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To be or not to be - able to dance: Integrated dance and children's perceptions of dance ability and disability

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This study investigated children’s perceptions of dance ability and disability and changes to perceptions following participation in an integrated dance program. Focus group interviews, field notes and observations were used with children with physical disabilities (n = 5) and without disabilities (n = 9) between the ages six and nine before and after their participation in an integrated dance program. Ableism, contact theory and aspects of the situative approach to knowledge construction served as theoretical frameworks. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to analyse the data. Pre-program interviews revealed three common themes: all kinds of moves, like ballet and dance ability = turning/jumping. In addition, three themes emerged from interviews with able-bodied participants: can’t walk/can’t dance, passivity and different because.... Post-program interviews revealed two common themes: emotional/physical and body parts/levels. In addition two themes emerged describing able-bodied children’s perceptions: can’t walk/CAN dance and different because-equipment. One theme emerged post-program describing perceptions of participants with disabilities: competence. Participation in an integrated dance program can have a positive impact on children’s perceptions of dance ability and a more subtle impact on able-bodied children’s perceptions of disability.
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Research in Dance Education
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To be or not to be – able to dance:
integrated dance and children’s
perceptions of dance ability and
disability
Michelle R. Zitomer
a
& Greg Reid
a
a
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, McGill
University, Montreal, Canada
Available online: 27 Jul 2011
To cite this article: Michelle R. Zitomer & Greg Reid (2011): To be or not to be – able to dance:
integrated dance and children’s perceptions of dance ability and disability, Research in Dance
Education, 12:2, 137-156
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14647893.2011.575224
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To be or not to be able to dance: integrated dance and
childrens perceptions of dance ability and disability
Michelle R. Zitomer* and Greg Reid
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
This study investigated childrens perceptions of dance ability and disability and
changes to perceptions following participation in an integrated dance program.
Focus group interviews, eld notes and observations were used with children
with physical disabilities (n = 5) and without disabilities (n = 9) between the
ages six and nine before and after their participation in an integrated dance pro-
gram. Ableism, contact theory and aspects of the situative approach to knowl-
edge construction served as theoretical frameworks. An interpretative
phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to analyse the data. Pre-program
interviews revealed three common themes: all kinds of moves, like ballet and
dance ability = turning/jumping. In addition, three themes emerged from inter-
views with able-bodied participants: can t walk/cant dance, passivity and differ-
ent because.... Post-program interviews revealed two common themes:
emotional/physical and body parts/levels. In addition two themes emerged
describing able-bodied childrens perceptions: cant walk/CAN dance and differ-
ent because-equipment. One theme emerged post-program describing perceptions
of participants with disabilities: competence. Participation in an integrated dance
program can have a positive impact on childrens perceptions of dance ability
and a more subtle impact on able-bodied childrens perceptions of disability.
Keywords: dance education; inclusion; children with physical disabilities
Dance involving individuals with disabilities tends to be interpreted as dance ther-
apy (Benjamin 2002; Freire 2001) where dance is used as a psychotherapeutic tool
for healing of mind, body and spirit (Karkou and Sanderson 2000; Levy 1988).
Conversely, adapted dance relates to adapting dance activities as well as attitudes
and behaviours surrounding dance and disabilities to promote equal participation
opportunities for individuals with disabilities (Hutzler and Sherrill 2007). Dance
may have therapeutic benets (e.g., Mendelsohn 1999; Torrance 2003). However,
including participants with disabilities in dance education is not considered ther-
apy by the teachers or participants (Benjamin 2002). When able-bodied children
attend dance classes, no one considers their program dance therapy. Why should it
be different for children with disabilities?
Societys tendency to compare and categorise people based on set standards of
cognitive and physical norms is what Davis (1995) denes as ableism. Individuals
who deviate from societys set norms are perceived as abnormal, disabled
*Corresponding author. Email: michelle.zitomer@mail.mcgill.ca
Research in Dance EducationAquatic Insects
Vol. 12, No. 2, July 2011, 137156
ISSN 1464-7893 print/ISSN 1470-1111 online
Ó 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14647893.2011.575224
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(Bruce-Marks 1997; Thomson 2005), possessing defect (Gill 1997; Kliewer and
Fitzgerald 2001) or ill (Benjamin 2002; Goodwin, Thurmeier and Gustafson 2004;
Kuppers 2003; Quinlan and Bates 2008). The disability becomes inseparable from
ones identity (Cooper-Albright 1997; Davis 1995; Gill 1997; Goodwin, Thurmeier
and Gustafson 2004; Kuppers 2000) and one is perceived to be suffering from the
disability (Kuppers 2003). Two modalities are apparent in societys view of disabil-
ity: function, which emphasises inability to do something such as walk, and appear-
ance, which reects how disability is seen leading to emotional reactions such as
fear, pity, compassion or avoidance (Cooper-Albright 1997; Davis 1995; DePauw
1997; Gill 1997; Goodwin, Thurmeier and Gustafson 2004; Peers 2009; Sandahl
and Auslander 2005; Sherlock 1996). The appearance of disability then would
underlie assumptions of ones inability to dance.
Dance has evolved from being essential in peoples lives in ancient cultures
(Birringer 2005; Levy 1988; Shea 1998) to its current representation as an elite cul-
tural and artistic eld reserved for those who possess certain physical capacities and
body structures (Benjamin 2002; Boswell 1989; Davies 2008; Elin and Boswell
2004; Sherlock 1996). Ballet is likely the most dominate cultural image of dance in
western society (Kealiinohomoku 2001; Kuppers 2000; Ritenburg 2010; Walker and
Walker 1997; Ward-Hutchinson 2009). Ableism becomes apparent in dance when
Kuppers (2000) uses the term dancerly body to refer to concepts of physicality
appropriate for specic dance techniques. She emphasises the importance of re-eval-
uating dance practices in order to understand what counts as dancing. Kaufmann
(2006) denes dance ability based on ve constructs:
(1) body awareness;
(2) spatial awareness;
(3) ability to follow oral instruction and music cues;
(4) ability to imitate movement; and
(5) visualisation and recall skills.
This denition does not offer reason to assume an individual with disabilities
would be unable to dance.
Professional dance troupes that include dancers with disabilities emerged in the
1980s with the idea of defying conceptions of who can be a dancer. However, training
opportunities for those individuals are limited (Goodwin, Krohn and Kuhnle 2004;
Schwyzer 2005). Accessibility to dance training is limited by architectural barriers
and attitudinal barriers related to perceptions that including individuals with disabili-
ties would reduce training standards for other participants (Benjamin 1993; Helfen-
baum 2009; Whatley 2007). Adopting a social model of disability in dance education
may facilitate accessibility by increasing student awareness to physical norms that
underlie various dance forms and ways in which norms can change (Kuppers 2000).
This is consistent with the situative approach to knowledge construction.
The situative approach to knowledge construction values learning that occurs
through participation in a social process (Greeno 2006; Salomon and Perkins 1998).
In this context, conceptual change is considered as change in concepts used for
communication and problem solving or an increase of shared participation amongst
community members. The conceptual change process suggests that group members
have an equal opportunity to contribute to the learning process, share a common
goal and work in collaboration (Barron 2000). Conceptual change in activity
138 M.R. Zitomer and G. Reid
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systems is based on acting with conceptual agency rather than disciplinary agency.
The two agencies differ in their approach to problem solving. The disciplinary
agency requires following established procedures and the evaluation of correct per-
formance based on the discipline standards. The conceptual agency involves adapta-
tions based on critical thinking regarding the appropriateness and meaning of
alternative understandings and strategies in an activity domain (Greeno and van De
Sande 2007). Such notions can be conveyed in activities situated in a dance educa-
tion context.
Dance is an artistic form that provides participants an opportunity to learn
through use of the body in motion. Movement is a fundamental way of learning
and developing ones ability to perceive oneself and ones actions (Stolberg 2006)
as well as a way to understand and negotiate the surroundings (Gardner 2004;
Kaufmann 2006; Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi and Ideishi 2007; Luntz and Kuhlman
2000). According to Risner (2000) exploring individual backgrounds of participants
in dance programs and ways in which they construct knowledge and make meaning
of the world is critical for dance educators. Contact theory can potentially contrib-
ute to such exploration attempts.
Contact theory states that people naturally tend to form generalisations, catego-
ries and concepts in relation to various types of people. The group referred to by
individuals as familiar is termed an in-group, while the out-group identies people
who are unfamiliar or different for various reasons (Allport 1954). According to
contact theory, repeated interaction between the two groups would result in reduced
prejudice under four contact conditions:
(1) participants share equal status;
(2) common goals;
(3) intergroup cooperation; and
(4) authority support (Allport 1954; Pettigrew and Tropp 2006).
Contact theory has been recently used by adapted physical activity researchers
exploring its potential to elicit attitude change in relation to students with disabilities
in inclusive physical education (e.g., Archie and Sherrill 1989; Butler and Hodge
2004; Slininger, Sherrill and Jankowski 2000; Tripp, French and Sherrill 1995).
Ableism, the situative approach and contact theory perceive categorisation based
on set standards considered normal by a given social group. Contact theory and
ableism consider such categorisation natures as prejudice, causing exclusion of
those who deviate from the norm. Ableism describes an existing problem, while
contact theory and the situative approach propose solutions. Conceptual change
based on the situative approach shares commonalities with contact theory regarding
the role social interaction has in constructing knowledge and the conditions leading
to attitude or conceptual change; equal status, common goals and collaboration.
Contact theorys fourth condition, authority support, is not discussed as a condition
affecting conceptual change in the situative approach. However, studies found a
relationship between teachers beliefs in student learning capacity and their choice
of learning activities for those students (Warburton 2004). Teachers are role models
of appropriate behaviour (Bruce-Marks 1997; Lieberman, James and Ludwa 2004;
Shue and Beck 2001) they can inuence student perceptions of the learning envi-
ronment (Suomi, Collier and Brown 2003) and student achievement and motivation
(Muis and Foy 2010).
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Integrated dance is a dance in which participants with and without disabilities
engage together (Dey 2003; Helfenbaum 2009; Kaufmann 2006; Nonhebel 2007)
and are valued for their unique contribution to the creative and learning process
(Benjamin 1993: 2002; Williams 1999). Empirical studies of integrated dance are
limited. Williams (1999) investigation of lived experiences of dancers of the
Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels revealed two themes: agency, which reected per-
sonal and professional empowerment of dancers resulting from their experience
with technique and choreography; and aesthetics, reecting the contrast between the
company dancers bodies and the dance form they perform. Whatleys (2007) study
of university-integrated dance revealed that able-bodied students initially perceived
the wheelchair as invading their dance space and regarded students with disabilities
as incapable of achieving any level of ability or artistry but would benet from
dance as therapy. As the program progressed, able-bodied students began to view
the wheelchair as an extension of the body integrated into the dance. This change
inspired re-evaluation of dancers and dance as an art form.
However, dance education for many students begins around preschool. Particu-
larly for very young girls, dance programs may begin at three years of age (Risner
2007). Parents of preschoolers seek to encourage their childrens creativity and
expression, as well as leave open the possibility of a dance career (Stinson 1988).
Sjostedt Edelholm (cited in Lindqvist 2001) interviewed children who experienced
dance education in Swedish schools and found that children experienced difculty
describing dance (cited in Lindqvist 2001). No studies were found that investigated
childrens experiences or perceptions of integrated dance. Therefore, understanding
of such perceptions and experiences must be derived from ndings of other inclu-
sive settings.
A literature review on experience of students with disabilities in inclusive physi-
cal education by Goodwin (2009) revealed that participants with disabilities enjoy
physical activity and desire to actively participate alongside their able-bodied peers.
Inclusions positive aspects consisted of instrumental support from classmates and
teachers that facilitated successful and meaningful participation. Also, knowledge
acquisition about performance enhanced skilful involvement and provided opportuni-
ties to demonstrate physical competence. Participants gained a sense of belonging
and opportunities to be with friends. Negative aspects consisted of social isolation
due to exclusion from extracurricular activities, being ridiculed, embarrassed or com-
pletely ignored by classmates. Unsolicited peer help was viewed as unwelcome
thereby undermining personal independence. Limited participation opportunities
occurred when teachers did not provide adaptations or encourage involvement.
According to Allport (1954), prejudice develops during the rst six years of
childhood. Studies addressing young able-bodied childrens perceptions of disability
and inclusion revealed that kindergarten children were able to recognise physical,
cognitive and social differences (Suomi Collier and Brown 2003). Schnorr (1990)
found that children in rst grade dened their school experience based on where
you belong, what you do and with whom you play. He emphasised the signi-
cance of identifying context and time for student interaction and ensuring accessibil-
ity of such settings to students with disabilities.
Dance can provide an appropriate environment to explore Allports conditions to
reduce prejudice. Moreover, exposure to integrated dance may positively impact
perceptions of dance ability and disability regardless of participants previous con-
tact experiences (Kremer 2005).
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The purpose of this study is to investigate childrens perceptions of dance ability
and disability as a function of their participation in an integrated dance program.
More specically, what are childrens perceptions on dance ability and disability?
Would participation in an integrated dance program change such perceptions?
Methods
Participants
Sixteen children between the ages six and nine (M = 7.6) enrolled in an integrated
dance program. Five children had physical disabilities and 11 children were able-
bodied (Table 1). Two able-bodied participants dropped out of the program after
four weeks. Participant condentiality was assured by replacing participant names
with a pseudonym. Purposeful sampling was used and recruitment methods
involved posters, yers, ads in local papers and word of mouth.
Protocol
Ethical approval was obtained from a university ethics board. Prior to commencing
the program, parents were invited to an information session regarding the programs
purpose. Consent forms were distributed at the end of the information session for
parents who chose to enrol their child.
The integrated dance program was offered one hour a week for ten weeks at a
local YMCA. The program was taught by the researcher and three assistants who
were undergraduate student volunteers. All instructors were able-bodied (see
Table 1). The program was structured to encourage frequent interaction incorporat-
ing the four principles of Allports theory (equal status, common goals, cooperation
and authority support). Each class consisted of a warm up, circle time with exer-
cises for strength and exibility, movement exploration in collaboration and cool
Table 1. Description of participants.
Age Gender Disability Assistive device
Participants with disabilities
6y4m f Left arm None
9y6m m CP-Hemiplegia None
6y0m f CP None
9y1m m CP Walker
7y0m m CP Helmet, braces, occasionally walker or wheelchair.
Participants without disabilities
8y11m f
6y0m f
8y6m f
6y8m m
9y0m f
7y0m f
6y2m f
9y2m f
6y5m f
7y9m f
6y9m m
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down. Cooperative work was constructed to encourage students to act with concep-
tual agency in a process of movement exploration. For instance, the entire group
learned a short dance sequence and then were challenged to work in groups of three
or four, sharing a common goal of nding different ways to interpret the sequence.
Each group interpreted the sequence based on its members physical capacities and
their interest in exploring different execution modes (i.e., sitting vs standing).
Data collection
A case study approach guided this study since it permits in depth exploration and
description of a program (Creswell 2007). This approach is suitable for investiga-
tions in real life settings, making it appropriate for conducting research with chil-
dren (Greig, Taylorand and Mackay 2007). Data collection drew upon observations,
focus group interviews and eld notes. Observations of lmed classes enriched
researcher eld notes.
Semi-structured focus group interviews were conducted for the purpose gaining
the childrens perceptions of dance ability and disability. Focus group interviews are
appropriate for interviewing young children (Greig Taylorand and Mackay 2007;
Krueger and Casey 2000) as they tend to feel safer to express themselves when
amongst their peers. Furthermore, they feed off of each other and keep each other
on track (Costigan-Lederman 1990; Graue and Walsh 1998; Sanders 1996). Focus
group interviews were conducted at the beginning and end of the program. Able-
bodied children were interviewed separately from children with disabilities due to
potential differences in experience (Patton 2002). Participants were interviewed in
groups of three to ve members. Pre-program interviews were designated to evalu-
ate perceptions of dance ability and disability and prior contact experience. Post-
program interviews evaluated potential changes in those perceptions as a function
of the program. The pre-program interview guide was pilot tested with a group of
six able-bodied children of similar ages. This allowed the researcher to determine
the appropriateness of the questions and make any necessary modications. Due to
lack of sufcient numbers of children with disabilities, it was impossible to pilot
test the interview guide with these children.
Data analysis
Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interpretive phenomenological
analysis (IPA) procedures as suggested by Smith and Osborn (2008) informed tran-
script analysis. IPA allows exploration of ways in which participants make sense of
their experiences in a given setting (Chapman and Smith 2002; Smith and Osborn
2008). Moreover, it combines symbolic interactionism by considering meanings
emerging during or resulting from social interaction (Smith 1996). Interpretation of
the data was based on the emerging themes and their relationship to contact theory,
ableism and the situative approach as well as literature from dance and inclusive
education.
Trustworthiness
Triangulation resulted from use of multiple information sources for data collection
(interviews, observation, lming and eld notes). Triangulation of theoretical
frameworks (ableism, contact theory and the situative approach) also enriched the
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data collection and interpretation process. This provided a rich thick description of
the study, allowing evaluation of its potential transferability to other contexts
(Creswell 2007). Peer review occurred throughout the development and implemen-
tation of this study. This included interview transcript review and discussion of
emerging themes, as well as discussion of issues that occurred during the program
(Merriam 1998). This process provided the researcher an opportunity to reect on
emerging ideas and evaluate their plausibility. Pilot testing of the pre-program inter-
views also provided an element of trustworthiness by providing the researcher prac-
tice in conducting and transcribing the interview, as well as feedback regarding the
appropriateness of the interview guide.
Results and discussion
The purpose of the current study was to explore childrens perceptions of dance
ability and disability and the possibility that participation in an integrated dance
program would change such perceptions. Ableism and contact theory were the main
theoretical frameworks that guided this study. Aspects of the situative approach to
knowledge construction were also explored for the purpose of enriching contact the-
ory in changing conceptions of ableism in the dance context.
Question 1: What are childrens perceptions of dance ability and disability?
Common themes to all children
Pre-program interviews revealed three common themes for all children relating to
their conceptions of dance and dance ability: all kinds of moves, like ballet and
dance ability = turning/jumping.
All kinds of moves
As expected, dening dance was difcult for all participants (Lindqvist 2001). Most
children described dance as doing all kinds of moves. Some were more specic
about types of movements, such as jumping, turning, lifting legs or wiggling. Oth-
ers did not differentiate between dance as a term and dance styles. For instance,
Jenny (with disabilities) dened dance as: Its like hip hop and ballet and jazz and
all this stuff. Ali (able-bodied) explained: It is like hip hop and music.
Like ballet
Consistent with the observation that ballet is the most dominant dance form in wes-
tern society (Kealiinohomoku 2001; Kuppers 2000; Ritenburg 2010; Walker and
Walker 1997; Ward-Hutchinson 2009), ballet was mentioned throughout the conver-
sation as either a personal dance experience, something they wanted to try or as a
favourite dance style. Hip hop was the second most familiar dance form to partici-
pants. Two able-bodied girls talked about participating in hip hop classes and two
other girls (one with disabilities) mentioned it as a dance form with which they
were familiar.
When asked to recall specic dance experiences, descriptions also reected a
dominance of ballet. This provides support to Stinson (1988), who discussed
Research in Dance Education 143
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parents seeking to place their preschool-aged daughters in ballet. Children with dis-
abilities differed from able-bodied children in types of dance memories they
expressed. For two able-bodied girls dance memories consisted of recitals and cos-
tumes. Julia (able-bodied) remembered ballet classes as playful:
In ballet we did this thing where there was a stick and there was like a little horse at
the end and we did ballet with it. We would hold it and go up and down and gidiup
on it.
For Jenny (with disabilities) dance class was work: You have to hold onto that
rail (ballet barre) and do those moves (demonstrates steps from ballet technique).
Ballet was also apparent in some of the girls movement choices in the rst cou-
ple of classes. During a gesture circle activity, children were to introduce them-
selves with a gesture. Minnie chose to introduce herself with a plié in a ballet rst
position. Kaila (able-bodied), Dilara and Jena (both with disabilities) did various
forms of pirouettes upon entering the studio. The pirouettes also reected what
these girls perceived as ability to dance.
Four of the 11 able-bodied children and three of the ve children with disabili-
ties, did not mention ballet. These children said they never participated in dance
programs. Hanna (able-bodied) mentioned she liked tango but never took classes.
Roman (with disabilities) said he danced at parties.
Dance ability = turning/jumping
In terms of dance contents, only large-scale movements such as turning and jump-
ing were considered by most children to represent ability to dance. This is not sur-
prising as it is often expected of dancers to be capable of executing turns and leaps
across the stage (Boswell 1989). With the exception of two children (one able bod-
ied and one with disabilities), all perceived themselves as able to dance. Don, who
used a walker, was eager to demonstrate his dance ability by leaning on his walker
and jumping. On the other hand, Don also reected a sense of hesitation: It might
be a possibility I can dance, because I think I can, not that I can, but Im trying to,
you know, dance, because I can do these moves.
A couple of children described their ability to dance as doing cartwheels, or
ips. Jena (with a disability) was eager to demonstrate her ipping skills: I can
do a ip all the way out there (points to opposite end of room) want to see?
Logan (with disabilities) perceived himself as unable to dance, and when asked
why, he shrugged his shoulder. His response was consistent with his behaviour on
the rst day of the program since he spent the entire rst part of the class on his
knees refusing to join the other children in any locomotive activities.
Able-bodied childrens themes
Able-bodied children were presented a picture of a child with a walker and a pic-
ture of a child in a wheelchair. They were asked if they thought these children
could dance and why. They then tried a short assimilation where one pretended to
be the child with the wheelchair or walker and others had to dance with them.
Based on those questions three themes emerged regarding able-bodied childrens
perceptions of children with disabilities and their ability to dance: cant walk/cant
dance, passivity and different because... All three themes are consistent with
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assumptions of both the function and appearance modalities apparent in societys
view of disability (Davis 1995; Thomson 2005).
Cant walk/cant dance
For most able-bodied children, both walker and wheelchair use indicated inability
to walk and therefore inability to dance. John explained: They have something, the
one with the wheelchair cannot stand, the one that is standing with the thing...
(walker) could just fall. They cant stand or walk. Minnie was very articulate in
her reasoning: They cant dance because they cant walk properly they have to
have something to keep them, to help them walk. Her behaviour in the rst couple
of classes seemed to be consistent with her perception. She stared repeatedly at the
children using walkers as they executed various moves. These responses coincided
with ableist assumptions relating to the function modality and demonstrate the
tendency to make immediate assumptions regarding an individuals inability to
function based on their appearance. Able-bodied children made the expected
conclusion that children with disabilities cannot dance (Bruce-Marks 1997; Davis
1995; DePauw 1997; Goodwin et al. 2004; Sherlock 1996; Whatley 2007).
Two children equated the walker or wheelchair with a medical need. As
explained by Dillon: Its like a booboo, its like something you put on. Such asso-
ciations of the wheelchair or walker with a medical need coincide with ableist
assumptions that position individuals with disabilities as patients needing treatment
(Benjamin 2002; Emens 2007; Goodwin 2003; Kuppers 2000; Quinlan and Bates
2008; Thomas and Smith 2000).
Three children deviated from the theme cant walk/ cant dance. Ana thought
the child with the walker was able to dance because her feet are on the ground and
she has the walker but did not nd it possible for the child in the wheelchair. Even
though Ana was able to conceive of the child with the walker as able to dance, her
reasoning matched the notion expressed by most children that dancers need to be
on their feet. Ali and Julia thought both the child with the walker and the child in
the wheelchair could dance. Ali explained: He (child in wheelchair) can, I think
because he can move the wheels side to side, and she (child with walker) can also
because her feet are on the ground and she can hold on and do things. Julia
explained: Because they are the same, they can do.... They can still move. Ive
seen a show called Glee, and there is a guy in a wheelchair and he can dance.
Passivity
The notion of inability to participate in dance continued into the passivity theme
that demonstrated that children felt they would need to physically manipulate a
child with disabilities body in order to dance together (Cooper-Albright 1997;
Peers 2009). This notion was apparent when able-bodied children were asked to
role play dancing with the child in the wheelchair or the walker, as all children
demonstrated an action of taking the person by the hands or moving their chair to
dance together. They all talked about doing certain moves together, but their actions
portrayed them as physical manipulators of movement. The only child who differed
from the passivity theme was Daniela. She suggested they could stomp feet together
and stood by the other child without taking their hands or chair and stomped her
feet. There was still a sense in her demonstration of her taking the lead, but the role
she chose was more of a movement demonstrator than a physical manipulator.
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Ableism assumes individuals with disabilities are incapable of controlling daily
living aspects (Cooper-Albright 1997; Paxton 1992). Childrens behaviours during
interactive activities on their rst day dancing together reected such assumptions
as able-bodied children seemed to ignore the presence of the child with disabilities
in their group during decision-making processes. Furthermore, the sense of needing
to physically manipulate the child with disabilities was apparent when Dillon and
Daniela worked with Don (who used a walker). When they were asked to return to
their places after demonstrating their work, Dillon and Daniela noticed Don was
slow to follow them, they ran over, Dillon grabbed the walker to push Don while
Daniela ran beside them. Dillons independent decision to push Dons walker with-
out rst consulting Don emphasised the assumption of passivity by demonstrating
that Dillon assumed Don was incapable of moving himself or even asking for help.
Different because
Only two of 11 able-bodied children had previously met children with physical
disabilities. Most children perceived children who use walkers or wheelchairs as
different but their explanation of the difference lacked clarity. Ali tried to explain
but stumbled on her words: Because they are on wheels and we are on feet, well,
she [child with walker] is on feet.... Um, oy, its complicated. On the other hand,
Dillon was more certain with regard to what he found different: Because they have
those things. There were two girls who did not perceive children with physical
disabilities as different from themselves. Jill explained: Because they are still
people and Julia said: Before they were put in those [walker, wheelchair] they
were the same as me. Though Julia did not nd children with disabilities different,
her explanation indicated children with disabilities were not different from her at
birth, but became different when they needed to use the equipment.
The sense of they are different from me was also apparent in childrens
behaviours during movement exploration in small groups during the rst couple of
classes. Daniela and Dillon (both able-bodied) worked with Don (with disabilities)
on the assignment to create together the shape of a letter that appeared in all their
names. Daniela and Dillon discussed ways to create the shape amongst them-selves,
but other than Dillon leaning on Dons walker, Dons presence was ignored.
As predicted by both ableism and contact theory, the lack of contact experience
within able-bodied childrens natural environment facilitated able-bodied childrens
perception of children with disabilities as outside of the norm, different, or as the
out-group (Allport 1954; Davis 1995). Moreover, the context in which previous
contact occurred also inuenced perceptions of difference. This was found to be the
case for one of the children who had previous contact with children with disabilities
when she visited a therapeutic centre they attended. These ndings match those of
Schnorr (1990) regarding childrens tendencies to categorise school experiences
based on where they belong, with whom they played and what they did.
Question 2: Would participation in an integrated dance program change
childrens perceptions of dance ability and disability?
Post-program interviews revealed positive changes in most childrens perceptions of
dance ability. Changes in perceptions were inferred from childrens kinesthetic
experience of sharing space and exploring diverse ways of movement within that
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space (Gardner 2004; Kaufmann 2006; Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi and Ideshi 2007).
This enhanced changes in understandings of elements of dance such as body move-
ment and levels in space (Elin and Boswell 2004). The change was more subtle
with regards to able-bodied childrens perceptions of disability per se.
Common themes to all children
Two common themes emerged regarding concepts of dance: emotional/physical and
body parts/levels.
Emotional/physical
Many comments included under the emotional/physical theme reected enjoyment
of the program. Enjoying the context in which the contact situation occurs is imper-
ative for the contact to be effective in re-evaluating in-group and out-group norms
(Allport 1954; Lieberman, James and Ludwa 2004; Sherrill 2004). Dance as an
enjoyable activity was reected in all childrens responses as they used the word
fun repeatedly in various discussion phases. Fun was the rst word Daniela
(able-bodied) uttered when asked what is dance, to which other participants
responded Ya. Don (with disabilities) used the word fun when discussing what
he learned in the program: I learned dancing is fun and great, and I really liked it.
I think we should continue doing the dance for a while. Roman (with disabilities)
explained: It is a kind of movement that is fun and it is good for your body.
Two girls referred to dance as a means of self expression, Jenny (with disabili-
ties) said:
Dancing is kind of like cool to me, because when I dance, it like helps me like do
stuff, like express myself. It kind of like helps me like to play and stuff like that...and
when I dance, it just feels like fun to me, because dancing is a really good thing and
its fun.
Julia (able-bodied) explained: I nd it is something to do, a way to express
yourself. It is something that is good for you its not like sitting on the couch and
eating popcorn.
Body parts/levels
Childrensreections demonstrated a change from conceptualising the body as a
whole engaged in dance primarily on the feet, to isolated body parts dancing and
incorporating movement at different levels. This can be interpreted as a new under-
standing and appreciation of dance as manipulating bodies in space (Kuppers
2000). This change can also be viewed as an example of conceptual change as
change in concepts used for communication and problem solving (Greeno and Van
De Sande 2007). All classes involved explanation and activities about ways to
move the body through space and create shapes, as well as time dictated by the
music. However, the notion that any body part can dance at different levels reoc-
curred throughout discussions. For instance, Ali (able-bodied) reected: I learned
that when you dance, you can use all kinds of parts of your body and also, that
when you dance, you can use the low level, the middle level, and the high level.
Don (with disabilities) said: I learned about making letters and shapes with our
bodies. Also, we can dance with many parts of the body and breakdance.
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Dancing as an activity that did not necessitate being on the feet was also noted
by some children. For instance, John (able-bodied) explained: We learned how to
turn on our butt and get on our stomach and back on our butt..... Logan (with dis-
abilities) said: I learned how to dance moving on my bum and turning on my
tummy.
The idea of dancing in different levels or on different body parts seemed to
transfer to the way children played during their free time prior to or at the end of
classes. During the rst three weeks, Jenny (with disabilities) played tag with the
able-bodied children. Occasionally Roman and Dilara (both with disabilities) would
join. By the fourth class, Daniela, Hanna and Dillon (all able-bodied) began incor-
porating actions such as creeping on their stomachs in to their game, at which
point, Logan (with disabilities) began joining in to play. Childrens use of lower
levels for play facilitated Logans sense of comfort to join them.
Kaila and Dillon (siblings) were the only children whose denitions of dance
following the program did not change. Kaila dened dance like spinning and leap-
ing and Dillon said: Dancing is doing all kinds of moves. Such answers reect
the types of answers given by children at the beginning of the program when dance
was associated with more general terms as all kinds of moves and more speci-
cally, turning and jumping. Childrens conceptions of what constitutes as dancing
transitioned into the way both able-bodied and children with disabilities reected on
dance ability.
Themes specic to able-bodied children
Two themes emerged regarding able-bodied childrens perceptions of dance ability
and disability: cant walk/CAN dance and different because-equipment.
Cant walk/CAN dance. When presented with the pictures of the child with a walker
and child with a wheelchair at the end of the program and asked Can these kids
dance? most children answered yes. When asked to justify their positive response
answers varied and perhaps not surprisingly related to what they experienced in the
program. For instance, Daniela reected: We saw Logan and Don dancing with us.
They are like her [child with walker], they can dance. Maggie reected on the day
Logan attended class with a wheelchair: They can move their wheels side to side,
like Logan did last week. For Minnie, the idea that children with disabilities can
dance was reected at the end of the second day of the program: I learned that if
somebody is in a wheelchair that they can also dance. These reections demon-
strate learning through sense experience (Murphy 2007) and point particularly to
the value of kinesthetic experiences in childrens
learning (Gardner 2004; Kaufmann
2006; Lorenzo-Lasa, Ideishi and Ideishi 2007).
Other responses related to ways children with disabilities could dance. They
can dance with their feet a little bit and with their hands, said Hanna. Jills answer
reected not necessarily needing to be on the feet to dance: Well, they dont all,
like if they have a walker, you can be sitting on the oor. You dont have to be
necessarily standing the whole time. Such responses demonstrated childrens ability
to act with conceptual agency in the process of evaluating what constituted dance
ability (Greeno 2006). Evaluating dance ability moved from basic discipline
expectations of able-bodiedness to the idea that dancing can occur without
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necessarily standing or walking. Acting with conceptual agency in this case led to
conceptual growth as an increase in shared participation amongst community mem-
bers, as able-bodied children could conceive of children with disabilities dancing
with them (Greeno and Van De Sande 2007).
Dillon and Kaila were the only children whose responses reected confusion. At
rst they both answered that these children cannot dance. Dillon began to explain:
Because they are hurt. However, he quickly shifted his answer to match that of
his sister: Well, maybe a little bit.... They can dance with their head and arms.
Then Dillon reasoned: Well, Don and Logan were dancing with us a little bit.
Given that both attended 90% of the program, it is impossible to suggest that their
confusion was related to inconsistency of their attendance. Davis (1995) stated that
disability is a sense experience that is both perceived through the senses and
impairs a persons senses. The visibility of disability in this program may have
affected the confusion in Kaila and Dillons responses. Don was the only participant
in this program who used a walker at all times and he was absent for 40% of the
program. Contact theory states that for contact to be effective in reducing prejudice,
it must be repeated consistently (Allport 1954). Perhaps Dillon and Kaila needed
more time with children who used walkers and wheelchairs to be able to re-evaluate
their perceptions of dance ability of those with disabilities.
Different because-equipment. This was the only theme in able-bodied childrens per-
ceptions of disability that demonstrated only subtle change. Most able-bodied chil-
dren still found children with disabilities to be different from themselves. The only
change was that they were less ambiguous about what they found different. They
dened difference based on the walker. For instance, John explained: They are dif-
ferent from me because they use a walker and I dont. Other children also related
to the movement pace of children with disabilities. For instance, Kaila explained:
They move more slow and they need to go with that [walker].
Ali was the only child whose perception of disability per se changed. However,
her reasoning still involved the walker. She said: I think they are kind of the same,
because they can still do whatever I do, but they need a walker.
The notion of the walker still imposing a difference was apparent in Dillons
behaviour around Dons walker in the ninth lesson, as Dillon repeatedly kept touch-
ing pulling and leaning on Dons walker. However, Dillon only spoke directly to
Don when they were both lying on the oor working on an assignment. On the
other hand, Dillon connected with Logan during a circle activity in the third lesson
(during which, none of the children used their walkers). Their connection reached
the point where they became inseparable from playing together throughout the rest
of the program. Moreover, the fact that Logan stopped bringing his walker to class
after the fourth lesson may have contributed to Dillon perceiving Logan as someone
who was hurt but recovered since he no longer needed his walker (Tamm and
Prellwitz 2001).
Possible explanations for the subtle change in able-bodied childrens perception
of difference can relate to the length of the dance program (ten weeks including
interview and party with parents), the program contents and the participants them-
selves. Contact theory states that reduced prejudice occurs when participants in a
contact situation share equal status, common goals, work in cooperation and have
authority support (Allport 1954; Pettigrew and Tropp 2006; Slavin 1985; Slininger,
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Sherrill and Jankowski 2000). All participants were treated equally by the instructor
and assistants. However, equal status depends on participants sharing a bidirectional
relationship where each participant has something to gain from the contact situation
(Sherrill 2004). A strong sense of equal status was felt on the second day of the
program when the lesson was about levels. However, this sense of equal status was
more of a kinesthetic experience than the idea of sharing a bidirectional relation-
ship. Working close to the ground allowed children who used walkers to leave them
on the side, thereby physically removing all visible differences. However, the goal
was to fully include children with physical disabilities in dance as equals without
necessarily removing their equipment to make them look the same (Doubt and
McColl 2003; Whatley 2007). Participants shared a common goal of preparing a
short presentation for their parents at the end of the program. In addition, each class
incorporated activities that were meant to engage children in cooperative work.
However, most of the time, if an adult was not closely supervising the work, chil-
dren either began to play or did not converse much amongst themselves. It is
important to emphasise that the issue of children not conversing much amongst
themselves was not specic to interactions between able-bodied children and chil-
dren with disabilities. Adult supervision is imperative for young childrens coopera-
tive work from the initial phase of assigning children to groups and throughout the
process of interaction between group members (Suomi, Collier and Brown 2003).
Therefore, when implementing cooperative work with young children an adult
should remain as a facilitator, not necessarily providing direct instruction but assur-
ing that all children are equally contributing to the cooperative process.
Increase in free play occurrences between Logan (with disabilities) Dillon,
Daniela, Hanna and others would indicate a sense of Logan being accepted by able-
bodied children as part of their in-group (Sherrill 2004). However, incidences of
free play did not generalise to Don (with disabilities) as he never participated in
free play. This can be an issue of personal characteristics of the individuals
involved in the contact situation (Allport 1954). One of those aspects is personality,
which could pose a signicant barrier on the process of able-bodied children accept-
ing Don as part of the in-group. When Don attended classes, he fully participated
in the dance context. However, during free play prior to or after class, Don tended
to sit on the side and turn his back to the other children.
Themes specic to children with disabilities
One theme emerged from children with disabilities regarding their ability to dance:
competence.
Competence. Responses of children with disabilities revealed a sense of competence
based on the dance knowledge they acquired. Most participants with disabilities
found that they were not required to execute movements they found impossible.
Two children who mentioned movements they could not execute found that modi-
cations were offered. One child found suggested modications unsatisfactory and
made additional modications of her own.
Only two children in this program used a walker. Don used his walker at all
times, excluding activities that did not require him to be on his feet. Logan only
used a walker during the rst four classes until he gained condence at which point
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he stopped bringing it. This theme was apparent in their reections of their
experience in the program, as they both felt certain they could dance. Logan
reected: I can dance with my walker and my helmet. Don said: I can dance with
my walker, or I can roll or scoot on my bum, or turn on my tummy. For Logan,
this theme was also reected in an increase of his self-condence to join the able-
bodied children during free play outside of the dance context. This is not only a
reection of conceptual growth (Greeno and Van De Sande 2007) and equal status
(Sherrill 2004) but also provides support to the literature that discusses increase in
self-condence as one of the benets of participating in dance (Kaufmann 2006;
Lutz and Kuhlman 2000; Nieminen, Varstala and Manninen 2001).
Conclusions
This study sought to explore two main questions. What are childrens perceptions
on dance ability and disability? Would participation in an integrated dance pro-
gram change such perceptions? Perceptions were investigated using semi-struc-
tured focus group interviews at the beginning and at the end of a ten-week
integrated dance program. Additional information regarding childrens behaviours
during the program was derived from observation eld notes.
The present study demonstrated that participation in integrated dance may
change childrens perceptions of dance ability as it relates to the ability of those
with disabilities to dance. Able-bodied childrens perceptions of disability per se
presented only a subtle change. Thus it provided support for Benjamins (2002)
statement, The arts and dance in particular, provide an environment where current
prejudices might be undermined and new perspectives received and explored
(72). The application of contact theory principles (equal status, common goals,
cooperative work and authority support) to the construction of the dance activities
along with acting on conceptual agency from the situative approach (diverse ways
to dance and not all ways necessitate being on feet) contributed to conceptual
growth viewed as an increase in shared participation of all group members in the
dance context. This was accompanied with conceptual growth viewed as change
in concepts used for communication and problem solving. Children were able to
transfer their learning of certain dance elements such as movement with different
body parts in different levels to reect on how children with disabilities can
dance. Furthermore, childrens sense-experience particularly the kinesthetic experi-
ence of sharing the dance space with differently abled participants was a contribu-
tor to change in childrens perceptions of dance ability. With regard to changing
able-bodied childrens perceptions of disability, the change was subtle, reecting a
transition from viewing disability as something different and unclear to viewing it
as different only because of the equipment. Perhaps more time dancing together
would help undermine childrens perceptions of difference.
There was no enrolment of participants who used wheelchairs. The difculty
in recruiting children who use wheelchairs could be related to parents not associ-
ating dance with wheelchair use (Goodwin, 2004), or can result from transporta-
tion issues. Furthermore, none of the instructors had a physical disability. This
limited the visibility of disability in the dance context. Future studies should
involve instructors with physical disabilities and evaluate potential differences in
the programs impact on perceptions.
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Able-bodied children were asked to respond to questions about children with
disabilities based on pictures of a child with a walker and a child with a wheelchair.
It is possible that these pictures limited the extent to which disability was perceived,
particularly when three participants with disabilities in this study did not use any
equipment. Another potential limitation was that children with disabilities were not
asked about their perceptions of disability, or if they perceived able-bodied children
to be different from them. This was due to researchers concerns regarding the sen-
sitivity of such questions and the childrens young age.
This study did not explore the process of change in childrens perceptions
within the dance context. Therefore it did not provide suf cient evidence to
evaluate equal status relationships fully. Interviews with participants demonstrated
change in their perceptions but it is difcult to determine if the change was
inuenced by the existence of equal status, common goals, cooperative work or
just enjoyment of the context. Future studies should investigate the process of
change in childrens perceptions relating to their participation experience in an
integrated dance program.
Given the limited extent of empirical studies of integrated dance and that this
study may be the rst empirical exploration of children in integrated dance context,
research in this area could take a variety of directions. Questions that have been
investigated in physical education such as how teachers feel about including chil-
dren with disabilities in physical education should also be explored in dance. Par-
ents are just as important in the participation process in dance as they are in other
contexts: how do they feel about their child with or without disabilities participating
in integrated dance?
Notes on contributors
Michelle Zitomer holds an undergraduate degree in dance with teaching certication from
the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and an MA in kinesiology and physical
education from McGill University in Montreal. She has been teaching ballet and
contemporary dance for the past ten years and also presented independent choreography
work in Montreal and New York City. This article was part of her MA thesis on inclusion in
dance education. Michelle will begin her PhD in fall 2011.
Greg Reid is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at
McGill University. He teaches and conducts research in adapted physical activity. He has
been advising masters and PhD students for 30 years and supervised the research of Ms
Zitomer that is presented in this article. Greg is the past editor of the Adapted Physical
Activity Quarterly and past president of the International Federation of Adapted Physical
Activity.
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Bodies in Commotion is the first collection to explore disability as performance across a wide range of meanings-disability as a performance of everyday life, as a metaphor in dramatic literature, and as the work of disabled performing artists. It is important to address these myriad meanings in tandem because the depictions of disability embedded in dramatic literature always frame the performance of everyday life, and because the sense that disability in daily life is already performance is reflected in the content and form of disabled artists' stage practices. Considering these meanings together raises questions that productively disturb conventional understandings of disability, traditional performance aesthetics, and performance studies and disability studies. How does a disability studies perspective shed new light on readings of disability in dramatic literature? How is disability performed and transformed using new media? How does the work of disabled performing artists transform the artistic genres in which they work? What new genres are they creating? How does this work confront medical, charity, and freak-show models of disability? How do performance events contribute to disability "cultures," disability identities, and communication between disabled and nondisabled people? What do these perfor mances reveal about who is on the inside of disability culture and who is on the outside? What collaborative strategies have disabled and nondisabled artists used to bridge the gap between their experiences? Are these collaborations equal exchanges between mutually consenting partners, especially when the disabled artists include those with cognitive impairments or the institutionalized? How does the disabled body challenge theoretical notions of "performativity"?1 Despite the fact that disability is a ubiquitous, even mundane, human experience, people with visible impairments almost always seem to "cause a commotion" in public spaces. An encounter with disability elicits surprise, attracting the attention of curious passersby.2 The curious fight the urge to stare, to gather visual information that will help make sense of such startling physical difference.3 Disability is considered out of the ordinary, separate from the everyday, a cause for pause and consideration. Disability theorists David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder explain that in Western literary, rhetorical, and visual traditions disability "inaugurates the act of interpretation" by functioning as a signifying difference-something out of place, in need of correction.4 As in traditional representation, disability inaugurates the act of interpretation in representation in daily life. In daily life, disabled people can be considered performers, and passersby, the audience. Without the distancing effects of a proscenium frame and the actor's distinctness from his or her character, disability becomes one of the most radical forms of performance art, "invisible theater" at its extremes. The notion that disability is a kind of performance is to people with disabilities not a theoretical abstraction, but lived experience. The dramaturgical metaphor of identity construction, first described by sociologist Erving Goffman as the "performance of everyday life" and more recently by philosopher Judith Butler as "performativity," is familiar to postmodern and poststructuralist scholars, but the notion that disability, too, is performed (like gender, sex, sexuality, race, and ethnicity) and not a static "fact" of the body is not widely acknowledged or theorized.5 While scholars such as Butler argue that identity is performed unconsciously, disabled people talk about performing their identities in explicitly self-conscious and theatrical terms, as does playwright and wheelchair user John Belluso: Any time I get on a public bus, I feel like it's a moment of theater. I'm lifted, the stage is moving up and I enter, and people are along the lines, and they're turning and looking, and I make my entrance. It's theater, and I have to perform. And I feel like we as disabled people are constantly onstage, and we're constantly performing. We have to make the choice either to perform or not to perform. . . . There are times when it's fantastic to perform your disability, it's joyful, and it's powerful. Like when I enter on the bus, I love it. I really feel like it's an entrance, like, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."6 Belluso echoes the experience of many visibly disabled people who become adept at turning disability stereotypes and narratives to their own ends. He transforms a potentially stigmatizing experience into an act of empowerment. When Belluso remarks that some disabled people may choose "not to perform," he is alluding to another tactic: The attempt to "pass" as able-bodied. Yet one could consider these efforts to deflect attention from impairment as another kind of performance, a performance of able-bodiedness, one rehearsed every day in rehabilitation hospitals, prosthetic and orthodic labs, speech therapy clinics, and surgery rooms. The goal of both the self-conscious performer and the "passer" is to become an active maker of meaning, rather than a passive specimen on display. The late Ed Roberts (a founder of the independent living movement and a man with quadriplegia) told journalist Joseph Shapiro that making the choice to perform his disability was the starting point of his life as an activist. After years of bed rest and home schooling, Roberts fought hard to return to public high school. [Roberts's] first day back at school . . . had been a revelation. As he was lifted from the car, he had felt the staring eyes of his schoolmates. Staring was what he had most feared. But the stares that day were not looks of disgust. Those who were discomfited had averted their eyes. Instead, these were stares of fascination and excitement, as if Elvis Presley had suddenly descended upon the school. "It was like being a star," recalls Roberts. "So I decided to be a star, not a helpless cripple."7 Roberts marshaled a kind of charismatic celebrity status throughout his life to fight for disability civil rights. Manipulating and transforming stereotypes are important tactics, since the available "scripts" of disability-both in daily life and in representation- Are frustratingly limited and deeply entrenched in the cultural imagination. Mitchell and Snyder argue that physical or cognitive impairment serves narrative as "material metaphor," lending "a 'tangible' body to textual abstractions." Individual characters become metaphors that signify "social and individual collapse." Typical disabled characters are a familiar cast: The "obsessive avenger," who seeks revenge against those he considers responsible for his disablement; the "sweet innocent" (otherwise known as the "Tiny Tim"), who acts as a moral barometer of the nondisabled; the "comic misadventurer," whose impairments initiate physical comedy or whose body becomes the target for comic violence; the "inspirational overcomer," the extraordinary individual who excels despite her impairments; the "charity case," who elicits pity and allows others to mark themselves as nondisabled by bestowing goodwill; the "freak," the ultimate outsider; and the "monster," whose disfigurements arouse fear and horror.8 The fates of such characters often include cure, death, or revaluation in the social order, a metaphorical quelling of the commotion that disability stirs up in narrative.9 Recently, disabled performers and theater artists have rejected these scripts and created work based on their own experiences, challenging both tired narrative conventions and aesthetic practices. Disability performance scholar and artist Petra Kuppers points out that the "physically impaired performer has . . . to negotiate two areas of cultural meaning: invisibility as an active member in the public sphere, and hypervisibility and instant categorisation." Kuppers goes on to explain that cultural narratives of disability preempt anything else the artist might be trying to communicate; in other words, audiences assume that the "disabled body is naturally about disability." 10 Scholar and performer Catherine Cole discovered this phenomenon for herself when she recently became disabled.
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This study analyzed British newspaper coverage of the 2000 Sydney Paralympics. Sixty-two articles from 4 British newspapers were examined for the terminology used to describe athletes' disabilities and the language and images used to portray athletes' performances. The results suggest a tendency to convey the achievements of Paralympic athletes using medicalized descriptions of disability and to compare them to athletes without disabilities. Photographic coverage tended to hide the athletes' impairments, and female athletes were less likely to be photographed in active poses. Although coverage emphasized the sporting achievement of athletes with disabilities by comparing them to Olympic athletes and by deemphasizing disability, it may have inadvertently reinforced stereotypical perceptions of disability and reaffirmed a preoccupation with able-bodiedness.
Chapter
Everyone knows that you are not supposed to stare. Yet everyone does. Both furtive and compelling, the staring encounter generates discomfort and provokes anxiety. So potent is staring that the Western imagination has persistently seized upon this formidable interchange as a source of vivid narrative. Medusa, for example, turned men to stone with her stare, and her severed head was a fount of power for those who appropriated it. The traditional curse of the evil eye pervades, as well, all European cultures, even into modernity.1 Staring is an urgent effort to explain the unexpected, to make sense of the unanticipated and inexplicable visual experience. A more emphatic form of looking than glancing, glimpsing, scanning, surveying, gazing, and other forms of casual or disinterested looking, staring starkly registers the perception of strangeness and endows it with meaning. Staring witnesses an intrusive interest on the part of the starer and thrusts uneasy attention on the object of the stare. At once transgressive and intimate, staring breaches the conventionalized anonymity governing visual relations among strangers in modernity. Staring is thus a kind of potent social choreography that marks bodies by enacting a dynamic visual exchange between a spectator and a spectacle. Staring, then, enacts a drama about the people involved. The strongest staring prohibition surrounds people who are considered different, who are the most unexpected. Perhaps the most censured form of staring is looking at people with disabilities. Every mother at some point admonishes her child not to stare in an effort to minimize the rawness of astonishing visual confrontations. Yet, as anyone with a visible disability knows, persistent stares are one of the informing experiences of being considered disabled. If staring attempts to make sense of the unexpected, the disabled body is the paradigmatic form in modernity of the unforeseen. Modern culture's erasure of mortality and its harbinger, corporeal vulnerability, have rendered the disabled body extraordinary rather than familiar, anomalous instead of mundane-even though the transformations of bodily form and function that we think of as disability are so common to the human condition as to be the ultimate effect of living. Nevertheless, the disabled body is novelty writ large for the captivated starer, prompting persistent curiosity and launching a troubling tangle of identification and differentiation. For the person with disabilities, staring is an unwelcome exposure, a clumsy trespass into realms casual social relations forbid, and a tedious challenge to one's relational management skills.2 Thus, encounters between the disabled and nondisabled are exemplary social dramas in which the contradictions and complexities of staring most vividly play out. Despite the ubiquitous admonitions not to stare, even children learn very early that disability is a potent form of embodied difference that warrants looking, even prohibited looking. Indeed, the stare is the dominant mode of looking at disability in this culture. Staring thus enlists curiosity to telescope looking toward diagnosing impairment, creating an awkward partnership that estranges and discomforts both viewer and viewed. Starers gawk with ambivalence or abandon at the prosthetic hook, the empty sleeve, the scarred flesh, the unfocused eye, the twitching limb, seeking a narrative that puts their disrupted world back in order. Even "invisible" disabilities always threaten to disclose some inexplicable stigma, however subtle, that undoes the social order by its presence and attenuates the human bond based on the assumption of corporeal similarity. Because staring at disability is illicit looking, the disabled body is at once the to-be-looked-at and not-to-be-looked-at, further dramatizing the staring encounter by tending to make viewers stealthy and the viewed defensive. In this way, staring constitutes disability identity by visually articulating the subject positions of "disabled" and "able-bodied." Many cultural critics have noted that modernity is ocularcentric. Although Western gaze theory is too complex to be adequately addressed here, three general, interrelated strands of critical analysis predominate the attempt to illuminate the workings of this hypervisuality. They can be classified as the psychoanalytic, the materialist, and the ethnographic models, all of which are sustained or shaped by Michel Foucault's formulation of the politics of surveillance.3 The psychoanalytic underpins much of the robust theory on the patriarchal gaze that emerged from feminist film theory, but has roots as well in the work of such philosophers as Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, for example. Feminist gaze theory has articulated not only the normative heterosexual male gaze, but examined the complex identifi- catory tangle of how the female, Black, and lesbian gazes operate in patriarchal society.4 Materialist theories of looking draw heavily as well from continental philosophy, tend toward historiography, and are often driven by a critique of consumer capitalism, as in the work of Guy Debord and Fredric Jameson.5 Theories of the ethnographic or pathologizing gaze, extrapolated by critics such as Michel Foucault, E. Ann Kaplan, and Sander Gilman, examine the epistemological problematics of the colonizing gaze, whether it takes place in the imperialist, medical, or aesthetic arenas. Although my examination of staring is in dialogue with these theoretical registers, it approaches staring from a distinctly social model.6 If-as critics such as John Berger and Laura Mulvey have suggested- gazing is the dominant controlling and defining visual relation in patriarchy between male spectators and female objects of their gazes, staring is the visual practice that materializes the disabled in social relations.7 The male gaze produces female subjects; the normative stare constructs the disabled. While both are forms of visual marking, gazing trades on a sexual register and staring traffics in medical discourse. Both visual exchanges prompt narrative. Gazing says, "You are mine." Staring says, "What is wrong with you?" Gazers become men by looking at women, and starers become doctors by visually probing people with disabilities. This essay looks at-to use an appropriate metaphor-three disabled women who the appropriate power of the stare in their live art performances. Cheryl Marie Wade, Mary Duffy, and Carrie Sandahl purposively enlist and manipulate the staring dynamic to mount a critique of dominant cultural narratives about disability.8 By boldly inviting the stare in their performances, they violate the cultural proscription against staring, at once exposing their impairments and the oppressive narratives about disability that the prohibition against staring attempts to politely silence. Staring unfolds in their work as a charged social exchange between active agents, not simply a form of exploitation or surveillance perpetrated by starers on victimized starees. In their sharp challenge to the prevailing ways of under-standing disability, the disabled body becomes a critical aesthetic medium, rather than the object of charity, medical diagnosis, scientific evidence, or sideshow entertainment-the dominant discourses that frame disability in the Western tradition. Their performances thus unleash and realign the power inherent in the social transgression that is staring. Wade, Duffy, and Sandahl perform what Rebecca Schneider calls "the explicit body" as a form of cultural criticism that uses the body to explicate the bodies in social relations.9 Wade, Duffy, and Sandahl engage staring both as an oppressive social mechanism and as a visual interaction they seize to protest and to redefine disability. Each of these women's performances enlists a familiar visual genre and inflects its conventions with the stare by flaunting their extraordinary bodies to forge a fresh narrative of disabled female subjectivity. The artistic genre of performance lends itself especially well to the project of renarrating disability because the body is the artistic medium of performance. Thus, in these women's art, the body that performs disability in the social realm is the same body that is the instrument of artistic performance. One might ask why these women who have bodies that so disrupt the expectations of the complacently normal would deliberately invite the stare in a public setting.
Article
Disability and Contemporary Performance presents a remarkable challenge to existing assumptions about disability and artistic practice. In particular, it explores where cultural knowledge about disability leaves off, and the lived experience of difference begins. Petra Kuppers, herself an award-winning artist and theorist, investigates the ways in which disabled performers challenge, change and work with current stereotypes through their work. She explores freak show fantasies and 'medical theatre' as well as live art, webwork, theatre, dance, photography and installations, to cast an entirely new light on contemporary identity politics and aesthetics.