Disability and dance under the spotlight in New York

Dance practitioners working in the field of disability have come together in New York to discuss, debate and make decisions on the state of the art form.

The day-long conference Disability, Dance and Artistry, organised by advocacy group Dance/NYC, unpacked how the art form can better serve people with disabilities and, in turn, how disability can advance innovation in dance. The free event was scheduled to coincide with the 25th anniversary year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and took place at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Keynote speaker Simi Linton addressed the conference on the topic of disability, dance and artistry, a field in which she is well versed. Linton is the author of Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity as well as My Body Politic, and was recently the subject of the documentary film Invitation to Dance. She was on the faculty at City University of New York for 14 years before becoming a freelance author.

The first session brought together dancemakers to talk about disability with panellists including Kitty Lunn, artistic director of Infinity Dance; Sidiki Conde from Tokounou Dance Company; and Heidi Latsky, artistic director of Heidi Latsky Dance. The session was moderated by dance critic Deborah Jowitt, and focussed on how the dance community can change perceptions of what a dancer is, creating a more holistic and inclusive view that is less fixated on the notion of a ‘perfect dance body’.

A second session addressed how disabled artists should be presented, and whether there are any particular barriers to presenting their work that need to be brought down as a priority. Session three dealt specifically with access to, and the availability of, dance spaces in New York itself.

The conference was rounded off with a look at dance education and ways of incorporating disability into it, discussed by panellists including Zazel O’Garra, artistic director of ZCO Dance; Anna Rubenstein, dance educator at Manhattan School For Children; and Sandra Stratton Gonzales, Dance Educator at The Children’s School. A key outcome of this session – and the day as a whole – was an emphasis on the need to make working with disability a core part of teacher training and development.