back of dancer standing with wheelchair in front of mirror with one arm lifted gazed shift up

Credit: Abilities Dance Boston

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Through ballet, many of us find permission to be wholly ourselves. Yet we also discover expectations and barriers in ballet that deny that very wholeness. By striving to embody various artform “ideals” at all costs, I myself have been complicit in upholding these barriers. Such striving harmed my body and limited my dance career, yes, but it’s the wider impact of such conformity that matters. As a white, small, able-bodied, cisgendered female, I often failed to use points of privilege to help “disrupt antiquated ableist beliefs and disseminate the value of inclusion through dance.”

Each of us decide what dance is, who it is for and why it is beautiful. Collectively, I believe we can bring far more belonging into dance. Instead of simply striving to squeeze ourselves into the shape of a dancer, perhaps we strive to reshape dance itself.

Today’s guest, Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance Boston, is doing just that. You can join the movement by supporting their work HERE.

With heart,

Sustainable leotards empowering women through ecofriendly clothing.

Perspective on…

by Ellice Patterson

harmful norms

Most don’t realize there are harmful aspects of this art form that narrowly define what it means to be a professional dancer. Once we start having conversations at the director level and widening that narrow range to allow for diverse talent to flow through the space, we will be well on our way to a more equitable industry.

body ownership

Dancers can take ownership of their bodies and their stories by first being true to their bodies’ range of motion through open communication with their choreographers. If a choreographer imposes some big movement that they might not be able to safely execute, they must let the choreographer know. It will look better to modify, keep the dancer safe and support a longer career.

empowering oneself

I believe to empower oneself in the dance world is to constantly take class and work on technique, strengthening and conditioning the body. Harmful body image, pressure to go beyond limits and the impulse to mask true identities all fade away when honing one’s craft and not just striving to be “the best.” We can empower ourselves by focusing on what really matters – technique, emotional connection to the piece and the audience, strengthening connection with your partner, and more.

creating inclusive community

I wish community members would ask, “Who do we think of when we think of disability? What does it mean to be a working dancer? Who does that look like? How can we value diverse identities without falling into stereotypes?”

We begin with dance educators welcoming diverse identities and bodies to grow in the studio. This means  making sure rehearsal spaces are accessible. We modify technique and expand the definition of certain movements. We teach both the traditional female and male form of ballet in class. By allowing the safe expression and development of dancers, the next generation of dancers (and next generation in general) feel better represented.

leadership

Dance leaders should think about who is dancing and choreographing in their companies. A strong company has different ethnicities, genders, disabilities and life experiences in their dancers and choreographers. Choreographers should be allowed to tell stories that are authentic to them and their experience. Same sex love stories, racism, current political events that resonate with their identities, and more, should be told (editor note here: one stunning example of this in action is James Whiteside’s New American Romance)

Within my company, there is a basic framework that choreographers follow for different access points within our show. Outside of that, my only requirement is strong story-telling and that dancers are dancing at their fullest capacity (which looks very different yet still beautiful dancer to dancer).

I think there is a small growing movement of small companies and independent choreographers working to express different racial, gender, and sexuality identities in their dancers and pieces they create. There are still not a lot of companies outside of ours working to train and promote professional disabled dancers within other companies. For that, there needs to be a new framework of entry into companies that takes into account the whole dancer instead of relying on a narrow set of audition protocols.

collective support

Having to constantly prove why my body matters on stage and in leadership has taken a toil. I’m just now starting to put myself first. I put on loud early ’00s R&B and dance around in my bedroom. I make sure my body is nourished with good food. Talking with my community helps me regain strength and keep fighting.

You can support our efforts by following the work we’re doing at our website and through social media @abilitiesdanceboston. We welcome any questions on what we do, how to be a respectful audience and ways to consume the work. We’re always happy to promote inclusion with our community!

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