Thursday, February 09, 2006

the first of the emotional side dishes--dal (?)

So here’s one of the emotional topics I’ve been meaning to get on “paper” but haven’t.
I should probably call it “The Bearded Lady Syndrome” instead of "dal."
I think there are times when some amputees might be faced with feelings of "being of less value," due to missing a body part. For me, in terms of my being a dancer, this has shown up as the self-awareness that I will probably forever more be referred to as “The Amputee Dancer” rather than just seen as “A Dancer.” I am probably going to have to work very hard to get you to see beyond my physicality.

The interesting twist for me though, is that not only do I need to face feelings of being of LESS value because of my amputation, but I also have to face feelings of BEING of value, because of my amputaion.

To explain….
I am currently a member of the core cast of Dandelion Dancetheater for the 2006 season of The Undressed Project, aka “Anicca” (pronounced ah-NEE-cha, defined as the Pali word for impermanence). I love this dance company, and I love this project. One of the primary concepts of the company’s director and choreographer, is that dance is for everybody (read as: Every Body). The cast is extremely diverse, made up of people of many cultures, shapes, sizes, ages, levels of dance experience, and abilities/disabilities.

I am also currently studying with Axis Dance Company, a physically integrated dance troupe. I have been studying with them for maybe a year and half now, and I have been encouraged by a few dancers in the company to apply for a position in the troupe, because…a) these dancers have said they’d love to work with me, and b) because the company is in need of more disabled dancers. fyi: if you are an interested dancer, they just posted a casting call this week...but expect fierce competition...from ME! hahaha

Both of these dance companies are modern or post-modern or contemporary or whatever the appropriated label is that should be applied to it (I’m not well versed on the subject of modern dance). What these two troupes are definitely not, is bellydance troupes. I am a very accomplished performer of bellydance, and teacher of bellydance….but up until recently, I have had no formal training beyond this particular dance medium. I am not a modern dancer.

Now, not one person has said this to me directly, this is only my assumption (but I believe it to be a very honest and realistic assessment, and an opinion few would argue):

If I were an able-bodied dancer, I would not be qualified to perform with either of these companies. I lack the experience and the skillset. There are trained and interested dancers ready to fill the positions. I am however, welcomed because I fit the bill of being a person with a disability (who also has at least some movement experience), and I've proven to be relatively trainable (not to mention willing to do the work).

These companies want their casts to be diverse. I therefore fulfill a need, their need for dancers with disabilities. There is a place for me because I am a novelty. I would not be a good fit at this time if I wasn't an amputee.

This showed up in another big way for me during a Dandelion rehearsal about 3 weeks ago. We were working with a visiting artist who dresses in black and then uses body parts (like hands and feet), and a few simple props, to do something like a puppet show (think Mummenschanz). Our director wanted her assistance in helping us to create something like living statues out of our body parts, with the emphasis being on making statues that look like strange creatures, and not resembling body parts. The idea is that if you looked at the pile of people, you couldnt discern what was an elblow, what was a leg, etc. We had started working on the sculptures the week before on our own, and she was to come in and help make them look even more "creature like."

Now, if you were tasked with making a creature out of a pile of body parts so that you couldn’t really tell which body part you were looking at, and you had an amputated limb in your midst, wouldn’t it make sense for you to capitalize on that resource? I mean, I knew it made sense...I was fully prepared for this to come up during rehearsals...I've offered my parts as artistic material...Yes, my stump was a key feature a few times (and mine were not the only body parts of interest that were capitalized...we are all shapes and sizes, remember?).

My amputated limb became art.
Art is a beautiful thing.
But not without layers of feelings for me.

I’m still trying to make sense of my feelings at this point. They really are a mixed bag. And it's a process. Yes, it’s grand to find usefulness, purpose, and beauty in my uniqueness. But at the same time, it’s difficult for me to be valued for being novel.
Like The Bearded Lady.
She probably would not be in the circus if she didn’t have the beard.
And she's a bit of a freak.
I would like to say, that my emotions regarding this issue are being well tended to by my director/choreographer and my fellow dancers. There is definitely a place for all of our feelings to be shared as a part of our creative process. My feelings have been welcome. In no way do I feel exploited or used, nor do I feel required to do things that are uncomfortable to me.
But I can see that working through layers of feelings regarding my value as a dancer are definitely a part of the process and personal exploration I will be doing while working on this production.

I haven’t completed my thought process around the comment the “anonymous/devotee” left the other day, and this post is not meant to serve as a reply. But somehow I think all of this is related.

There is something in all of this about choice.

There are some acts of perversion that require choices and consent by all interested parties.
For example:
If you posessed masochistic tendencies, and wanted complementary attributes present in a romantic relationship, the above board way to find a match in a mate would be to choose to act on those masochistic tendencies and seek out a party who had made a similar choice regarding their sadistic tendencies. For these types of folks, their perversions have become more mainstream and (unlike our friend the devotee), there are numerous resources for meeting each other. This couple's choices about their tendencies can become a match.

The difference to me with the amputee/devotee issue, is that amputation was not a choice (elective amputations for cancer and diabetes dont count as a choice in this context).

I don’t choose to seek a relationship based on my physical configuration. My amputation is not a tendency. There is no desire I have that needs to be matched by another person. If a devotee seeks me out, it is not because I made a choice.

Maybe there are other amputees out that feel differently.
For me...?
I will be valued within a relationship as a person, as a partner, not as an amputee.

And whether you agree or disagree with the above, it’s entirely unacceptable to lie to me as a way of getting to know me.


Anonymous said...

On the devotee issue again, I agree with you. A point I was trying to make was that regardless of what appeals on a physical level, it's not going to be enough to sustain a relationship.

At the most basic level, no-one has that much choice regarding their physical characteristics. Also, no-one has much choice over the physical characteristics they find appealing (whether they be genetically inspired, imprinted at a young age or a combination of both).

Behaviors are a different matter. I'd blanch if someone were to tell me not to find certain amputees attractive. I just do and there's nothing I can do about that. It's related to the female legs/feet thing I somehow have. A different question is: Should I actively seek out amputees? I do have a choice over that. Given that amputees are thankfully so few and far between, is it a productive use of my time to look? Maybe not, but it's probably because they're so few that they end up on top of the ideal match list (above the clichéd blue-eyed blonde babe with large breasts).

Back to the original point, no-one likes to be treated as an object: breasts, legs, whatever, with a person inconveniently attached... Be attracted to a physical characteristic by all means, but recognise that's nature's way of saying Talk To Her/Him, not the raison d'etre for a relationship.

Anonymous said...

I find your comments about dance interesting; the feeling of being only of value because of your disability is one that I've had come up myself a few times. I'm with Full Radius; we'll be out there in May. It's also an issue here because we really need a few more dancers with disabilities to balance the company; we've got ABs begging to audition.

Dance isn't something I'd ever thought I'd do, or be able to do, and I had no experience coming into the company; which can be really intimidating when you're dealing with people with twenty years of training. My interim compromise is that the concept doesn't bother me as long as I keep working at it.

Is Dandelion officially an integrated company, and how long has it been around? I thought I knew all the professional companies, and I'd be happy to stick y'all up on our website (

Gray said...

I'm commenting on a now-old post, but it was one of your more interesting and complex ones.

I think that it's terrific that you are out there pursuing dance and defining your new relationship to it. I hardly know you at all but it brings up feelings of hope and excitement for you.

I think that there is no question that disabled dancer can bring art, new art, and exciting art to the stage. It is a liberating breath of fresh oxygen, not the stale air of compromise, to incorporate people with disabilities into dance. Why should dance be limited to a narrow range of bodies and movement types.

As to devs like myself, well, it's not all about sex. It's also about the type of person one wants to be with and possibly share a life partnership. (I already have my life partner, as you know.)