Tucson's Arts for All and Georgia's Full Radius Dance are inviting the community to watch as stereotypes and pre-conceptions about how the human body can move are smashed, with a public-dance workshop and a performance featuring mixed-ability dancers.
Mixed-ability means that some of the dancers are physically disabled.
Those unfamiliar with the varied performers are often shocked by the performances, according to Frank Hernandez, assistant director of Arts for All. Hernandez attributes the shock to the lack of disabled role models in pop culture. After all, there are no wheelchairs on Dancing With the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance.
"With art, we can help over come bias and prejudice," said Hernandez. "This is a special occasion, a chance for Tucson to see something new, and for our students to learn."
Celebrating 26 years of service, Arts for All is the brainchild of Marcia Berger, a pediatric physical therapist with a background in dance. While working with kids with special needs, Berger noticed that there were few extracurricular opportunities open to them.
Arts for All was born in her living room, and gave special-needs kids the chance to be active and involved in dance. The programs are open to children with and without special needs; some are open to adults.
Arts for All has since grown to encompass a wide range of visual-art and performance-art programs, including painting, drama, music and wheel-throwing.
Douglas Scott, founder of Atlanta-based Full Radius Dance—a performing company made of dancers both with and without physical disabilities—was inspired by experiences in dance workshops that focused on mixed-ability dancing. He was fascinated by the new ways of moving that he saw, and he wanted to try new techniques.
In professional ballet, where standards are often rigid, and bodies are expected to be uniform, Scott felt that he was teaching to a body type and not to individual dancers.
"I've grown tremendously as an artist, chorographer and teacher (since then)," said Scott.
The workshop, hosted by Arts for All on Saturday morning, is open to everyone, regardless of experience or ability. The goal is to bring people together and encourage them to explore movement.
"It's about getting the community to dance," said Hernandez.
On Saturday evening, at Flowing Wells High School, Arts for All and Full Radiance Dance will feature a performance with two dance pieces, both choreographed by Scott.
The first will be a tale of love and loss called "Salvador," set to the music of Brazilian singer Virginia Rodrigues.
"It is not a literal interpretation of the Portuguese lyrics, but my attempt to put into movement what I first felt upon hearing this music—feelings of sadness, loss and beauty," he said.
The second dance is a new section of a movement called "The Path Beyond." The piece tells the story of how people cope with and move on after tragedies. Inspired by events like the Holocaust and Hurricane Katrina, the show takes on new meaning in the wake of recent natural disasters in Japan and the U.S.
"How do you survive? ... How do people go on with those memories?" asked Scott.
Scott and his dancers will be working with the kids and adults in Arts for All's programs.
One shared goal of Arts for All and Full Radius Dance is to help people look beyond physical abilities and learn to appreciate art purely for its quality. A creative work should be liked, or disliked, based on its quality rather than its source.
"If you like it, like it because it's good, not because a kid with special needs did it," said Hernandez. "A painting should stand on its own; it doesn't matter if you paint with hands or feet."
The same principle applies to dance, whether it is done with two feet, crutches or a wheelchair.