top of page

Forward Motion disability dance fest a challenging treat

Although I use a wheelchair, dance is an essential part of who I am. I communicate and express myself through movement to tell stories about being human, about who we are.

I have always felt a need to dance and create work for dancers and that need has taken me all over the world, including Miami next week. My ensemble, AXIS Dance Company, will be part of the Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival & Conference here in Miami that runs from Sept. 26-29. Yes, it’s a unique dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, but it’s an example that disabled people have unique stories to tell and a different perspective on the world because they have lived experiences and challenges.

This influences our creative process, the how and why we make our work. It’s honest, it’s real, it’s diverse, it’s not pretending, and people relate to the work on a human level. Having grown up in Jerilderie, a small country town in New South Wales, Australia with a population of 900 people, there were limited opportunities for the only boy in the village who wanted to dance.

Though there is certainly an element of activism within physically integrated dance, Karen Peterson, the founder of physically integrated dance company KPD and the visionary behind the Forward Motion festival, hopes to break with the idea that physically integrated dance is a social practice.

“I still think it’s a challenge to convince individuals that physically integrated dance is not a therapeutic or social form,” Peterson said. “It’s all about the artistry, and advocacy is really secondary.”

Opening her studio nearly 27 years ago in Southwest Miami-Dade, Peterson gravitated toward physically integrated dance after she was approached by Mildred Levinson, a writer, activist and disabled lover of dance. “She contacted me to tell her story to an audience, and her story galvanized me to create a movement,” Peterson said. “I knew I could make dances from individuals who had something to offer through story narrative.”

For Peterson, physically integrated dance is an opportunity to flex her creativity as a choreographer, and utilize contact improvisation to set choreography that responds to the dancer rather than a rigid dance vocabulary.

“I’m interested in a person’s unique ability and how it can be integrated with all other abilities in the group,” Peterson said. “How can a person with the most severe cerebral palsy dance with one of the most accomplished dancers in Miami? It’s really about research, and defining how people move in order to move together.”

Joel Brown, a disabled dancer with London-based Candoco Dance Company, which will be participating in the festival, notes that the dance world remains reluctant to embrace inclusivity, often due to a lack of diversity within education. “Dance is still a codified art form,” he said. “In order to get a degree in dance, the bulk of work is technique classes.”

Physically integrated dance, on the other hand, breaks with technique and instead focuses on the individual. While contact improvisation is common among physically integrated dancers, more established companies like Candoco are focused on designing movement that relates to how these bodies navigate the real world. “[Candoco] is interested in us as individuals and our physicalities,” he said. “They’re more interested in movement that is utilitarian rather than aesthetic.”

The notion that an art form like dance can have a utilitarian purpose may seem farfetched, but that’s precisely what makes physically integrated dance so mesmerizing. A dancer missing a limb or bound to a chair finds liberation in making themselves useful to other dancers on stage. Marc Brew, the director of Axis Dance Company in Oakland, California, is particularly interested in exploring physically integrated dance through this lens. “I’ll give my dancers the task of being attached by different body parts. By restricting them, I’m exploring the possibilities of new partnering rather than traditional hand partnering,” he said. “I’m interested in exploring restriction — both which restrictions I can put, and what restrictions my dancers already have.”

While physically integrated dance is gaining traction in Europe and Canada — Candoco, for example, regularly performs on mainstream London stages — the U.S. rarely sees an opportunity to explore the medium. Forward Motion offers a chance to witness the creative process behind physically integrated choreography, while enjoying performances by some of the most esteemed physically integrated dance companies in the world. Brew is excited to present “Radical Impact” during the festival, the first choreography he set for AXIS.

For her part, Peterson will present a work in a loose, improvisational format, allowing the audience to view how the dancers interpret minimal directives and imagine their own movement. “When there’s raw material, there’s nothing but a blank slate that comes out of improvisation,” said Peterson. She hopes that this experience will open up perceptions about physically integrated dance — just as the festival itself is designed. “I think for a Miami audience who wants to be educated and enlightened about physically integrated dance, that this is a fascinating process.” is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, music, film and performing arts news.

Read Original Article published by Miami Herald here:

bottom of page