Arts and Entertainment

Not a dance of disability

There was the light motion of dancing in North Whidbey Middle School gym last Thursday. Two people floated across the floor, delicately performing turns, lifts, spins and leaps to the gentle music of Vivaldi and at one point they even improvised to the sweet sounds of Glen Miller.

Seattle natives Charlene Curtiss and Joanne Petroff comprise the Light Motion integrated dance company that uses counter balance, modern dance and improvisation.

Two quick observations can be made when attending a performance of Light Motion: They are dancers. And one of them has a thing for popping wheelies during her performance.

Light Motion is one of about a dozen integrated dance companies nationwide that combine persons with and without disabilities, and according to Petroff this number is a low estimation because new companies are emerging every day.

“Charlene and I create our performances from a base of equality, so what emerges is a statement that comes across as a good social and political one, and that what is seen is just dance — not a dance of disability,” Petroff said.

The dancers were invited to perform at the disability awareness program by Skagit Valley College’s Disabled Student Services program. The DSS program at Skagit Valley was started in 1988, and is offered at main campus in Mount Vernon and all of the branch campuses.

Currently 42 students at the Whidbey Campus of Skagit Valley College are active with the DSS program, which offers assistance as simple as ergonomic chairs, to software or other aids to help students with math and reading, to assistance in learning for the visually impaired.

Federal mandates such as the 504 Rehab Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act currently require that programs and assistance for disabled persons, such as the Disabled Student Services program, are offered.

According to DSS Whidbey Coordinator Carol Funk, 35 to 43 million people in America have some sort of disability. She believes that people often perceive other people who are deaf, blind or that use wheel chairs as being disabled, but often forget that disabilities can also be cognitive, mental and physical.

“We want to make the community aware of the disabilities we have as a whole, and that we shouldn’t be limited by our disabilities,” Dawn Coceano, DSS program assistant said.

Funk once saw a bumper sticker that read “Attitude is the only disability,” which she felt could sum up the feeling of the night.

Despite a movement in recent decades to prevent discrimination against women and minorities, Funk believes persons with disabilities still remain the most disenfranchised group. While traveling internationally the women of Light Motion have witnessed Funk’s belief first hand.

“While we were in Melbourne, Australia, the taxi cab drivers refused to stop for anyone in a wheel chair, so I’d have to hide her behind a newsstand or something, get the guy to stop, and get my foot in the door so he couldn’t drive away,” Petroff said.

It’s the technology stateside, and locally, that Coceano and Funk attribute to the success of Skagit Valley’s DSS program.

“The technology has allowed us to become more in tune with our students’ needs and how to assist them,” Funk said.

Dance audience member Megan Rickard found the performance hard to describe, but knew that “if just two people were dancing they couldn’t do half of the things they did.”

Pirouettes, lifts and turns later, the ladies take their bow, but the impression their performance leaves on the audience continues out the door.

“This is a good way to show that if you love something, such as dance, to pursue your dreams, even with disabilities,” said Laima Scott, who drove from Coupeville with her family for the performance.

Find out more

For more information on Skagit Valley College’s Disabled Student Services program you can call the Whidbey Campus DSS office at 675-6656, ext. 5319.

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