Normal is a Fantasy

Dr. Linda Williams, Founder and Creator of Invisible Disability Project, and Monica Slabaugh, Chief Curator, reflect on AXIS Dance Company's to go again performance, embracing disorder, diversity, and disability. 

The Invisible Disability Project was recently invited to AXIS Dance Company’s touring
performance, to go again, at Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall. To go again brings light to the resilience, lived traumas, and social invisibility of veterans and their families through movement, music, and spoken words. Veteran choreographer Joe Goode based the performance on stories collected from veterans who recently returned from war and their families. 

Dwayne Scheuneman and Kevin Lopez in to go again. Photo by Rahim Ullah

Dwayne Scheuneman and Kevin Lopez in to go againPhoto by Rahim Ullah

In one scene, three dancers are arranged in triangular formation, backs to the audience. Their bodies are motionless except for their arms, which make hard, quick motions in beat with the sound of clicking gears. At times, all three sets of arms move in the same way at the same time. But at other times, each dancer interprets, translates, and reacts to the rhythmic clicking differently. Six limbs move like disorderly arms on three unpredictable clocks, or like a series of unruly and asymmetrical versions of the Cartesian man. What does it mean to be in sync? What happens when we linger in spaces of non-synchrony? What does it mean to defy the ideal body? The ideal mind?

It isn’t surprising that humans are hardwired to look for difference and diversity. We do
this without thinking so that we may guard ourselves against the dangerousness of disorder. Consider, for example, the evolutionary basis of staring. We stare at the unexpected, at that which startles us. We notice difference, and all at once it alarms, excites, and captivates us. In staring, our brains attempt to make sense of disorder, to know what is unknown*. It follows that we find comfort and safety in sameness and repetition. Efforts to maintain sameness are manifest in our thoughts, actions, and our language, and have shaped and preserved cultural notions of normalcy.

Julie Crothers and Sophie Stanley in Dix minutes plus tard. Photo by Rahim Ullah

Julie Crothers and Sophie Stanley in Dix minutes plus tard. Photo by Rahim Ullah

But normal is a fantasy.

Our diverse bodies and minds move together in space and time in different ways - because diversity is real. And thankfully, disorder persists. Invisible Disability Project and AXIS Dance Company disrupt normalcy by expanding the vocabulary of movement and athleticism, and by challenging language, mindsets, and systems.

 “These are some of the stories, some of the words that will be spoken. And speaking them matters.” To go again beautifully translates the stories of veterans through voice and movement. This creates space to share in the unseen experiences of a marginalized and largely “invisible” population.

AXIS dancers working with recreation therapy patients at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital.

AXIS dancers working with recreation therapy patients at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital.

Consider this: What would happen if we sought change outside of the most challenged
individuals and instead, asked this from the least challenged around them? Bodily and neurodiversity need flexible structures, allies, and partnerships. The Invisible Disability Project is a Benefits Corporation (B Corp) with a social mission to center bodily and neurodiversity in a culture of equity. We begin by re-imagining what it means to be a citizen philanthropist. What would happen if philanthropy’s mission was to increase and share in social capital, rather than amass private capital that remains out of the common good? What would happen if philanthropy was a mindset - a culture of equity and care - that lived in the everyday spaces we inhabit, and affected the people in our everyday lives?

*See Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s Staring

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