Katarzyna Żeglicka: There are no borders between dance and disability

By Disability Arts International on December 17, 2019

Katarzyna Żeglicka is a Polish artist taking part in Europe Beyond Access, a transnational programme supporting disabled artists to internationalise their careers. This is her experience of the programme so far, including workshops that took place at Rozbark Theatre in the small town of Bytom, Poland, that were also part of ‘Dance and Disability: Crossing the Borders’ organised by the Institute of Music and Dance and the British Council.

“The first workshop was led by Ewa Sobiak and Justyna Duda – dancers who have been working together for 18 years in a dance group called FlexStep. The practice they offered allowed me to learn about elements of modern dance and swing, increase my awareness of my body and explore its capabilities. For three days, I learned about collaboration and communication in movement.

For some time after the workshop with Ewa and Justyna I saw movement everywhere – various trajectories, levels, ranges, tempo, rhythm. I kept hearing their cues. Not wanting to lose it, I created a work plan. Mindful walking, balance work, swing, stretching, weight work. A quarter of an hour for the body, so that it remembers.

Justyna, Ewa, and the artists participating in the classes gave me tools which enable me to expand my body awareness, practice balance, be more mindful of the start and end point of my movement. I think in dance. When I’m doing something – I dance. A step forward – weight on the front foot – body tilted forward just a bit – both legs straight – back foot pointed. A wooden model of the human body standing on the window sill makes sure that I don’t forget the skills I’ve learned.

The second workshop featured what I love most – diverse bodies dancing and some hard creative slog. It was led by Marc Brew: dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of Axis Dance Company. This time the former coalmine turned into a mine of contact improvisation and basics of choreography. During three days I was given plenty of inspiration and tools for creating my own performance pieces and leading inclusive dance classes. In a safe space I could not only dance, but also listen to, observe and learn from others. But the most important thing for me was that I finally let go of control and a suspicious attitude towards the leader.

I trusted Marc because he didn’t differentiate between  disabled and non-disabled bodies. Instead he gave me space where I could freely celebrate diversity and experiment with movement.

After two workshops in Bytom, I went (along with Tatiana Cholewa and Antek Kurjata, other participants in the classes) to international workshops led by Adam Benjamin and Jeanefer Jean-Charles, organised as part of the Dutch Dance Days festival by Holland Dance Festival in Maastricht. For a week we honed our skills in building choreography and experimented with the roles of dancers, dancers/choreographers and choreographers.

After Maastricht I had one last workshop in Bytom, where Sylwia Hefczyńska-Lewandowska – dancer, choreographer and teacher – led us along the way of contact improvisation.

On the second day of this workshop something exceptional happened, something that had never happened to me before.

While dancing with Antek Kurjata (dancer and actor participating in the workshops) I had my first taste of a feeling of freedom, a release from fear, and simultaneously – being in safe movement and contact with another person. I was an anarchist on stage.

Antek whirled me in the air, holding onto my legs, and I was laughing out loud in happiness. Dancing with him I found movement in myself that I had not known before, I let go of the feeling of control and, for the first time, completely trusted myself and my partner.

Now we are both planning a performance together and impatiently waiting for the results of a competition we applied for. We frequently talk about that dance on the stage of the Rozbark Theatre. It was extraordinary for both of us. Antek told me that this improvisation was, to him, the crowning achievement of all the workshops.

Although it’s been a few weeks since the workshops, I still feel in my body the echo of the days spent in the beautiful space of the theatre’s postindustrial building. I found them hugely valuable thanks to the presence, mutual support, collaboration and encouragement of the talented artists who participated in them. When we weren’t dancing, we exchanged experiences and comments about practice, talked about how to create a space which would be accessible to artists with alternative sensory-motor skills. In order to keep in touch we started a group on social media where we share inspirations and discussions.

I returned from Bytom every time with plenty of questions and reflections. Why have I not met all those people before? Where are the other artists with alternative sensory-motor skills, because I’m certain they’re out there? How to understand the project’s title if during the workshops the only limit was my own apprehension? Who has more boundaries to cross – us, or the institutions which won’t open their doors to us? How to do away with those boundaries?

To me, there are no borders between dance and disability. Dance is the movement of diverse bodies. In the world I live in, however, those borders do exist. It’s an inaccessible wall which protects cultural institutions, theatres and audiences from disabled artists. Instead of stages and auditoriums for everyone, for years we’ve been getting choreotherapy and festivals for people with disabilities. Now we’re facing a long process during which cultural institutions will have to open up to everyone regardless of their ability level – both viewers and artists.

The art world needs to stop regarding our creativity from the angle of therapy and disability. For this to happen, it’s necessary to treat non-normative bodies like equal elements of a diverse world, and us – like rightful members of the culture and art worlds.

Thanks to initiatives like “Dance and Disability: Crossing the Borders” cracks are beginning to show in the wall. Artists with alternative sensory and motor abilities are finally leading workshops and taking part in professional classes, where they improve their skills, network and make art. I hope that this isn’t a short-term measure, but a beginning of the road towards inclusivity in our country. I believe that we will stop being treated like switches: switched on when a project starts, and turned off when it ends. In my opinion we won’t be able to speak about inclusivity until stages, art schools, festivals and theatres belong to us too.

This project was part of “Theater-Dance-Disability”, implemented in partnership by British Council, Instytut Muzyki i Tańca and Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego. The workshops took place as part of Europe Beyond Access supported by  by the Creative Europe programme of the European Commission.

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