One way that I am still able to engage with my former academic life is by giving talks and teaching academic seminars on disability, race, and dance.

Photo: Benjy Feen
Excerpt from “Embodied Virtuosity,” a talk that considers beauty, disability culture, extreme physicality, and the dancing disabled body.

As a dancer, being seen as beautiful and good—being recognized as virtuosic—usually means being seen as having unusual physical abilities and or a unique body. The equation of body, ability, and virtuosity are usual in the dance world. The so-called better, most beautiful dancers are almost always going to have extraordinary bodies that they use in virtuosic ways.

As a disabled dancer committed to the disability rights, arts, and culture movements, the connection between virtuosity, beauty, and physical ability makes little sense. My disability studies framework demonstrates that the primacy of physical ability is an explicit effect of the dance world’s implicit ableism. My dance work teaches me that every body can dance and that technique and training can make some of us stunning professional artists. Dance is not a function of the physicality of our bodies or minds. Dance happens in the tongue, the eyes, and the fingers; it can also happen in a perfect back layout, no-handed wheelie, a tricky caster balance or a fabulous lift.

If you are disabled, survival in the dance world is easier if you have an extraordinary body and neurotypical mind. Nonetheless, the capacity to make meaningful, artistic communication is not dependent on raw, extreme physicalities.

Alice Sheppard Signature