By Guest Blogger Alana Wallace, Founder and Artistic Director, Dance>Detour
Dance for someone who uses a wheelchair? I didn’t think so! I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding!” I must admit, as a professional actor and vocalist, the inclusion of dance in my career was a hard sell to me initially. I did not think artists with physical disabilities could legitimately compete, nor be taken seriously, in the arena of dance.
But in 1995, I was wowed when I witnessed my first physically integrated dance performance by the Cleveland Ballet Dancing Wheels (now known as “Dancing Wheels”). What thrilled me most about the company was the fact that their dancers who used wheelchairs were equal participants in the performance. I always thought that people who danced in wheelchairs could only flap their arms and that the non-disabled dancers manipulated their wheelchairs and dominated the movement. Gosh, was I wrong! Dancing Wheels blew me away. I immediately knew this had to become a new genre for me to explore.
After studying with Dancing Wheels and other professional dancers who agreed to work with me, I was eventually inspired to form my own “diverse-abilities” dance company, Dance>Detour. As a dancer, what I do is hard to describe. What I can tell you is that I have found that my wheelchair is a beautiful accessory that allows me the freedom to express myself through movement in ways I never believed possible.
For me, it is very much like the smooth gliding movements of an ice dancer – movements that cannot be duplicated on two feet. With physically integrated dance, there are no standard rules. Most often, the movements we create as dancers with disabilities are individualized and distinct. It is a combination of imagination, exploration and acquired techniques – pushing our range of abilities beyond what we thought achievable, yet insuring that quality and professionalism are not compromised.
What I do is bigger than just dancing. It’s about life and demonstrating that inclusion and diversity can apply not only to our art, but also to everything we do. It is my belief that the only limitations we truly have are restrictive thinking and limited imagination. I have learned that if I believe, I can achieve it! I have overcome all mental and physical challenges by first embracing them and then finding ways to turn lemons into lemonade. Thus, as dancers we can broaden our growth if we challenge the established concepts of what dance is and who can be involved.
As a result, dance has emphatically changed my life! I embrace my disability and my body in a way that I never have before. I look in the mirror and I like what I see – flaws and all. Dance has taught me that all movement is valid even if it is only an eyelash blink. Thus our dance troupe fashioned the motto “Everyone Can Dance.” Members of our professional company can range from 18 – 60 years of age. We don’t apply traditional dance company stereotypes and restrictions regarding age, body type, uniform movement or range of ability. Sharing our artistic vision and a commitment to work hard are our only requirements.
I definitely don’t approach dance from a therapeutic perspective. I view it, rather, from a professional artistic standpoint. But, I must admit the healing benefits of dance are very apparent. Dance is a great way to exercise, alleviate stress, promote flexibility, burn calories, cultivate social and cultural interactions – I could go on and on. All these reasons individually and collectively promote wellness and well-being. As a post-polio survivor for more than 50 years, I feel dance has helped me to ward off secondary health problems because when I am doing something that I love, I feel healthy and happy.
In addition to my artistic endeavors, I am proud to be working with an exciting new venture – The Divas with DisAbilities Project (DWDP). This project is the brain child of Dr. Donna R. Walton., founder and CEO of Leggtalk, Inc. The Divas with DisAbilities Project makes an earnest effort to show that women of color with physical disabilities, chronic medical conditions and congenital deformities are more than just their wheelchairs, prosthesis, canes and limps. DWDP’s mission is to bring attention to these DIVAS’ talents and abilities by spotlighting them “showing up unapologetically” in film, TV, publishing and fashion industries with the goal of impacting the definition of what disability looks like from our perspectives. You may visit their newly launched website at: www.divaswithdisabilities.com.
Alana Yvonne Wallace has served as founder and artistic director of Dance>Detour since 1995. She graduated from Columbia College in 1985 with a BFA degree in Theater and Music. Wallace, who contracted polio at the age of five, is a professional wheelchair dancer, actress, vocalist and writer who believes she was born to perform.
Wallace is a multi-faceted artist who, along with Michelle Obama, received one of 10 Phenomenal Woman Awards at THE BLACK WOMEN’S EXPO Gala in 2008. Alana currently appears in two TV commercials for “THINK BEYOND THE LABEL” – a national campaign to promote employment for people with disabilities. She is also featured in the latest edition of “WHO’S WHO IN BLACK CHICAGO,” as an accomplished community leader.
Alana has collaborated in dance works with renowned companies such as Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Bryant Ballet of the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center, The Chicago Moving Company and MOMENTA. In 1998, she was featured in the Emmy Award-Winning PBS television documentary, “DANCE FROM THE HEART” hosted by Ben Vereen. In addition, Wallace was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2007 and also Ms. Wheelchair America 2008.
For more information on Alana Wallace and her endeavors, please email her at email@example.com.