On April 6th, Body Shift Collective performed “Being Together” as part of Austin Dance Festival 2019. Body Shift Coordinator Olivia O’Hare and Instructor/Dancer Veronica DeWitt co-directed this piece, but as always, it was a whole cast collaboration that made up the final piece. Of all the Body Shift performances that I’ve done, this was the most special to me.
At the first rehearsal, Olivia told me that she and Veronica wanted me to create a 30-second choreography that I could do at some point within the piece. She also told me that the whole cast would repeat the same movement sequence with me after I did it alone the first time. This was so important to me because I was given the opportunity to create something where I set the quality and speed of the movements that came natural to me. For once, everyone else was going to interpret my fast or slow spastic movements instead of me concentrating so hard on how to make my body move the way they move. Plus, that also meant that I was going to have my first solo!
Also, during the process of preparing for “Being Together”, I personally witnessed the supportiveness and inclusiveness of Body Shift that I’m always trying to describe to other people. Two days before our second rehearsal, Juan and I had our wheelchair accessible van hit and totaled, which made getting our power chairs to rehearsals problematic. When we told Olivia and Veronica, our dropping out of the show never crossed either of their minds. Veronica gave us a ride for that first rehearsal after the accident, but that meant Juan and I had to share my manual wheelchair. Our fellow dancers also helped us make it through rehearsal by helping us get in and out of the chair, pushing us around, and brainstorming ways to get my and Juan’s power wheelchair to the remaining rehearsals. Eventually, the personal care attendants and parents of one of our friends agreed to take turns driving us in the family’s accessible van. But even before we worked that out, Olivia and Veronica were willing to rework the whole piece in order to accommodate the set of different abilities that we would have had without our power chairs. Now, tell me, what other dance company or group would be willing to do that?
The most special thing about this performance didn’t hit me until we were about to take our bow on stage though. You see, as a very young child, the first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a ballerina. I looked at any and all ballet books that I could find, studied and practiced the first six basic ballet positions in my walker, talked ballet to anyone who’d listen, and won a costume contest dressed as a ballerina once. I was 11 years old before I finally realized the world wasn’t prepared for a ballerina in a walker or wheelchair. However, fast forward 38 years and as I looked out into the audience, it suddenly dawned on me: I had just performed on the stage at Ballet Austin!
Body Shift Dancer