A dancers’ journey of beasts, wheelchairs, tornadoes, wizards, airports, crutches and realizations: That describes DanceAbility International’s performance of “Wizard of Odds.”  It’s just one example in a repertoire that empowers mixed-abilities people in finding a path to freedom of dance, movement and creative expression, supported by funding from the Oregon Cultural Trust.

Alito Alessi is the executive and artistic director of Joint Forces Dance Company in Eugene. Along with former partner Karen Nelson, he brought the idea of breaking down barriers to connect people with and without disabilities through dance and movement to Joint Forces and together with Nelson coined the term DanceAbility. They produced the first mixed-abilities workshop in 1987 using dance improvisation. As DanceAbility’s success grew and it became their main focus, they eventually morphed Joint Forces into the business of DanceAbility International.

Over the years, Alessi has traveled from Portland to Latin America, Europe and beyond, teaching the method to other dancers who in turn became trainers in their own diverse communities. DanceAbility offers multi-day workshops that bring future teachers and mixed-abilities students together to study and perform the basics of movement creativity.

Now DanceAbility is expanding its reach, seeking potential teachers for five-day intensive training sessions with support from a $26,000 Cultural Trust grant award Here’s how Alessi sees it, “By supporting DanceAbility International, the Oregon Cultural Trust allows us to distribute valuable information and training to the people and their communities in Oregon… we can all move and grow together.”

Former student turned-teacher and one-legged dancer Karen Daly tells of her experience with DanceAbility this way, “It’s been inspiring, fun, humbling and challenging.”

In the final analysis, DanceAbility has opened a window to reduce false impressions about diversity in the field of dance, and at the same time, in our broader culture.

Story by Peter Murphy