How did I get here?

This post was written by current student Nicole Meehan.

painting with 6 colour blocks inside which are dancing stick figures

Hello, I feel like I need to say hello today to anyone who is reading this. Why? I do not know, but I feel like maybe it eases me into this important and full conversation I am going to have to have about my process in creating my final DST 99 project, Breaking Free: The Aesthetics of Madness (this is the current working title and is subject to change).

I began in the Disability Studies program in 2011 and have always wanted to have dance be involved in my 99 project, but how it is involved has changed with the many ruptures I have experienced, as my supervisor Kathryn Church calls them, especially within the last year and a half alone.  

I am a dancer, and have been since I was eleven years old. It has always been a passion of mine but how I identify as a dancer is changing. I trained as a highland dancer for fourteen years and ballet dancer for five years respectively. Both art forms can be rigid, come with expectations and high standards, along with set steps and positions to follow. I have also taught both highland and ballet for many years.

Originally I thought I would run a dance workshop for people with disabilities creating a space for them to create and express using movement.

Rupture #1

Through my ballet teacher Lisa, I was introduced to a whole new dancing world.  After a difficult competitive season and my retirement, I was asked to participate in a contemporary modern dance piece called Storm and Silence, which was being performed in the Hamilton Fringe Festival. I had never tried anything like that before but thought it was a risk I was willing to take. I was given the opportunity to begin exploring ways in which I can find my own voice within my movement and body. Using a combination of spoken word, poetry, dance and movement I found a more authentic and organic way of expression.

This coupled with my further immersion in the DST program lead me to envision my 99 to have a dance piece that combined writing pieces, with dance choreography and was performed by myself and a varying group of dancers. I thought about redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer.

It became about creating a performance piece that merges Dance and Disability Activism.

Rupture #2

This continued until I took Chelsea Jones’ class to learn about Writing for Disability Activism. From here I wanted to include my writing pieces about Madness, which I later titled Mad Ramblings, into the dance but was unsure how I was going to do it, so I guess it was more of a development than a rupture.

It became, “redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer”, while expressing my experiences as a self identified Mad Person.

Rupture #3

I held the previous vision right up until I had to present my proposal to my current cohort of students. I was wondering where I might get dancers who would be interested and also have diverse styles of movement. My class was very helpful in providing many suggestions but I kept having an uneasy feeling that I was being pulled away from where I really wanted to be.

Emerging Aesthetics of Madness

Highland, ballet, contemporary, modern… all different forms of dance that have taught me something new and given me a new way of expressing myself. They have also given me the confidence to trust in my own voice. Each time I dance I bring myself to the floor, I am the common denominator, and I am the only one who can do this. It is not about following someone else’s steps but creating my own and developing my style through my life experiences. even though I am resistant to the structure of the different styles over the years, I want to acknowledge the influences they have had in creating my life dance, my madness. Each dance style has come into my life at the point that I have needed it the most and when I was ready for it.

And then it hit me, Breaking Free is to be about the Aesthetics of Madness and exploring this through dance. It is about my journey and experiences of Madness, a solo. I have noticed that many of the current representations out there are one dimensional, we just see the diagnosis. They don’t show the complexities of the madness of life. Good days and bad days, days that are all the way out to the left. They are all a part of my madness and as such are part of the whole aesthetic.

Although I would like to give you a final bang of a conclusion, I can’t, I still have 3 months to go and that is a long time for many more ruptures to come.

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