About

My life was changed when, in 2004, I saw disabled dancer Homer Avila take the stage. That performance and a conversation in which he dared me to take a dance class led me from my world as a professor of Medieval Studies to a life as a dancer.

Photo Credit: Keith Sackin

My life was changed when, in 2004, I saw disabled dancer Homer Avila take the stage. That performance and a conversation in which he dared me to take a dance class led me from my world as a professor of Medieval Studies to a life as a dancer.

Dance Artist

My work emphasizes the movement that arises from my particular physicality and from my curiosity about line, form, and dance craft. I am passionate about virtuosity, strength, simplicity, and beauty. I am drawn to the moments when my personal aesthetics collide with societal and cultural norms.

My first dance class was a six week workshop with AXIS Dance Company. From there, I trained in ballet and modern with Kitty Lunn of Infinity Dance Theater. I made my performance debut with Infinity and returned to the Bay Area to accept an apprenticeship with AXIS. I was a core member and teaching artist with AXIS for almost six years; I left in 2012 to take new risks by exploring life as an independent dancer. Because there are so few of us working professionally in the United States, I was not sure that I could have a rich and fulfilling career outside one of the major integrated companies. I did not know what I could do or what my options were. Since then, I have worked with Ballet Cymru, GDance, and Marc Brew Company in the United Kingdom. In the United States, I have participated in projects with Marjani Forté, MBDance, Infinity Dance Theater, and Steve Paxton. I have even been able to dance as a guest artist with AXIS Dance Company, Full Radius Dance Company, and MOMENTA Dance Company.

I dance in pieces that explicitly question what we think we know about disability, dance, and the body. I also perform in pieces that address disability only by dint of my presence. I move in my wheelchair, without assistive technologies on the floor, and with my crutches and wheelchair together. Each of these modalities provides a new movement language, a new technique, and a distinct path to virtuosity. But they are each also a pure embodiment—a metamorphosis into a body with its own integrity and unique capacity for dance.

Backwards, one arm stretches straight back; the other bends as Alice folds forward into her chair

Photo Credit: Keith Sackin

Choreographer

I believe that dance should engage the critical questions that define us and that it should enable us to function as sensitive, committed citizens off the stage. My journey towards making my own work has gathered pace over the course of my ten years in the field. I am slowly finding my focus by making work both for disabled artists and for dancers in integrated settings.

I begin with my body, as it is with my wheelchair, as it is without my wheelchair, as it is with crutches, and even with crutches and chair together. My crutches and chair are not tools that compensate for my impairment. Nor are they simply devices that I use for traveling across the studio. I understand all these starting points as embodiments that have different movement possibilities. The lope of a crutch feels to me as elegant as that of a gazelle; the push of a chair creates a glide akin to skating; a roll on the floor creates grounded-ness and a different understanding of the spine. I want to draw out the expressive capacity of disabled bodies and minds by acknowledging and actively drawing on the movement of impairment. I integrate mainstream dance vocabularies into the unique movement of each dancer. As my work develops, I seek roots for each piece in what I know of disability art, culture, and history.

Intertwined in my exploration of how movement can be generated is my awareness of societal understandings of race, gender, and disability. The intersections of these three form a crucible of interpretative potential. I look into the art and aesthetics that shape our understandings of human difference and make work that I hope will be part of a new, more nuanced conversation.

Alice with Shawn Evangelista, bending backwards. He wraps an arm around her, revealing a red garter

dancers: Shawn Evangelista and Alice Sheppard; photo: Keith Sackin

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin