We caught up with Yagmur and Tess, founders of the California-based organization Dance for All Bodies to talk all things inclusive dance. We have been working with Dance for All Bodies to host Travel Through Dance, a week of virtual inclusive dance classes, starting June 23rd, 2020. Sign up for classes here. Read on to find out more about adaptive dance and how you can join in!
What is Dance for All Bodies’ mission?
The mission of Dance for All Bodies is to spread the joy of dance to all bodies through dance classes designed for people with disabilities in mind.
We are dismantling the ableism in dance and in the world one dance class at a time!
What are the benefits of dance?
Dance has many different benefits – socially, emotionally and physically. Socially, it is a way for us to connect and create a feeling of community. Emotionally, it is a way to express our feelings and thoughts creatively. Physically, it is a way for us to stretch, strengthen and move our bodies freely. Dance is beneficial for all individuals, bodies, and abilities. It’s also just really fun and it gives your mind a break from thinking about the stress and worries from the other parts of life. It is rejuvenative and recharging.
What is a typical dance class like?
A typical dance class starts with introductions and warm up. Depending on the type of class, we will either have it like a zumba class, where the instructor shows a couple of moves and we’ll do it to music, or we learn choreography. Every style of dance has its own energy and attitude, which you just have to try to find the one that fits you the best.
What styles of inclusive dance do you teach and who teaches them?
Currently we teach salsa, hip-hop, Diaspora dance, Brazilian dance, flamenco, improvisational dancing, and jazz. We work with a variety of teachers and that is how we are able to offer a variety of styles. Some of our teachers have disabilities while some don’t. Most of our teachers are located in California but we are looking to expand our network of teachers!
We love that our teachers are committed to the mission of Dance for All Bodies and are looking for ways to engage with the community. We have been fortunate to have their interest and willingness to work with us as a new non-profit.
What would you say to someone who is nervous to participate in a dance class because they never saw themselves as a dancer?
Yagmur: It isn’t as scary as it seems. It’s purely beautiful, just try it and see what it can do 🙂
Tess: You don’t have anything to lose! You can turn your camera off the entire time on Zoom and no one will see you and that’s totally fine! Dance magic is most potent when you don’t care what you look like.
Can you give us a little bit of a history about the organization, how did Dance for All Bodies begin?
Yagmur: Sure! The idea behind Dance for All Bodies came from a one time dance class I organized for an amputee support group at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH). I wanted to organize a dance class for the amputee patients because they expressed interest in doing a group physical activity together. Since I’m a dancer, I felt inclined to organize a dance class in part because I believe dance is powerful, in the sense that it builds confidence, interpersonal connections, joy, not to mention the numerous physical benefits as well. I organized the first dance class at SFGH in August 2018. When the participants left that first class eagerly asking when the next one would be, I felt moved and excited to organize more classes.
However, I quickly realized that I needed an accomplice who shared this desire to make dance a more inclusive art form. This brought Tess, a close friend, who is also an amazing dancer, creator and leader, into the project.
Even though California’s Bay Area has a large and vocal disability community, with lots of disability infrastructure in place, there aren’t any organizations that specifically focus on organizing dance classes for people of all abilities in the Bay Area. This has become our current niche. As two dancers without disabilities who have the privilege of extensive dance training, we are making the power, beauty, joy, and fun of dance available to people with disabilities too.
How have recent times, staying home due to Coronavirus, affected the organization?
Our class attendance has actually increased since the pandemic began. At first, we were a little disconcerted as we have only organized dance classes in person and couldn’t imagine replicating the same feeling through a virtual medium. However we have been surprised by how powerful virtual dance classes can be in creating a sense of community! We have been able to reach a wider audience all over the U.S. and internationally as well. Traveling via public transit tends to be difficult for people with disabilities and so having an online class allows us to reach people in their homes who might otherwise not be able to attend.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are developing an accessibility training for workplaces and individuals who want to make their services or products more accessible to people with disabilities. We envision this training as a way (but not the only way) to help people without disabilities become better allies with the disability community. Tess and I are working on becoming more meaningful allies every day and we want to bring other people into this journey with us.
Lastly, is there a message you would like to share with our community?
If you have a body, you can be a dancer. Come dance with us!
We hope you’ll join us next week for a week of Travel Through Dance! Remember, you can see the schedule on social media or click here to register for free classes. When it’s time to travel again, take a look at the dance experiences we offer in Rio de Janeiro, where you can go out dancing or learn to samba! To get in touch with Dance for All Bodies, send an email to [email protected].