dancer." They are lean, long and incredibly talented. Granted, this wasn't always necessarily the case, Merce experimented with "untrained" bodies in his early years as a choreographer, but for many years, his dancers have been the elite of the dance world. Axis Dance Company has been a pioneer in its own right. They're among a relative few companies whose cast includes disabled bodies alongside non-disabled, "traditional" dancing bodies. Because of this, they fall under the category of a physically integrated dance company. This is an emerging artform, and Axis is at the forefront of the movement. (Pun totally intended.)
Now, I understand what the panelist was trying to say. There are similarities between the two companies. They're dance companies of comparable genres. The bodies in both Axis and MCDC are highly-trained, art-making bodies. She was saying that dance is dance, no matter what body performs it. This is partially true. However, this statement completely ignores the fact that there is a difference between MCDC and Axis Dance, and to ignore this fact negates, at least partially, the point of putting disabled bodies on the stage.
Why deny this difference? It is there, whether we want to talk about it or not. Only when we as a society become comfortable with acknowledging difference can we move past the idea that "different" is a synonym for "bad" or "wrong."
Okay, so... back to Crohn's. I'm in the beginning processes of creating a piece for Creative Nests' production "Welcome to Our World." (Check out our kickstarter campaign here.) As some of you may know from previous posts, I've been using dance as a platform to talk about Crohn's for a little while now. The piece I'm currently working on relates to this idea of acknowledging difference in the bodies on stage. But how do you display the difference of a body with Crohn's? How do you get your point across to an audience without just standing center stage and screaming, "Hey! I have this disease called Crohn's and that's what I'm going to dance about now! Thanks for watching!" Should I hold up the results of my latest CT? Hand out copies of my medical records? Somehow, none of these seem particularly effective or interesting.
This is made all the more difficult by the same frame of mind that led the panelist to say what she did. Not only does my body display no visual signifiers of disability, but more often than not, audiences do not want to acknowledge the presence of disease and disability anyway. Oi vey. What's a diseased dancer to do?
As you may have noticed by now, it's not really the aim of my posts to offer answers. I'm just asking questions, which are admittedly complicated and sometimes downright uncomfortable. This one does feel particularly unresolved, though. Rest assured that I'll be posting more on this subject as I move through the creative process. Meanwhile, if you have any insights, I'd be thrilled to hear them!