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Axis Dance Company revels in its abilities

  • December 13, 2011

The troupe, which features performers with and without physical disabilities, seeks to alter perceptions

By Susan Josephs
Special Correspondent

Latsky has also battled misconceptions about her work; that it smacks of either therapy or exploitation and therefore outside the realm of critical review. "Some disability organizations wouldn't come to 'Gimp' because how could they support a show with that name? And critics in New York have been afraid to review because how can you criticize someone with a disability? But audiences stay to talk to us. I think we're at a time where people are really interested in this," Latsky says.

Although Douglas Scott, the artistic director of the physically integrated Full Radius Dance company in Atlanta, agrees that the field has "gotten stronger" since the 1990s, he continues to "encounter the mentality of some people who don't hold our work to the same standards as other dance companies. It's that 'Gee, don't I feel sorry for that person in the wheelchair? I've got two legs, and theirs don't work.' This is deeply ingrained in people," he says.

Scott, a nondisabled choreographer who credits his discovery of physically integrated dance in 1993 for revitalizing his career, believes that the future of the form depends on exposure and training. "If we expect dancers without disabilities to be professionally trained, we need to get to the point where dancers with disabilities can get that same professional training," he says.

The lack of trained disabled dancers "continues to be a crisis for the field," says Judith Smith, who has been advocating for a degree program in physically integrated dance at Cal State East Bay. "It's not like we can have an audition and expect 300 dancers to show up."

A former champion equestrian who became a quadriplegic after a car accident at age 17, Smith discovered her passion for dancing through contact improvisation. An "activist at heart," she's ultimately motivated by the belief "that there are broader social and political implications to what we do through our dances. We're opening people's minds and broadening their ideas about what dance is and what disability is," she says. "That's what keeps me going."

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