Inclusion in modern dance is a global art movement

This is a logo created for the Gimp Project.  It is a drawing of an eye with the gimp underneath.
The Gimp Project Logo

As a viewer, one can participate in art by analyzing and applying the elements of art such as composition, line, shape, space, texture and value. As I have become more evolved in my ability to read art, I can easily apply these elements to most mediums. This is especially helpful with mediums that I have little to no technical knowledge of. Dance is one of those mediums.

At first, I enjoyed dance for its intrinsic nature and ability to move me in both body and soul. Now I understand the art of dance as a living image presented in various formats. I can see the lines and shapes the dancers make with their bodies. I can see the amount of space they utilize to communicate an idea. I can see textures when they apply, whether by the amount of people in a performance or the layers of diverse movement within a dance. I can feel the value evoked within a dance as well as the visual value of the performance as it is choreographed and stylized.

This is pertinent information because it allows one to garner the important and exciting new trends introduced to mediums that elevate them beyond our historical and contemporary definitions. The ecstatic response from the viewer pumps blood back into the veins of the medium and an art movement is born. Essentially, this is what makes great art.

I have recently been introduced to disabilities in modern dance and I am in awe by what I am seeing. What I find especially exciting is witnessing a medium being transformed by new shapes, lines, movement and possibilities. As you experience the performances, although there can be purposeful tension in the dance, there is no tension created by the separation between dancers with and without disabilities. Everything is part of the larger picture which is the performance as a whole. What is nice is that there is freshness on the stage and it causes every pore on your body to open and absorb the meaningful movements and ideas being communicated.

One’s emotional connection might be somewhat more sensitive depending on the dance as the dancers with disabilities can be utilized to make a statement. If this is the case, the dancer is well aware of the statement being made and is the catalyst by which it is made. The dance is developed out of the dancer’s personality and natural movements. By practicing inclusion in this medium, a complete realm of possibilities and potential exist that could never be possible without the full spectrum of unique body movements created by the individual dancers.

Leading the way for inclusion in dance is Axis Dance Company. It is in its third decade and is a leader in the movement of physically integrated dance by setting new artistic and educational standards. They commission world renowned choreographers, composers and designers to be innovative and remain on the cutting edge. Their plethora of international work is outstanding as they continually strive for new levels of success. They are an all inclusive dance company and have an upper arm in the industry to tackle new and exciting ways to showcase the infinite capabilities of body movement in dance.

There is also a provocative Dance company called Gimp.  They describe what they create as “movement portraits”.  They also like to be in your face about their experience as dancers living with disabilities.  Their company name alone is confrontational in that the word gimp is a harsh word used to imply a disability.  Each show has a spoken portion by which they open with.  In one show, Lawrence Carter-Long, who was born with cerebral palsy, responds to what audience members tell him after the show.  He says, “I thought that you were going to be weird, but it’s really an opportunity, you know?….Who would have expected this in a modern dance performance?….I have to rethink this whole thing.”

Dancer and choreographer, Heidi Latsky founded Gimp.  As stated in The New York Times, “Rather than work around these dancers’ particular limitations, she tries to find distinct abilities in their bodies and explore the artistic possibilities that can be had from these differences.”  Gimp Producer Jeremy Alliger says that, “far from being limited by these dancers, Ms. Latsky is like an artist who has just had new colors added to the palette.”

The New York Post states that “performing in public helps them and the audience address issues dealing with staring or averting the eyes when encountering physically challenged people.  Onstage, they are inviting the public to stare.”

I also discovered a UK video that emphasizes the importance of inclusiveness called ” Dance & Disability:  In higher education and beyond”.  In it  Stine Nilson of CandoCo Dance Company confesses that “contemporary art in general is always about trying to break boundaries”.  However, she says, “there shouldn’t be a term called inclusive dance it should just be “dance”, it is accessible & able to be participated in by everybody.”  The first dance graduate with a disability in the country, and present dance instructor, Lorna Marsh of  Coventry University says “any kind of inclusion from my point of view is a good thing, whether its in the arts or not but particularly in dance, to me personally, because its another way of communicating.”

This is a genre specific global movement that is benefiting from the natural results of inclusion.  Follow its development and witness it evolve as it defines contemporary dance as a whole and influences styles of dance.  Keep up with the Axis Dance company website while they continue to push the boundaries of societies expectations.  As they merge the unique body movements of all kinds of dancers, they create a body of work that is both compelling and mesmerizing.  Also, check out the outstanding Axis Dance Company 2012 Repertory Demo video that displays clips from many of their recent performances.

My favorite is “The Narrowing” by Sebastian Grubb (2010).  In it, two men side by side, one in a 4 legged chair, the other in a wheel chair, play off of each other’s similarities and differences.  At first they are charging like two bulls fighting for dominance until they submit to the dichotomy they create together.  It is wonderful to watch their contrast morph into a union.

Also, you can read The New York Time’s article called, “Confronting Disability With Modern Dance”, that discusses the more in your face aesthetic that is Gimp.  There is a very inspiring video about The Gimp Project and an emotionally powerful website to learn about the company and the dancers.   Finally, check out the informative UK video regarding dance & disability inclusion in the high arts and higher education.


I am a BFA Photography major at Seattle University. I champion for civil rights from the perspective of one with disabilities that give me the abilities to do so. I am a passionate, educated and informed advocate of the arts in all aspects.

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