Tag Archives: wheelchair dancing

Today in Journalism: Woman Dances, World Reels In Shock

Last night, The Learning Channel in the United States aired a special on JoAnne Fluke, a dancer from Kansas. Since I’m writing about this on FWD/Forward, I think you can guess that JoAnne Fluke is a disabled woman. Fluke has caudal regression syndrome, a congenital condition of the lower spine. She was given a prognosis of less than three days at birth, and at 34, she’s winning wheelchair dance competitions. She’s a highly competitive dancer and she’s also interested in promoting wheelchair dance and raising awareness about the disabled dance community, two topics highly relevant to my interests.

She was profiled by a number of news outlets in the publicity ramp up to the TV special, and it’s really…interesting to see how journalists choose to depict her. The TLC special is called ‘Dancer With Tiny Legs,’ and thus it comes as no surprise to see titles like ‘The Tiny Dancer: Despite Small Webbed Legs, Woman Dances, Dreams.’ I see this kind of narrative a lot when it comes to talking about disabled dancers; there’s shock and surprise that, gee willickers, they can, like, dance and stuff! And set goals and work to achieve them! It’s so…wait for it, it’s in the first paragraph of the article…

…this amazing woman who suffers from a rare birth defect has gone against all odds and become a competitive ballroom dancer — and an inspiration to all those that she meets.

Inspiring! Of course, the illustration the article chooses to use is not an action shot of Fluke dancing. Instead, she’s posing on a floor with her dance partner, with the angle of the shot emphasising her partner’s long legs.

What’s fascinating about this particular profile is that it includes a sentence that’s actually quite neutral:

But while most people let their childhood dreams slip away…

I like that the article makes a point of simply saying ‘most people.’ Not ‘people with disabilities.’ ‘Most people.’ Because, the truth is, yeah, most people do let their childhood dreams slip away because they lose interest in them as they grow older, or for a variety of other reasons. Most articles about people with disabilities doing ‘inspiring’ things stress that their disabilities should have precluded their chances at ‘realising their dreams.’ This article points out that disability has nothing to do with whether you achieve your dreams or not.

Alas, it goes downhill from here. She has an ‘amazing story.’ ‘Despite’ her disabilities, she has ‘managed to create an able-bodied life for herself,’ because, as we all know, the nondisabled life is the thing that all of us aspire to, right? We all want to be normal. She puts on makeup! She drives her own truck! Wow, she really is just like a normal person! Who knew people with disabilities could drive, right? And put on makeup!

Fortunately, Ronnie Koenig at AOL Health stops writing at this point and lets Fluke answer some interview questions. The questions all read like a pretty common array of supercrip and good cripple stereotypes; how are you so strong? How come you never seem bitter about your disabilities?

Fluke’s responses are kind of a mixed bag, for me as a reader. I like that she points out that actually she’s not ‘super optimistic’ about her disabilities all the time; she talks about having a pressure sore, for example, and finding that frustrating. But she also reiterates a bit of some old narratives about disability. She talks about how she could have had it worse, and she gets her strength from G-d, etc.

But she also stresses that her disabilities have nothing to do with her being a dancer. It’s not despite or because of, as she puts it: ‘I’ve been a dancer since I was two years old. It has nothing to do with having disability or not having a disability.’ She also points out that achieving goals is about identifying those goals, getting to know yourself, and then working towards those goals, sound advice for anyone, of any ability status. And she points out that her goals don’t stop with dancing and promoting wheelchair dance, that she’s interested in becoming a Paralympic athlete.

However I feel about her responses, I do like that this profile gave her an opportunity to speak for herself, instead of filtering information about her through a lens. I got to learn about how she personally feels about her disabilities. So many profiles of people with disabilities I read feature interviews with family and friends, with everyone talking about the subject of the profile. In this piece, the usual narrative was reversed, and the subject talked about herself, which is the way it should be.

I’m not stoked about some of the language used about her in the intro, along with the rather patronising nickname that gets reiterated through the article, but I’m glad Koenig chose to profile her by allowing her to profile herself, for the most part. This is a step in the right direction, although I would have loved to see more neutral interview questions that didn’t set her up as a Supercrip from the very start.

Videos: Creative Work

I’m back on a video kick this week.

Up first, a modern dance composition by Laura Jones. ‘Re:Bound’ is a very dynamic piece. Jones moves sinuously, using her whole body very expressively, and the music is rather moody. You can read an interview with Laura Jones published at Ballet-Dance Magazine if you’re interested in learning more about her. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

At the age of 16, a week into starting my course, I suffered from a spinal bleed which left me paralysed from the chest down. So, just when I had decided what I really wanted to do, I felt it was taken away from me.  But my tutors at college were just fantastic. They said: “Come back and finish, at least some parts of the course… you’ll still be able to do the theory… so, come back!”  As the course progressed, they kept saying: “Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t do this part of the course as well … and you can do your solo choreography … and you can do the set study, surely… and why don’t you try to do the notation as well?” So with their support and encouragement, I ended up completing the whole of the course and became the first student to complete 100% of the Dance A-Level in a wheelchair! And that’s something that no one can take away from me!

And the dance piece itself:

I’m a huge fan of this American Sign Language (ASL) music video; it’s an interpretation of ‘Single Ladies’ by Beyonce. It’s a very catchy pop tune; you can find the lyrics here. Jubil Khan, the performer, is deliciously talented and expressive. The choreography is fairly simple. She’s mostly standing in front of a wall, facing the camera and Signing while dancing. For an ASL version of ‘Single Ladies’ with choreography, you can check out another version here.

Here’s an interesting time-lapse video of Mariam, a member of the US Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, creating a piece called ‘Larval Eye Hive.’ I admit to having an irresistible adoration for time-lapse videos of works of art and architecture being created; I love watching things sprout on the page or the landscape. Your mileage may vary, but I hope it’s at least a bit interesting for you!

The video shows her from start to finish, using her mouth to manipulate pastels and other drawing tools. There is a sound track, but it’s just music (which I didn’t find particularly scintillating). The finished piece is a humanoid figure wearing a striped shirt. The figure’s face has a very long nose and four sets of eyes in different colours, and the background has text in block letters: ‘Interworldness beyond the ever flowing never known in the larval eyes hive of this life that like the simile that smiles come back to cla-[I didn’t catch the rest because the camera kept shying away]’

Come and Take A Spin With Me…

A mix of short and long today!

Aaron Piepszny and Spirit Synott perform to Ani DiFranco’s ’32 Flavors.’ This is a contemporary dance piece with a lot of movement and explorations of physical as well as emotional relationships. Aaron and Spirit work really well together!

Lisa Bufano performing an excerpt from ‘Five Open Mouths,’ also a modern piece. The full length version of this piece is also available if you’re interested in more.

Wheelchair breakdancing! Warning, this video is shaky.

Couples wheelchair dancing in Sweden at a freestyle combo competition.

Videos: Dance Party!

This weekend I saw a pretty amazing display of Irish dancing, which led me to this video of Nikoline, a Croatian integrated dance troupe, doing some Irish dancing:

Sorry that the video quality here is not the best!

Then I found Aubree Marchione and Nick Scott dancing samba:

And a hip hop wheelchair dance routine, featuring a solo (and alas unnamed!) dancer, Auti Angel (thanks for her name, anjak-j!):