Opening world of dance despite disabilities

By Rachel Hauraney

Alan Shain climbs deliberately up the ramp to the stage. He clutches his walker tightly with both hands.

The house lights are brought up in the auditorium at Lakeside Gardens, and a crowd of about 150 people begin to clap and cheer as Shain approaches the microphone at centre stage.

Shain has been physically disabled since birth. His disability makes it difficult for him to move his arms and legs, and when he speaks into the microphone it is apparent that the disability affects his speech as well.

But the Centretown resident, who is working towards a masters degree in social work at Carleton University, was on stage April 7 to launch a new program he helped implement at the Ottawa School of Dance.

Dance Ability is a seven-week workshop series that begins April 14 at the Dovercourt Recreation Association.

The program will allow Ottawa residents with disabilities to explore creative movement. So far there are about 20 people signed up for all seven weeks, and several others who will attend one or two of the classes. Shain says the School of Dance can accommodate up to 25 participants each week.

“Up until now, there hasn’t really been any opportunity for people with disabilities to explore creative movement and dance,” he explains.

“We want to open up the concept of what dance is, and make it more inclusive. We want to give your body some attitude.”

Shara Weaver is the outreach coordinator of The School of Dance, specializing in West African and improvisational dance.

She has known Shain for about three years, and will be teaching the new program in conjunction with him.

“All we do is highlight how people move in everyday life,” she says. “We teach people to develop their own styles of movement.”

Shain and Weaver designed several test workshops in January and February to gauge the community’s interest in the program.

“We wanted to target people who were not involved in disability programming,” says Weaver.

Erin Naef took part in a test workshop at the Dovercourt Recreation Association. A testing analyst with Customs and Revenue Canada, the 26-year-old has been in a wheelchair all her life.

“There is lots of general dancing and experimenting with others through dance,” says Naef of the workshops.

“But this is the first program of its kind in Ottawa, and it is a great way for us to connect with other people, both disabled and able-bodied.”

Many able-bodied performers also participated in the Lakeside Gardens program launch.

“This performance was educational for people like myself, who don’t have disabilities,” says Larry Graves, a drummer with the Akpokli Drum and Dance Society.

“We need to see more of this kind of thing in Ottawa. Music and dance should be inclusive.”

Able-bodied people are also welcome to attend the workshop series, says Weaver.