I think the pandemic has brought up a lot of desires for different people, and I hope it has also brought clarity. For my part, I have realized the vitality of movement in my every day life, and not only movement, but expressive movement. Movement as art, as practice and performance, even if the performance is just me alone in my living room, sliding around in my socks on the wooden floor. Even if the performance is just for myself and all the selves I’ve been that have led me here.
    I know I’ve written about dance before, most probably when I started pole dancing in 2014. I’ve continued to take classes but have largely focused on strength and flexibility work, while mostly ignoring the “dance” part. During this past year, I’ve started wanting to  understand the dance side better, to be able to incorporate some less intense, more flowy movement between bouts of hanging upside down.
    Sighted dancers have tried to teach me choreography over the years. I have tried to learn, and seemingly have mostly not been successful, at least in a visual “look like everyone else” way. Looking like everyone else was very important to me as a kid in tap dance class, and as a highschooler in show choir. To be frank, I think it was important for my instructors, too. As an adult dancer, who isn’t competing or trying to prove myself to my peers, I’ve come to rethink the idea that I need to look like everyone else. Why? I’m not everyone else, so what’s the point of hiding that?
   A few months ago, I heard a podcast interview with Krishna Washburn, a blind ballet dancer who teaches beginner ballet to adults. Her project, called the Dark Room, consists of a beginner class and a mixed level class, taught over Zoom, our pandemic overlord. Both of her classes are free, as a nod to blind communities generally being unemployed or underemployed. I was so thrilled at the prospect of learning dance from a blind instructor so I signed up for the next 8-week beginner session.
    That was in May. Now, I’m in my fourth month of mixed level class and my mind is busy memorizing French words for new movements I have never asked my body to do before. I’m completely in awe of professional ballet dancers: the total body awareness required in every move, and I’m just doing very beginner dancing! Truthfully, I’m in awe of Krishna, who describes body positions and steps through the tilt and balance of the body. The angles of the arms and transfer of weight. The energy flowing in a diagonal line from outstretched fingertips to an outstretched leg. I feel free to move in my own way, at my own pace, without worrying about anyone watching me. One of the great advantages of all of us being blind!
    I know Krishna puts intensive time and work into designing her classes. Each piece we dance, she says, can take 15 hours to choreograph and memorize. We have new pieces every two weeks, and a rotating collection of units focused on families of movement. We all love her and love the blatantly obvious care she puts into our classes. Last week, a fellow student was thanking her for her dedication to us, as happened fairly regularly at the end of class, and sharing some not so positive experiences he’d had in other dance classes. Krishna listened, said thank you, and then said, “I do this work because all of you deserve the very best. Truly, in this world, you deserve the best teacher and the best classes, ones that center your needs.” It might sound disingenuous, but I felt near tears when she said that. I had never heard anyone say it with such conviction, that I, as a blind person, deserve the best. If I’m being honest, a part of me still thinks I deserve whatever crumbs a visual society can sprinkle my way. If I get 50 percent of the same experience with something as a sighted person does, I’m made to believe that is “good” and “progressive.” If I feel a little less on the outside and a little more included, it’s time to celebrate and claim we’ve done all we can. And here’s Krishna, working her ass off for her blind adult students, because we deserve the very best. My only hope is that we can give her all the grace, love, and support that she deserves, too.

4 thoughts on “Dark Room Dancing

  1. This is fantastic and I love everything about it! Especially the idea (that I’m taking from your commentary) of loving to do something simple and fully because you love to do it . . . and that’s enough of a great reason!! Thank you!

  2. I love that you have found this experience for yourself! What a marvelous woman! I have always admired your willingness to risk. Now regarding show choir, the only reason there was so much “badgering” about matching everyone else is because that’s one of the points of the visual – for good or for bad (and it was much less important in the earlier days of the activity). And we weren’t going to put up a sign that said, “Cut us some slack – we have a blind performer.” And now I think maybe announcing “otherness” should be a good thing – to show that possibilities exist that people might not have considered. Anyway, enough philosophy – I’m thrilled for you to be dancing on your own terms. Stay well.

  3. You deserve what everyone else deserves. I’m glad for this class for you and for us, I’m glad for your words and insight!

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