AXIS Blog Editor Rebecca Fortelka chats with Jenny Mitchell, the Executive Director of Laughing Feet Performers in Wichita, Kansas on collaboration.
Born into a music and theatre family, Jenny Mitchell uses her background in her direction of Laughing Feet, to break down walls and develop trust in the special needs Kansas Community
- Rebecca Fortelka: How did you find out about AXIS?
Jenny Mitchell: I saw [AXIS] on So You Think You Can Dance I believe in 2012 on the results show. I then googled and you tubed and learned everything I could about you. I tucked you away in my memory of hopefully bringing you to Wichita to work with my performers.
RF: What inspired you to reach out to AXIS to propose a collaboration with Laughing Feet?
JM: It is important to me that as my program grows and continues, I want my performers to know that they can do anything they want in life. I want them to see if I want to be a dancer, I can. If I want to be a singer, I can. If I want to be an actor, I can. AXIS was such a perfect match. We pair typical performers with performers with disabilities, and so do you! I wanted to see that anything is possible.
RF: Tell us about Laughing Feet. How and when did you start? Who do you serve?
JM: Schools and the surrounding communities. Our first variety show was performed in 2007 and has occurred on an annual basis since then, involving approx 60 to 80 performers each year. Performers have ranged in age from 10 years old to 57 years old and have consisted of typical performers and special needs performers that have physical, learning, mental and behavior disabilities such as autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsey, spina bifida, etc. In 2010, Laughing Feet Performers was officially organized to make sure that performance opportunities continued to occur for special needs participates long after they graduated from high school and to allow for more community involvement in its performers. Laughing Feet performances have singing, dancing, joke telling, imagination, creative dramatics, play acting, and lots and lots of laughter; we about the process, not the product – although the product is pretty awesome. We focus on learning about each other as people and seeing other for who they are, not what they are.
RF: What are your favorite moments at Laughing Feet?
JM: All of them! The performers give back to me more than I could ever give to them. Their unconditional love, joy of performing, excitement on the stage is truly contagious! More than anything though, I love watching their families watch them perform. Most times they are seeing their children on that stage do things they never dreamed they would get to do. It is so beautiful and makes my heart swell each time.
RF: What is your favorite thing about dancing?
JM: I grew up dancing and in a musical family; it has always been apart of my life. In particular with Laughing Feet I am amazed at what a medium music and dance can be. I have performers who may not be able to have a conversation with me that will communicate with me though music and dance. Over the years, performers have achieved more and more confidence in their singing and dancing abilities and I have been able to give them more and more challenging dance steps and songs. It's the growth each year that really touches me. As a side note, I named the organization Laughing Feet because #1 we LOVE to laugh and do alot of it in rehearsals. and #2, we LOVE to dance, so the name just felt right for us!