Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective. Danielle is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas, and her first book, The Politics of State Public Arts Funding, is out now.
The other day, I was forwarded a really interesting e-mail that was simply titled “Gimp.” That’s it; just “Gimp.” Normally, I would have deleted it, but I took a chance, opened it and was more than pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was a link to a March 17 New York Times article about people with disabilities and their relationship with modern dance.
The dance company, called Gimp, employs dancers with undeveloped or amputated limbs, bodies beset with physical challenges, as well as able-bodied individuals. Its goal is to “honor each person’s really specific way of moving [and] unique personalities,” Gimp founder, dancer and choreographer Heidi Latsky told the Times.
However, not everyone is ready to see a chiseled able-bodied dancer lift, throw and catch a tall, skinny guy with cerebral palsy like a beanbag. And not everyone is ready for that same skinny guy to walk downstage and tell the audience a joke that starts, “So, three cripples walk into a bar.”
But there is a reason Gimp presents the unexpected onstage; it’s meant to be an in-your-face confrontation of common notions of disability and dance. Because, “there is no safe prearranged marriage of dance and disability,” says dancer Lawrence Carter-Long (the skinny guy with cerebral palsy). There is a collision between these two worlds that results in a beautiful explosion of chaos.
Rather than working around the dancers’ particular limitations, Latsky tries to find distinct abilities in their bodies and explore the artistic possibilities that can be had from these differences. So the jaunty rhythm of Carter-Long is featured; so is the vertical linearity of Catherine Long — who was born without a left arm — and so is the intriguing asymmetry of Lezlie Frye, who has one arm shorter than the other, as she experiments with the idea of movement looping. Gimp members say that dance helps them with both physical control and expression with their bodies. But also, performing in public helps them help the audience deal with encountering physically challenged people. Onstage, they are inviting the public to stare.
I think that what Latsky and her dancers are creating is fantastic. They are rubbing our faces in their disabilities and saying “so what?” Open your eyes and see the people you live with. See us, be us, feel us. Look at what we can do! And their stories just make me ask why anyone would give up on their dreams? Why should we let anything stand in our way of accomplishing our goals? If you want to dance, but you are missing a hand, or an arm, or the ability to control your legs, why should that stop you? Go with! Feel it! Live it, breathe it, dance it!
Moreover, Gimp is just another example of the power of art. We have known for generations that the arts have an incredible power to heal both the body and the spirit for generations. The Native Americans use dance, song and painting to call upon spirits of nature to bring them good fortune, health, food and happiness. Many Asian, Norse and Caribbean cultures continue those traditions.
Gimp also reminds us that the arts are central to what it means to be human. The arts can heal, but they can also be a force for building communities, for nurturing human creativity and well-being. There is something so satisfyingly stimulating to watch a dancer move about the stage with wild abandonment. If your body just does it naturally, well, you are one to be envied.
So you’ve got a pinched nerve in your back, a bum knee and your feet hurt … buck up! He has cerebral palsy and she doesn’t have an arm, and look them at them! They still dance.