This week was my "secret challenge" as I had to let go all these regular methods of doing things. The pace of the time from choreographing the piece to performance was so very different, I thought I'd never be able to do it. Seriously this was a week of high panic in my mind as I fought my anxiety to want to do things the way I was more comfortable in body. It was a week of trust as well. Trust in my fellow dancers, choreographers and myself. A friend said, "If the director didn't think you could do it, he wouldn't have you up there. I wasn't sure in my heart, but I took the challenge. Last night was the proof in the pudding and I have to say, so truly humble, that I was proud of the work. So much so, that I share with you our performance at Temple Kehillat Chaim for Disability Awareness Month.
(I apologize to those who don't do FB, but the evil can not be helped)
THANK YOU FOR SHARING THE VIDEO AND A LOVELY EVENING TO Rabbi Harvey Winokur
last rehearsal before the show....................
One night I was riding with a friend downtown to a new club. The old club location had closed and I was telling him how much I was going to miss it. Once you navigated past the completely inaccessible front door, which I could do with the help of a cane and the strong arm of my date, that location was a dream of accessibility. All the floors were hard, with not a carpet to be seen! There were no stairs, only ramps. The ENTIRE bathroom was wide, not just the handicap stall. Even the mirrors were low enough so that you could actually check your makeup. It was a place I could dance, REALLY dance!
I had never heard of the new club we were going to, but it's the new location my monthly dance night peeps had selected, and I wanted to go to support the troops. Upon arrival, we managed a parking space right out front of the club -- often a good omen. My friend got out of the car to scope out the landscape, meaning finding out where (and if) the handicap accessibility would begin. The "afterthought" construction of the door we were guided to made me laugh. Imagine if you will, that just off the sidewalk there is a 2-inch high micro curb below a foot of actual ramp that's only about a foot and a half wide. At the top of this "ramp" there was another 2 inch micro curb, and then a decorative wood pillar in the middle of the door. So if one could somehow navigate the micro curbs to get to the "accessible entrance", one can't be more than 20 inches wide to pass through the door. Again, I was fortunate to have my cane and the two strong arms, but my heart began to sink.
When I entered I was greeted at the door by the host, who is a friend of mine. I slowly, and with all the politeness I have, navigated through the crowd to see that all the tables are the 4-foot high kind, complete with 3-foot high chairs. So my friend helped me up into the chair, and we parked my wheels underneath the table.
Now, I want to say that for the rest of the evening I had a good time. I talked with friends, enjoyed a REAL Long Island iced tea, and thought that the decor and atmosphere were lovely. But the general experience of marginal access was typical of the events I'm invited to. As I explained to my friend on the ride home, it's not that I think the organizers are being intentionally non inclusive. It’s just they suffer from the same problem that most of our society does, in which accessibility is an afterthought.
I wrestle sometimes with how much I should say. I don't mean to be a bad sport. And as any gimp will tell you, we are so very often accused of wanting special treatment. It irks me, though, that simply wanting, no, needing a place to be accessible is considered “special treatment.” And we fear that if we make a big deal out of it, maybe we won't be asked to other events. I currently still have the ability to be adaptive, yet I know that won't always be the case.
When I'm out for a night on the town, I really would like to leave my advocate hat at home. It so often clashes with my outfit. So I've been looking for a middle ground, maybe try writing some sort of letter to the organizers after the fact, to be used for the future. Yet I'm still not sure how to begin.
Atlanta is filled with wonderful old historic buildings and businesses. It's one of the things I love about the city. As much as I hate the dreaded lifts, to preserve the buildings integrity, I know that sometimes you have to get in the lift! I've lived in the city all of my life, and am blessed with many friends who never think twice about making sure that wherever we go, I can go too. But when I am going to a new event by myself, there have been many times when as soon as I get there, I turn around and go home. Sometimes it’s because I can't get into the building at all. Sometimes it’s just a day when my courage fails me, and I don't have it in me to be attracting unwanted attention, pity, or bubbling over with outrage over the lack of accessible design. My friend was surprised that that happens so often, and I said, "It's because we don't talk about it." I didn't add, "and I'm afraid folks won't want me around if I complain." It happens. Even when I’m just inquiring about accessibility prior to going to an event/class, and I’m NEVER contacted back. (Panic over not wishing to bring up the issue can do that.)
So how do you say to the organizers of such wonderful events, "I would love to go! But I know that location or that activity won’t be accessible to me." Maybe I'm wrong, but it goes against my southern girl politeness to say "If I go, will the group make sure that I will not be left behind, or put off in a corner?" Because sometimes in these old buildings, a wheelchairs lucky to get through the door at all, and getting all the way into the actual space isn't an option.
Am I being a princess? Am I being a baby? Am I being a burden?
See, I don't want to be any of those things. I don't want anyone to be responsible for the emotional turmoil that being a "border gimp" brings me in those kind of social situations. For that matter, most gimps don't want to be put in that position at all. I'm not looking for pity, I'm just unsure on how to proceed. And by that I mean, how to proceed in a way that is comfortable for ME, and not necessarily what another person thinks I might should do. Not all of us are comfortable ALL THE TIME to speak up or out in EVERY situation. It shouldn't make us cowards if we'd like to NOT jump up on a soap box every time one appears. So I'm working on it. And I share these words with you, in the hopes that it will spark not a debate, but LISTENING. This is how I feel: even when I shouldn't, or "that wasn't what was meant" or I wish I'd stayed at home,
I'm not going to stay at home, that's just not me. I just have to think it through
This month, Atlanta was host to the 27th Annual Dragon Con, an event I have attended every year. This time round I was asked to participate in a documentary about cosplay** and disabilities, with a focus on DC characters. As I was posing for some shots as “Bat Girl aka “Oracle”, a few on lookers asked “is the chair PART of your costume?” Since the character is written as a wheel chair user, I understood their query. However, when I was in other costumes, from Trekkie to steampunk, I was asked the SAME question. In reality this line of thought isn’t anything new.
It surprises folks that the TOP query we get at Full Radius is, “do they REALLY need those wheel chairs?” It is even put to us in the form of “why did you CHOOSE wheel chairs as part of the vision of this choreography?”, as if they were props. During our last school tour, when Douglas thought to begin the proceedings with the answer “Yes, these dancers REALLY need their chairs”, it still cropped up in one form or another. I think children respond to their natural keen sense of observation, picking up quickly who can leave their chair to sit on the floor, do a hand stand, move a foot. Perhaps they are thinking “if they can do THOSE things, then the chair surely isn’t a “necessity”.
However kids aren’t the only ones who question something that opens their minds to the possibility that what they perceive and what is actually possible might not be the same thing. Ten years ago when I was just an audience member, I greatly respected Mr. Scotts version of “able blindness”. He saw each body as “perfect, with the potential for undiscovered movement and you could tell it fed his work. That ALL bodies not only COULD experience dance, but under his direction that WOULD. Part of the artistic vision of FRD is that we are all dancers first. Some of us may not have the stereotype body shape or physicality that prevails in the forum, but this is what makes our work wonderfully different and challenging for both performers and audience.
We are in the mists of a campaign of giving focusing on the individual. YOUR contribution is needed to be part of the vision, part of the art that is Full Radius Dance. Please consider, in addition to your financial endowment, gift us with your support by spreading the word of WHY you are patron of Atlanta’s own physically integrated dance troupe.
PS for those who asked, My Grandma is still in hospital, but on the mend ~
Sometimes a thing can “work fer ye, or agisnt ye”. I find this to be especially true to my efforts in this post. Inspired by my time this summer in the BlueRidge, life here is often so simple, that it sets the mind a wondering. Here we fall into a rhythm of waking and resting with the sun, spend hours on the porch rather than a TV, and cell phones and other “new fangled devices” rarely get a good signal. A “trip to town” is either a place to get mail, tourist merchants, with a local eatery, or if you want to get real swanky, the nearest Wal-Mart.
It was there my train of thought began as I quietly noticed the local fashions. A tall lady with bright pink patent leather cow boy boots paired with Daisy Dukes and the biggest straw hat I’ve seen in a long while. (If you know my world THAT’S saying something) A lanky teen that was going for “goth”, but lost me in the blonde “big hair”, tied up with a skull ribbon. Then there was the “PJ” family: I don’t mean the current fashion of “pj pants as ok for public” sort of thing, I am talking 4 kids aged 3-10 in their PAJAMAS, as their array of “bed head” furthered the point. They turned the corner to their equally robed (and I mean “with a robe”) Mom, who called out to “Pa”. The dad, however, was in neat suit and tie to rival the best dress Mormon knocking on your door too early on a Saturday morning.
Right there, I realized, much to my chagrin, that *I* was staring. The same sort of behavior that I have heard often vilified on “disability” type forums and chastised myself to otherwise, well mannered adults. (I rarely fault children under 10, but I’ll get to that.) My eyes went immediately forward as I caught one of kids staring back at me. However, as time passed I thought about the idea of “attention”: the kind we draw to ourselves voluntarily and the kind we don’t.
The same folks who “dressed however they want” because (they say) “I don’t care what people think!”, can be the first to give a terse word if an on looker does so too long or with an expression the dress-ee doesn’t like. However, for the person whose outer appearance falls outside the norm NOT by choice, the overt gaze with or without accompanied facial judgment is a very different thing. It is true that some folks just “don’t got no home training”, to use a “mountain-ism”, and are being somewhere between thoughtless to an ass. It’s why good parenting says “don’t stare” without any disqualifiers. There will be things that fall out of our “normal” and will invoke a long second look, as the brain’s way of confirming “did I just see what I THINK I see”. Whether we LIKE it or not, whether it SHOULD be that way or not, there are honest folks who really are NOT around folks with disabilities and beyond doing a “reality check” their kafundled brains can make them do or say some really stupid things. So maybe the real issue is intent.
Young children are fountains of curiosity and, well plain talk. When mine were small and confronted with a “new” thing, I would encourage them to ask POLITELY whatever questions they had. When a child sees my chair, if the parent isn’t busy dragging them away, I say hi to them to let them know “yes, I get around different, but I’m really just a person.” Grandma always said the best way to understand folks is to start by making them comfortable. I take the lead most of time, as a way to defuse the awkward by normalizing the participants.
I personally do this with laughter. I meet their stumbling for whatever “word” they can use without offending me. I say plainly, “It’s easy, you’re bi-peds, we’re gimps: You annoy the sh*t out of us. Let’s move along.” By doing this, I have “just said it”. I’ve pointed to the elephant in the room and named it “Gimpy McGimperston”, with a hat and sparkles for the trunk. Let’s move on.
Bi-peds CAN be taught, and once we aren't such a novelty maybe they’ll stop staring, or recording me on the escalator with their cell phones.
(ADD your character and plot ideas in the comments below or Goggle plus or email me. I am thinking this is TOTALLY do-able!!)
ALL credit goes to my awesome friend GREEN who ran with the idea and who brained stormed the above, this being one of the reasons I love him with a million floaty hearts
PS I KNOW I promised a BlueRidge post...I'm still working on it ;)
Top Ten Gimp Rules As defined by me and mine:
1. Impromptu outings are as easy as nailing Jell-O to a tree.
2. When you fall down, before getting up, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
3. Don't let your friends push your wheelchair when they are mad at you. (or drunk)
4. EVERYONE is your friend in the amusement park lines (or during the Christmas shopping season) as the latest news from Disney World tell us
5. Please, only WHEN requested, and then only the HELPFUL help.
6. Using the fact that you look small and helpless to lure in your prey really saves a lot of walking.
7. Your handicap parking permit gives you dibs on "shot gun" on any given car drive.
8. If there is any easier way to do it, a gimp has already figured it out.
9. It doesn't matter HOW accessible a place is once inside, if we can't get into the place, it IS NOT accessible.
10.You may call us many things, but using the phrase “YOU PEOPLE” will ALWAYS piss us off.
Since then, the dance company has performed at the Inman Park Festival, began learning two new works, crafted another to be presented this weekend at the Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) festival, throwing in a high school workshop and a round of "dragon" school shows. "Down time" has been dedicated to rehearsal, PT, work etc. (You heard the air quotes on that too didn't ya?) So in a moment of quiet I wanted to share one of those things that keeps me on task and mostly sane.
A frequent visitor to our class noticed my humming different tunes as I went through my prep for rehearsal. I explained that it was my "theme song" for the day. My doctor likes it that I have "motivational music" to help me stay up and moving. Some days, when I am facing an "adventure" i.e. life challenges, it's the theme from "Indiana Jones", over-scheduled days you can hear the Lone Ranger Overture. Multi multi-task days, the most common, I "insert Circus Music here". The idea is to move to the music in my head, keeping time to propel me forward through whatever sort of body issues are thrown in my way. I find when I can push along until rehearsal or any morning begins, in the end, I leave feeling better, even if it's a better sort of tired.
Theme songs set a tone, an emotional backdrop, for my mind. Thinking a happy tune can brighten your outlook, even if only to put a sarcastic spin on things. Venting via a hard bass line, or centering over a melodic one brings focus when my brain is racing with too many or even unconjoined thoughts. As a dancer, I seem to have the best performances when I remind myself to relax into the movement and let the music move me. My body knows the choreography; it's my mind that sets into panic.
I find, most of all, my daily tunes are good for the soul. That is why I advocate the practice to anyone. Use the old "mixed tape" format, on whatever music device you have (yeah, I still use actual tape) to put together a playlist as a way to start. Think of media characters, heroes or villains, as many come complete with a theme. Songs from childhood Saturday morning cartoons, opening notes from a family TV night, hummed memories of a grandparent. All these are the music that moves our spirits and our hearts, and can get us passed the chaos of street sounds or even voices of negative thought.
Before performance, there is a time to warm up and connect with the other dancers. In the wings, waiting in the silence, I remind myself to find calm, trust and have fun. When I can do that, the music in my head and the sound in my ears come together, and all I feel is, "I am a dancer….”let’s DO this!”
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March of Dimes N. Georgia Walk
April 12, 2013
My own research says mostly no, in regards to dragon myths in China. “as their ability to fly (and control rain/water, etc.) are mystical and not seen as a result of their physical attributes.” But since the name of the book we base our show on is called “Legend of the Chinese Dragon” I defer to the author, who says they do. Though it’s a good example on how much detail kids regard what they see.
4) Are any of the dancers from China….or Mexico?
I laughed at the child‘s attempt to frame the question in a politically correct format. One of our AB dancers is ethically Asian, and we used the opportunity to get them to find “Saipan” on the globe back in their classrooms. The smart alec in me wanted to point out our very Caucasian Bosnian and say “why yes, yes he is”…..but I digress.
2) Do you work out with weights?
For an answer, “All Abs” sports his guns to the thrill of every sighing girl and sexual confused boy in the audience.
The Follow-up question? Can he flex his muscles again?
Really, this question is asked at EVERY kid’s performance, sometimes multiple times in various forms. Their minds are suddenly opened to the possibility that what they perceive and what is actually possible might not be the same thing. So they guess that there is something incorrect in the perception. They note who can do what: Who can leave their chair and sit on the floor. Who can do a handstand. Who can move a foot. Surely if one can do THOSE things, then the chair isn’t a “necessity”. Even when our director thought to BEGIN the Q&A with the answer, it was still their number one query. I think their tenancy to wonder isn't so different than when adults do it, the real variable seems to be their reason for asking. Children wonder the why of things without real prejudice.
Sometimes the children phrase the question more along the lines of “Does it hurt?” It is the nature of a child to think that the unknown, in this case, being handicap, might be painful. We reassure them that we rehearse each move until we can perform it without injury. We also point out that like all dancers, seated or standees, sometimes we fall. And just like anything else in life, the important thing is to get back up and keep moving.
Unlike dancing in a club or otherwise for oneself, dancing as performance is what Gabrielle Roth once called the “Light of controlled Chaos”. When rehearsals transition into nonstop run throughs, the task is to get every movement exactly correct, all the while making it feel fresh and look spontaneous. However, it is surely then that things go awry. Roth also said, “Chaos has a shadow side, when it is not grounded. And that is just a panic”. Not really “stage fright” it is the added energy that makes dance going toward performance start to “feel different”. Making mistakes you've never done before, turning ways you can’t image, forgetting moves you done a hundred times. The only thing to do is breathe, turn nervousness into excitement, finding the balance, hopefully, before opening night. Prayer, lucky charms and kind words can go a long way towards that end.
Now in the week our director has given us off, I, for one, am using the time to catch up on my everyday tasks and much needed sleep. The knot on my noggin all but gone, my feared broken toes are still black across the ridge, but only bruised. I find I am getting antsy, ready to create again, eager for that wonderful “controlled chaos” that turns learned patterns into art, and simple counts into music of movement and life.