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Rubrik: Lesen statt Hören
09. Oktober 2007

Let's dance! The DanceAbility method

von David Sowka

DanceAbility means dancing for people both with and without disabilities.
Listening to this interview you hear about Alessi's philosophy of dancing and you get to know a Finnish dancer of his class, who is a teacher herself.

Alito Alessi: And the main philosophy of my work is that the body itself is never a limitation to dance, never, never.

Gunilla Sjövall: All the listeners just go for a dance!


Alito Alessi: But dancing should be available to anyone who wants to dance. So any person who is interested to explore their own body, in a way of developing a deeper relationship to their own body and relationships to other people and other bodies through movement and communication through movement, nonverbal kinds of communication, that's what I see, dance is being.
And I am not sure that it's for everybody but I can teach anybody.

Freak-Radio, David Sowka: The American choreographer Alito Alessi is the founder of the DanceAbility method. He has been teaching at the Impuls Tanz Festival in Vienna for several times.
His method of dancing includes all people, able bodied and disabled.

Alito Alessi: And the main philosophy of my work is that the body itself is never a limitation to dance, never. And that the sort of limitations to dance are more people's and social attitudes about what they believe dancing is. In terms of dance the limitation is not the condition of someone's body; the limitation is when a person is isolated.And in the isolation they have no accessibility.
And they have no choice and I just see dance and movement as another choice that should be available to any person.

Freak-Radio: Alito Alessi studied Social work at the University of Oregon. He was dealing with martial arts for several years and he worked as a massage therapist.

Alito Alessi: I began working with people with disabilities probably around 30 years ago. That was in various forms of movement and therapy with children in a school setting. And I, at the same time had a contemporary dance company that was beginning. And I didn?t really have an interest somehow to pursue working with people with disabilities, but they were in my life, because I had three people in my family who had disabilities. And also in my work there where people with disabilities.


Alito Alessi: And it wasn´t about till eight years after I started my dance company that I thought: Oh it would be really interesting to really fulfil my own personal values about what I believe movement and dance really is. And I believed that it was for all people, so I thought I just got to take a chance for two reasons.
One, to fulfil my own values and my belief in a democratic setting within the context of art,
and two, to see if I could learn how to move differently, from what my own habits and patterns
of movement had led me to.


Alito Alessi: Because I found out, that if I keep moving the same way, probably I think the same way, probably I feel the same way and I began to experience my own life and my own limitations within my own attitudes, within my own feelings, within my own believe system. That was not really healthy for me.
So the goal to consider dancing differently was really to change how I moved. So hopefully, I could change other parts about myself as well. And so I had the idea: what, if I move with people who move differently, maybe I could learn how to move differently. ? And I was absolutely right.


Alito Alessi: When I started moving with different people, it was never a limitation but absolutely much greater opportunity for me to learn to arrive in a moment where maybe I didn't really know what would happen next. And that was a really exiting place to be, to then have to really listen to myself and who ever I was dancing with, to see, where this communication would go next.


Alito Alessi: And so, that language came from the body, all kinds of language come from the body. That which started society arose from the body. And so, my teaching arises from the body of people. And if I limit the bodies that I teach then I create another limited society. And we already have one that doesn?t really work very well.


Alito Alessi: So my interest is this, to create a model that can show a more expensive and honest reflection of what our society is. And then show in a creative environment using movement as a foundation that we can actually function together as equals and create a sort of new social culture, inside the classroom setting that actually works very well.
And so if you see a model that works, then you can start looking at the other model and what doesn?t work.
So the social model that we have now which doesn?t work has do to with attitudes has do to with architecture, has to do with prejudice and not accepting difference.
And so it just became a goal, through dancing to question some of those things. And see if, when people had a real experience of diversity, if maybe some of their ideas and assumptions that organize their prejudice in the first place could disappear because they had a real experience rather to have some thought process to support their prejudice.
Because I think most people isolate people not because they are bad people but because they are afraid. And they are afraid, not because they are bad people either, but because they had never had an opportunity to relate to different kinds of people.
So I create an opportunity through dance to relate to all kinds of people, and fears disappear very quickly.

Freak-Radio: A DanceAbility group in a classroom consists of very different people. The teaching method relates to the different groups of dancers.

Alito Alessi: I?m more interested in working with movement that doesn?t identify with the specific forms, just physically disabled and able bodied people in a room. There is: everyone understands language and speaks and hears.
Then you teach a specific way. If you then add people with mental disabilities to that same group, then there is a little different orientation. So, as never to teach in a way that isolates or leaves anybody out.
If you involve hearing impaired people, it?s another orientation. If you involve people that are physically disabled but cannot mobilize themselves from one place to another, then there is another set of things that you need to consider. And always to teach so that everybody is involved as an equal and nobody gets isolated.

Freak-Radio: Sensation, relationship, time and design are the basic principals of teaching the DanceAbility method.

Alito Alessi: You have sensation, that?s yourself, that?s your experience of your own movement, your physical experience: when you move you feel a sensation.
The next is relationship. When you move your body speaks, your body is a living involving language.


Alito Alessi: And then we have? sensation, relationship..
Then we have time. Each person has a different relationship to time. Not the clock time, because that controls you. I am more interested in involving your own sense of how long does it take you to take an action, how long does it take me.
That?s a very valuable difference to come to really understand time as it exists, not as we have been conditioned to relate to it. So that deepens your relationship with other people.
And then you have to know the time of a wider group of people beside yourself and one other people. You have to understand your community.
So, sensation, relationship, time and design, the four different concepts that we work a lot with, over and over and over and over, in many different kinds of exercises. So that ultimately you experience yourself while you move.


Alito Alessi: You have a relationship with at least one other person. While you are in that relationship, you don't forget the other people that are in your community. That's the time, the sense of the whole group and you will begin to notice how your community affects the environment nature. So those are four basic principals of improvisation, four basic principals that I teach in my work.


Alito Alessi:
So the work is really growing internationally. There are communities in 15 different countries, specifically with DanceAbility. But the mixed abilities work, which means other people also teach movement and dance with people with disabilities outside of DanceAbility is also really growing. So it?s really a lot of fun and it?s open to really anybody.


Gunilla Sjövall: My name is Gunilla Sjövall and I come from Helsinki, Finland and my profession is educator, and I have my own company.

Freak-Radio:Gunilla Sjöval was a student of this years DanceAbility workshop at the Impuls Tanz Festival and she is a DanceAbility teacher herself. She uses an electric wheelchair and she can hardly speak. So one of her personal assistants, Outi Ivaska worked as an interpreter during the interview.
Gunilla always wanted to dance, but she didn´t know, how to do so. Three years ago she joined her first DanceAbility course.

Gunilla Sjövall: I have actually been dancing for 5 years already. In Helsinki we have this dance company called RAIATTON. It's kind of a word game which could be translated: with limits or without limits. It means that although some of us have physical limitations, while we are dancing there are no boundaries, there are no limitations.
Alito came to Finland to a similar festival as Impuls Tanz is here, and he came there to give this DanceAbility course,
I got to know about it through my dance group. And I was simply just interested in it. Then I went on the course and I got really excited about it. And then the next year Alito came again and gave the same course. And I was there again because I felt that this is my thing. And then after the second course I went to ask Alito: What do you think, could I take part in the teachers training, or do I have too little experience as a dancer?
And Alito told me, you may have little experience in dancing, but you have a lot of experience in teaching. I will make you a DanceAbility teacher and not a dancer. And I know that you will be a good teacher.


Gunilla Sjövall: I have known all may life that inside of me there is a small dancer. But I used to think, that a person with a disability, with a severe disability and in an electric wheelchair and with little mobility in the body can not be a dancer. But then I heard about the DanceAbility method and 3 years ago, I went for the first DanceAbility Course, which lasted for four days and it was held in Finland. And it kind of opened up a new life for me. And I really found the dancer inside of me.

Freak-Radio: What means DanceAbility to her? In human history dancing plays a very important role.

Gunilla Sjövall: It is a way to express the dance that we all have inside of us. A person or a human being is made to move. And when you watch the historical paintings in the caves, even there?re they are dancing. I think that human being has been dancing ever since he was an ape.

Freak-Radio: Dancing is the expression of feelings. It is not important how big the movement is. It might be enough just to move one finger.

Gunilla Sjövall: And Alito Alessi, who has created this method, has said, that DanceAbility`s value is, that every movement is equal. If a ballet dancer would make a "spagat" or something on the floor, the same feeling that she or he is expressing with that movement can be expressed by a small movement by your finger.
And that's the core of DanceAbility: it suits everyone and nobody is counted out, and You don't have to know anything. And it's a good method for us people with disabilities, but it's also good for any professional dancer.


Gunilla Sjövall: The most important thing is that you have to tell everybody that you don?t have to do anything, if You don't want to. It's totally alright, just to sit aside and watch. And another important thing is, to make it clear to everybody, that everything that you do is right. It's not me, who is going to tell you, how you should dance, because it all comes from inside of you.
I never say anybody in the first lesson, that (he should) get out of the chair. The most important thing about
everything, is that everything is save.
Therefore I usually, in the beginning of the class, show everybody how powerful the electric wheelchair can be. And I put an emphasis on the fact, that nobody should grab my hand, which is on the joystick, or doesn't touch the joystick in any case, or that my feet are very sensitive and I don't wish anyone to jump on my feet.
But otherwise you can jump on me, however you want to. If somebody wants to try dancing out of the wheelchair, that's ok, then we try that.

Freak-Radio: Everybody can be included at a DanceAbility workshop, even if she or he can only move one eyebrow. There's no need to be shy and there is no word such as "should".

Gunilla Sjövall: If you have some helping tool, it's not going to stop you from dancing. Alito told about this woman who came to do the teachers training. She had an electric wheelchair which was like a bed. She was lying there and she couldn't even turn her head. And she had mirrors around her head. Alito said that actually, that was one time when he was thinking: what am I gonna do? ( laughing)
But it was incredible, the movements the lady did with her electric wheelchair, were incredible.
She was a true dancer.

Freak-Radio: Once again, the contact to DanceAbility in Austria: Vera Rebl:
And of Alito Alessi in the USA:

I hope, everybody would like to go dancing right now,- and I wish you a lot of fun.

Thanks for technical support to: Rainer Kaiser, Chris Egger and Harald Landgraf. I also want to thank Monika Unterrainer.

All the listeners just go for a dance!

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