Elizabeth Young ’20
But I can’t dance!” Perhaps the most common response I hear when promoting dance ensemble groups like Believing Everyone Should Try (B.E.S.T.), this phrase certainly resonates with many people and not without good reason.
The idea of busting moves in the middle of the sprawling Duke Family Performance Hall stage while hundreds of students, faculty, and community members watch doesn’t appeal to everyone. Even less appealing is the thought of messing up said moves in front of a crowd.
When we think of dance, we traditionally picture the idealized dancer’s body, perfectly poised and controlled to execute movement with both strength and grace.
But that does not fully represent all aspects of dance as an art, nor is it what B.E.S.T. is at all.
Every Wednesday, B.E.S.T. members meet with a small group of special needs adults, fondly nicknamed “the boys,” and work with them in dance.
The choreography we create together and the movements we practice are neither fluid nor graceful, yet they allow our group members to express themselves without fear of judgement.
Dance redefines disability by challenging how we understand expression of movement and what we perceive as beautiful. Able-bodied dancers certainly have the capability to execute movement in ways that astound and amaze us, but dance is an art that often inspires us both to move individually and to be moved by ourselves and others.
At first glance, this mélange of dance and disability seems to clash. There’s nothing coordinated about our practices; everyone warms up by grooving to the music in whatever way he/she interprets.
Yet, within this chaotic space, dance has built a community focused on sharing and expressing ourselves through movement.
Through dance, the individuals we work with have the opportunity to express themselves in their own way by connecting movement to their personal experiences. They have their favorite moves: the stanky leg, occasionally the dougie, and always running off the stage into the audience at the end of the dance.
The process of creating a piece with B.E.S.T starts with the adults choosing the music and the students choreographing to snippets of each song.
While some semesters have featured more cohesive themes (last year we wore capes and danced to superhero theme songs), the adults usually list their latest radio jams or old-time classics, which results in a mix of songs ranging from Usher to Smash Mouth.
Though we rarely dance in sync, dance becomes a shared experience as we communicate through movement.
Together, we leave behind the notion of the idealized body. When we cast aside the limitations of concentrating on a traditional, idealized body—which can be reduced to an object defined by the perfection of its performance and movement—we can redefine how we view both dance as an art form and individuals with disabilities.
Looking through this new lens promotes dance as a vehicle for human expression and redirects our focus towards movement centered on all types of bodies from traditional to disabled to any imaginable form.
All bodies tell their own story. Each one is equally important.
Instead, in B.E.S.T., we focus on the music that unites us and gives us this universal language of dance. Dance allows us to be joyful and vulnerable as we practice and perform together, but it also redefines what we think of as beautiful.
Contrary to the traditional aesthetic of dance, our group creates pieces where we are all moving offbeat in opposite directions and with varying styles.
We have created a new aesthetic by focusing on our individual expression, an aesthetic of difference that challenges the traditional physical perfection of dance. Dance is in each of us, but it is also a form of expression between us.
So you think you can’t dance? Try listening to your favorite song and remaining as still as a statue. Able-bodied or not, anyone can dance, each in our own way.
Elizabeth Young ’20 is a biology major from Seattle, Washington. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.