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A step in the right direction

11 May 2017


Moving Into Dance Mophatong (MID) has taken a step towards inclusivity in the arts by creating a specialised contemporary dance programme annually in their studios in Newtown, Johannesburg running from October to December. The programme aims to bridge the gap between able bodied people and persons with disabilities who have a passion for dancing. The programme being facilitated by the company is overseen and guided by well-known integrated contemporary dance instructor, Gladys Agulhas of Agulhas Theatre Works (ATW), based in Eldorado Park.

“Working on this specific programme was an opportunity for more channels to be opened especially in teaching integrated dance – to have more skilled teachers in this specialised field,” said Agulhas.  Mark Hawkins, artistic director of MID, said, “People with disabilities have for so long been excluded in many industries. This is due to the lack of information and knowledge about their capabilities. MID has realised that removing the barriers through allowing accessibility and equal opportunity to disabled people could aid in changing the face of how disability is perceived.
“Moving into Dance understands that disability is propagated through a lack of social awareness and will work to remove the barriers which prevent people with disability from living life to the fullest. As part of breaking down the barriers, MID is introducing a project called ‘Enable Through Dance’ which recognises the lived experience of disability, and seeks to restore confidence and self-esteem not as a medical model construct but as a social phenomenon, through artistic, literary, and other creative means.”

THISABILITY spoke to 26-year-old Emily Mabasa from Alexandra Township, a dancer who participated in the 2016 programme. Mabasa has mild spactic diplegia cerebral palsy and uses crutches as assistive devices for mobility. “I have been dancing since 2011, under the direction of Gladys Agulhas, who informed me about this programme and encouraged me to participate. I had an opportunity to push the boundaries set up for me, and the opportunity to work beyond my limitations, and to let my body surprise me. As a performer, one is taught to think outside the box, and to not limit themselves.” According to Agulhas, “Like with many artistic forms, there’s always room for improvements, and improvisations, especially with inclusive performances. I always believe in improvisations, and total improvisations is a tool I use as a technique of learning and understanding, also the use of body conditioning to build the dancers’ muscles, to better perform. One needs to understand their most important tool, their body.”

Dance is one of the most influential and world recognised form of artistic expression, that many use for expression, storytelling and teaching purposes. It is through dance as an art that people often seek growth and self-discovery amongst other things. “Dance has always had preconceived notions around perfect body image but through the Enable through Dance programme, we have managed to deconstruct that perception and have accommodated an inclusive programme,” said Hawkins. “As MID, we hope to observe and experience the transformation of our trainees as they experienced the positive outcomes of a new skill learned: this was definitely successfully achieved. But not just a transformation but a complete mind-shift for all who work and train at MIDM. To see such intense mind-set changes of the trainees, and how their knowledge, understanding and sensitivity has increased through teaching learners living with disabilities, as well as their insight on issues concerning people living with disabilities: this was definitely a successful outcome.

Part of this was also seeing friendships established and seeing engagements with people living with disabilities that were no longer awkward and uncomfortable,” continued Hawkins. He said further, “The greatest impact was to break the stigma around disability among our trainees, staff and students, to gain a greater understanding around disability and how dance could be inclusive.”
This year’s programme commenced on May 6, with classes running on Saturdays from 09:30 to 11:00 at MID studios in Newtown, Johannesburg. “We encourage every persons with disabilities to come and participate in the programme,” Hawkins concluded.

By Kgomotso Meso

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