Radio LUMI

304: Joy

May 30, 2023 Luminato Festival Toronto Season 3 Episode 4
Radio LUMI
304: Joy
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Radio LUMI will explore the theme of “Joy” as part of Luminato 2023. 

In “Grounding Conversations, Part 4: Joy as Resistance,” Dev anchors themselves in the past as they take to the ocean—one place that they always find joy—to immerse themselves in the ripples of that emerge from the experiences that have taught them how to find it. 

Then Christine Malec sits down with audio describer Rebecca Singh of Superior Description Services and dancer Annemarie Cabri to explore the “Art of Storytelling in Dance" before diving into “Worth Noting” with Ramya Amuthan about the connections between joy and dance as Luminato 2023 prepares for Jean-Pierre Perreault’s Nuit. 

Christine Malec:

Welcome to episode four of the Radio LUMI podcast, Joy. I'll be speaking with a dancer and an audio describer about how we tell stories through dance. And how a blind audience can appreciate and understand this art form, which is generally a visual one.

Dev Ramsawakh:

This is grounding conversations with Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI. This six part segment series will lay the groundwork for the conversations that'll be happening on our broadcast during Luminato 2023 and provide a background on the frameworks with which our audio experiences attempt to engage.

Many performance shows and arts festivals begin their programming with your typical land acknowledgement. However, many indigenous peoples have criticized the practice for relegating their relationship with the land to the past, which does more to alleviate settler guilt and discomfort than to demonstrate real solidarity and progressive action.

In my relationship to Radio LUMI, I want to acknowledge these criticisms as a way to use my platform responsibly. I don't want to just acknowledge the trauma indigenous peoples from all over have had inflicted on them, but to address how our society collectively is hurt by the mechanics of colonialism. I want to try to offer a demonstration of ways to actively engage with decolonial concepts and a practice to move forward on an interconnected journey towards collective liberation.

In grounding conversations, I reveal myself as a time traveler, as I embark on a journey that weaves in and out of the past presence and futures that are rooted in the festival's programming and our city's arts culture. Tying them to the themes that the host here at Radio LUMI will be addressing from their own perspectives. This journey will be created using excerpts from my body of work to address the ongoing impacts of colonialism on our collective society and the underlying principles of disability justice that the San Francisco based disabled arts collective Sins Invalid imbued into the term when they coined it in 2005 in order to teach us how to resist our interlocking systems of oppression. It's now time to embark on the fourth part of our journey, joy as resistance.

I've been transported once more, having fallen asleep swaddled in the comforter in my present day Toronto apartment and woken swaddled in the soothing rock of the waves of a Lake Ontario that exists outside of time. I stare up at a clear blue sky, my ears filled with the sounds of lapping water as the waves submerge and recede from them in a slow rhythmic pattern. It's peaceful.

I've always loved the water. It's where I felt most at home, both literally and figuratively. In water, I'm buoyant instead of feeling gravity grind my bones together at their joints. And the creatures that live there exist in a vibrant and liminal world that's always made more sense to me in all of its mystery than the on land world I lived in.

I envy dolphins and whales, mammals that defied scientific categorization, so determined to escape the sea, their bodies transformed until they couldn't return to the land if they wanted to. Water, one of the most valuable resources that Canada boasts, covers most of Earth, and we've barely explored and understood a fraction of it. And denied access to it for many of its original stewards. That's why I wrote a poem in early 2020 called Shark Skin, which I turned into a short film through a filmmaking program with the Toronto Queer Film Festival in 2021.

Speaker 1:

Before quarantine, I was going to get a shark tattoo right on my neck. They've actually got the skin, these scales called dermal denticles. It's the same stuff their teeth are made of. It's basically teeth skin. Supposedly if you run your hands along them from head to tail, they feel smooth, almost silky to the touch. But if you rub them the wrong way, those scales bite back, ripping ribbons of your flesh. And I think of this when you run your hands along me in just the right way, and I'm smooth and easy, but my skin is made of teeth and they're always ready to bite, ready to draw blood, and I'm always just waiting for you to give me a reason.

Dev Ramsawakh:

I first wrote it after leaving my first domestically abusive relationship about a new budding connection that I was cautiously making. Ironically, that relationship turned into another domestically abusive one, but I did eventually get my shark tattoo right on my neck. But coming back to that poem reminded me of a conversation that Radio LUMI host Ramya Amuthan had with Andrea Nann, a producer of the All In Good Time program that was a part of Luminato 2022.

Andrea Nann:

Water, of course, for healing, for ceremony, to cleanse, for that constant reminder of change and that we are ourselves bodies of water, that 60% of us is water and that 90% of the fluids that move within us are water. And water just felt like the element that we needed to call upon to help us to find that courage and that strength and that support to begin to release and to let go and to let things be carried away by our great mother Earth. We're not just here alone as humans on this planet. We have so much around us.

And if we were to open our awareness to the richness of all that is here for us, that the planet itself can feel whole and well. We are in it together with other than humans, with all beings of creation. I'm hoping that the aspects of the ceremony that bring our awarenesses and open our awarenesses to other than humans will also remind us that we have so much support around us and that we are part of things greater that are also experiencing need for our attention, our awareness, our time.

It really is a literal activation of different systems of our bodies, but an activation of the realms of our existence, which are mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. And so the whole ceremony is designed to reactivate and to notice that even breath is movement and that we can start there. And when we start to notice that breath is movement, we actually realize that we've been holding our breath. And so I have been saying to myself through the pandemic, this expression, "All in good time."

And to allow for myself to soften back away from that feeling of just the urgency and the frustration and all of the energy that was charging towards things that were then [inaudible 00:07:05] or that had to be canceled or where there was a physical or emotional or spiritual or mental loss. So all in good time just reminds us all that things will happen. We will be able to bring closure to the things that need to be brought back to the ground. We will be able to ascend and celebrate the things that need to go upwards and we will feel whole again.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Water is healing and a source of life. Its fluidity is in constant motion. Shifting states, replenishing itself, it may fit the shape of its container, but its state can always be transformed with the right conditions and systems. Like plants that consume carbon dioxide in the water they soak up from the soil to produce oxygen and releasing moisture into the air, which can become rain or snow or hail or just the humidity we feel on a hot summer day.

It reminds me of myself, Toronto, the arts, how I understand the world. Likely why I called my first short film, Fluid, created with the Revision Center for Arts and Social Justice in 2019. I wonder, is there a link between Toronto in its role as the meeting place, a place of constant movement and shifting? All of these entities exist in multiplicities. There's no one definable Dev, Toronto or art, which reminds me again of Justin Manyfingers and our conversation from 2019 for representation.

Justin Manyfingers:

When I was looking at Western forms of performing arts, it was hard for me to understand why is acting a separate thing than dance, than music? When all of those are continuously in motion in a cultural sense, and especially in a ceremonial sense, and they're not broken up. And again, that's western think, trying to categorize everything. But it doesn't make sense because I've trained in all of these, and the root thing of all of this is trying to make it feel as real as possible.

But how can you be as real of a person if you completely chop yourself up in bits and pieces and then try to feel normal? Of course, that's not going to feel normal. And so these techniques are very, very strange. When you have sex, there's certain noises you're able to identify that, you're able to identify the certain physicalities that come with that.

If you put it in a language or text form those stories, you're able to identify what that is. When someone's happy, you're able to identify that sound and what that is a part of. Those stories that are about that and the physicality with the human body when someone laughs. When you're dancing, depending on what that is. So all of these human experiences include all three of those things that make an individual. So it was hard for me to say, "I want to be an actor. I want to be a dancer. I want to get into music or be a singer or musician or write music or compose music." I'm not primarily an actor or a singer or anything in the music world. I just know enough to be able to create art as a human being in a human form.

Dev Ramsawakh:

This is why Sins Invalid also urges us to recognize wholeness as a principle of disability justice. Our value as human beings can't be defined by a single metric. We are more than just roles or functions or productivity. Our existences can't be complete if we sacrifice all the parts that make us whole in order to justify it. What we do is valuable, but so is what we love, when inspires us, what we care for and what we desire. This is why Adrienne Maree Brown refers to the framework she uses for activism as "pleasure activism," which she describes as "a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work."

This framework draws on the work of black feminists like Audre Lorde, Joan Morgan, Cara Page, Sonya Renee Taylor, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and other activists whose work engages with theirs. She explains that oppression convinces us that our pleasure and comfort are detrimental to society, which is why centering the pleasure of the most oppressed is a radical practice.

Both Brown and Sins Invalid emphasize developing an erotic practice, expanding the definition of the erotic beyond intercourse, to encompass all the ways we can seek and experience pleasure radically. That doesn't mean to separate it from sex, which Sins Invalid reminds us that society tries with disabled people to refuse them agency as sexual beings through infantilization and dehumanization.

As Brown explains in her book, Pleasure Activism, "the erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power in honor and self-respect, we can require no less of ourselves." This was something that Ryan Persaude touched on in my interview with him. He was explaining to me the word "coolie", a derogatory word used to describe Indo Caribbean indentured laborers and their descendants.

Ryan Persaude:

I find the word is really important in the diaspora for thinking about again, this juxtaposition of pain and pleasure, but also reclamation and power and agency that's particularly rooted in Caribbean feminist knowledges, where Caribbean feminist women, whether they identify that way or not, have always been at the forefront of teaching us what it means to reclaim your body, to mash up the space, to free up yourself. But all of these ideas around free up are also loaded in pain. In enacting pleasure, we have to also think through what pain has been caused to allow that pleasure to happen.

Dev Ramsawakh:

Thinking about the Caribbean women I grew up with, his words rang with a familiar clarity. My mother, grandmother, and aunts are incredibly strong, hardworking women. They take care of their homes, their careers, their families, and their communities, the toll of which they bear stoically. A lot of pain is exchanged between them, but they still find ways to come together to indulge in unrestrained celebration.

For me, holidays and birthdays aren't dignified family affairs, they're boisterous, to borrow a word from Persaude, [inaudible 00:12:55]. We cram our houses with as many loved ones as we can herd together, rousing a din of music, laughter, and passionate conversation into the early morning hours. My family dances for hours letting go of their airs of respectability to wine and rum, gyrating to soca and calypso, music that spins cultural collective trauma into rhythmic tempos and misleadingly nonchalant lyrics.

I'm grateful for these memories as I think about how I always find ways to release the pressurized static of stress, oppression, and struggle constantly building inside of me, despite disability, poverty, and trauma isolating me long before the pandemic erupted.

Whether it's wildly dancing alone to nostalgic playlists, writing poetry or stories, or having long intimate conversations with people who are willing collaborators in cultivating joy. This is why disability justice activists and artists have developed accessibility frameworks like creative and responsive access. These concepts ask us not only to be creative in implementing access, but also to consider who gets to access creativity and who faces nearly insurmountable barriers to it.

It means being open and curious. It means not deferring joy and pleasure and desire in a futile pursuit of perfection. In a world of ever-growing crisis and conflict, fear and anxiety make it easy to succumb to hopelessness and complacency. Perpetually dismissing our own liberation is unrealistic. The most oppressed of us need creativity alongside having our basic needs met to express ourselves, but also to connect and imagine new worlds where we flourish together.

As I drift lazily in this body of timelessness, immersing myself in the swells of creativity and possibility and joy, it's easy to suspend myself here forever where it's weightless and buoyant and free, but dreams aren't actions and all the fantasizing in the world won't make them into reality.

That was part four of the six part segment series, Grounding Conversations, Joy as Resistance. This segment was produced by Dev Ramsawakh for Radio LUMI as part of Luminato 2023. This segment included audio excerpts from interviews with Andrea Nann in conversation with Ramya Amuthan for Radio LUMI and Luminato Festival Toronto, recorded in 2022, Justin Manyfingers recorded in 2019 and originally released in 2020 as part of the [inaudible 00:15:10] podcast made in production with Extra Magazine. And Ryan Persaude, recorded in 2021 and re-released in 2023 as part of the remaster podcast, Jumbie: Colonized Monsters.

Links to these works and other resources for those interested in expanding their own research into these topics will be available in the show notes for this episode of the podcast, as well as through the Access Hub, which is available on the Luminato website. That's luminatofestival.com. The music used in the segment is by GR Grip. Sound effects were either from freesound.org or fully produced by Dev Ramsawakh. But don't turn us off yet. We've got lots more conversations between our hosts and describers coming up on Radio LUMI.

Speaker 2:

So I've got my feet in what's called first position, so if you want to get down there. Yeah, I'll just do a couple of the feet. So see, my legs are turned out.

Speaker 4:

Oh, your heels are together. Okay.

Speaker 2:

Yes, heels are together and I should be squeezing my knees tight and my upper thighs are turning out and I've got...

Christine Malec:

As a blind person, you have to go out of your way to experience dance as a spectator. We can all bop around our living rooms to our favorite songs, so we know what it's like to move our bodies, but how do the pros do it? Can we as blind people ever truly know? My sense is that to be perceived fully, dance must be observed at a distance, and that won't work for us unless we have skilled audio description and we do. The field of describing dance is evolving as full of movement and innovation as dance itself. You'll be hearing the voices of professional audio describer, Rebecca Singh and ballerina and dance teacher, Annemarie Cabri as they move us through how we can understand dance more fully.

Rebecca, could you describe for us the vibe of ballet, like the aesthetics? So when we say that a contemporary dancer has ballet training, are there things we can infer from that based on what it's like to watch ballet performance?

Rebecca Singh:

I feel like ballet classes are like a real entry point for anybody exploring dance. So those are perennially popular. And I myself, at eight years old or however young I was, took some ballet classes and then did go on later to study a little bit more. And one of the things that I remember that I think helps give that flavor, the sense is that ballet comes from folk dance. It is on a timeline that begins with folk dance and moves towards contemporary dance, where stories are told in ballet or there are certain choreographies or sets of steps or movements that are relational to folk stories.

And that I think we can understand as having some kind of narrative. There's some actual meaning behind the dances and behind the individual choreographies or poses and relationship between dancers in ballet. So in terms of a vibe, often there is direct relationships between different dancers that can be observed, whether it's showing a "beautiful form or beautiful shape," whether it's making a grand entrance and seeming to glide across the stage. There's an aspect of athleticism that comes in as well, whether it's leaping incredible heights or stretching one's body in a split, standing on one leg and having breathtaking balance. All of these things are articulations that can be connected to some kind of relational narrative or aesthetic.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible 00:19:31] about a foot and a half between the two heels.

Speaker 4:

Okay.

Speaker 2:

Turned out position. Okay. And then third position is...

Christine Malec:

I'm really interested in the idea of telling a story through dance, and it's a bit hard for me to conceive of how a story is told without words. Can you help us to understand how movement of the body without words could convey a story?

Annemarie Cabri:

Yeah, so when we think of a story, has a beginning, a middle and end all different lengths, it has a tension or a high part in the story. And so we try to do that with our bodies. If you're doing a story with a character who... This is very simple, but who is sad, let's say. So you can through movement and feeling, make your body express sadness.

So right now, I don't know if you're reacting to my words, but your chest might be compressing or your head might be dropping that. If you think of that as the character doing something that is sad, we have gesture that helps. So the sad feeling would be put into the dance movements and steps and the music would create that feeling as well. And you would see the character maybe come up to another dancer and have what looks like a dialogue by using gesture. Let's say there's a part of the story where there's a big hurricane or something, so you might use a whole group of dancers to show a hurricane through the movement of it.

Speaker 2:

So I'm in my first position turned out and I'm going to open my knees like a book.

Speaker 4:

Beautiful. [inaudible 00:21:35].

Speaker 2:

And it's a movement so I go down, keeping the heels on the floor, and then I squeeze and push away from the floor, like I'm jumping to stretch.

Christine Malec:

Rebecca, taking the concepts of storytelling and of aesthetics as our pivot point, what can you tell us about contemporary dance? What does it look like from the observer's point of view? How does it differ or how have the concepts of aesthetics and storytelling from say, ballet, shifted towards what we see in contemporary dance?

Rebecca Singh:

In ballet, just to be really specific about the look of it, the style of it, a lot of straight lines, a lot of elongated body shapes, a lot of athletic movements that accentuate the actual body shape and moving to the contemporary, we break out of some of the rules about form and shape that are connected to ballet. And you can lean more into the athleticism. You can have different configurations of people on stage. There's less of a theatrical hierarchy and less of a tie to narrative. You don't necessarily need to have one person to focus on as the focal point as the person who is carrying a story. If there are 40 people on stage, those 40 people could be working together as a group as opposed to having one princess and her 39 ladies in waiting or something like that.

Christine Malec:

Annemarie, how much overlap would you say there is between a dancer and say, a mime artist, or a theater artist? Do those disciplines have an overlap?

Annemarie Cabri:

They certainly have an overlap because they're expressing through their body. I often actually demonstrate when I'm in class situation, typically with children at schools of, "I will give you two demonstrations." And so I do one and then I do another one, and which one was the mime and which one was the dance? And they always pick it up right away because the mime is very gestural and the dance has rhythm, it's got a full body, it moves maybe bigger.

Christine Malec:

One of the things that's particularly interesting and relevant for blind and low vision people is posture. And posture is something that if you are observant, you learn by watching. If you have coaching from a physiotherapist or something, then you can hone your posture. As blind people, we don't get the feedback of looking at someone and going, "Ooh, they have really great posture. I want to carry myself in that way." So could we do a little exercise? Can you take maybe top to bottom or bottom to top and describe good posture, which I assume is also good posture for a dancer?

Annemarie Cabri:

Good posture allows us to be stress-free going about our day. And if you want to dance, then you need good posture to make it again, not stressful on the body. So if you think of your skeleton, you want your skeleton to hang from the ceiling, like those marionette puppets on a string, and you want your skeleton to line... We talk about good alignment in dance a lot, and that means one bone stacked on top of another in order that all your joints and must are free to move.

And how you get good postures by using your muscles. So for instance, I'm sitting down right now, and I don't know if you are, but if you roll your shoulders forward, you will notice that your ribs are now pressing maybe on your organs and you can't breathe as easily. So breath is the first movement we learn when we're born. It's the underlying movement of all movements.

So we need to be able to breathe easily to support all our movements. So if you now roll your shoulders back up, pull them back up by using your abdominal muscles, and now your ribs are more easy to open and close and breathe, your shoulders and your spine is straight. Your shoulders than your spine and then your pelvis is a very also heavy bone structure. And if it's tipped in any way, it will just pull you down and squash other things. So this straight alignment from your... You said, "Could I go from the bottom?" So from your feet on the floor, your ankle bone up through your shin, your kneecap, your thighbone into your pelvis, your spine, and imagine your head floating on the top being pulled up by that string.

Speaker 2:

It's a little cotton... Split soul we call it. And you flip it over, you'll see there's a ball of the foot there. Yeah. And then the heel, and those are leather. And then in the middle, what happens is it's cut away. So that when you stretch and point your feet, we call it, with the cutaway there, your pointed foot looks more archy.

Speaker 4:

Oh, okay. Okay.

Speaker 2:

And that's sort of a desirable... In ballet.

Speaker 4:

That's the graceful... Yeah.

Speaker 2:

And then there's a...

Christine Malec:

When you teach, what are the challenges when you're, say with people who are new to dance or beginners, what are some common areas where you have to spend more time?

Annemarie Cabri:

I think it's trusting themself. The first thing I often do is help people to find their outside edges. So if you haven't got contact inside yourself to the outside of yourself to where you are in space, so spatial awareness, then it's hard to be confident to move around, I find. People who are not used to moving through space, they might have more of a closed position, which is natural. You'd be protecting yourself. So being able to go from your center out to your extremity, how far can you reach out from your arms and legs from your center? That's a big confident gesture. And people who haven't experienced that in a safe way or an enjoyable way, it takes sometimes time for them to get there. But it's really, again, one of those fundamental movements that we do as babies to be in the world. So it comes from what's called our startle reflex. So when people do get that feeling and allow themself and trust that they can do that, it's just, "Woo!" We jump up a level of movement expression.

Christine Malec:

Rebecca, can we talk about the difference between having one or two or three dancers on stage versus 40 dancers on stage? And I'm asking because I recently got to experience the piece Colossus, as audio described brilliantly by you, I must say, and of all the dance performances I've attended with audio description, I found it the most compelling, but I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure that out? And what's the aesthetic storytelling difference there?

Rebecca Singh:

Well, so Colossus is definitely a piece of contemporary dance, and one of the main differences is that in describing that piece, I really needed to understand, so there were 42 dancers actually in the piece, what bound them together and what energy they were moving across the stage, shapes and groups in relationship to one another. And the ideas of partnering groups as opposed to two partners was really important to understand from my perspective, so that I impart that in the audio description as well.

And in terms of the differences between a smaller group versus a larger group, I am looking for that relationship in the choreography between different sections or different groups. One of the most important things for me is to make sure that you are connected with the rest of the audience. We often go to cultural events to be in communion with others, to commune, and I think that's a really important responsibility of an audio describer to remember that and to dedicate themselves towards capturing the moments of a piece that resonate with an audience.

And so, especially in dance, there can be moments that are just simply awe-inspiring or breathtaking because of the athleticism of dancers, because of the spectacle of large groups being in sync, for example. And I'm trying to make sure that the beats of the choreography or the beats of the piece are held intact in a way so that when there's a lighting shift, that it as much as possible can make sense to you as you're experiencing the piece. And that if you are sitting in a row with other people experiencing the piece, and there's just this electric feeling, there's this breath that the audience has. Sometimes people will catch their breath or hold their breath when they're watching something amazing and that so to add the visual element to that feeling that you might sense in the audience is also something that I try and pay attention to.

Speaker 2:

First arabesque. So I'm standing on one leg, one arm, the same arm forward is the standing leg. Pointed back foot. And then I start to lift this leg and it can go up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up. So that's okay, as high as I can get it. But if you saw a performance, my back leg would be sticking up here from my bum.

Christine Malec:

Annemarie, how do you know when you have witnessed an extremely good dance performance? One where you walk away and go, "That was incredible." When that happens, what are you responding to? What have the dancers done to elicit that reaction from you?

Annemarie Cabri:

Well, if it's a dance with a specific technique, like let's say, ballet, has a very stylized way of moving. And if that completely melts away, where I don't see the dance technique, It's just a human on stage and they are creating. So it's feeling. Is if the dancers touched me, if I was moved in any of the emotion range, then to me that is an incredible performance. And I don't expect it every time. You might only see that a couple times in your life. Somebody can really, really just transport you to another world almost. That's a really good performance.

Christine Malec:

One of the pieces Luminato will be highlighting is called Nuit, and it's a dance performance without music. And I wonder, do you have experience dancing without music? And what happens when that's the case, when you're going to move your body intentionally in a dance way, but there's no music? What happens there as a dancer?

Annemarie Cabri:

Well, you create, a musical score inside. So you might have rhythms that you're working with, but you're just noting it inside for yourself. I'm thinking a lot about, there are 15 dance elements. So it could be the weight I give something, the pathway, the direction, the speed, all those words help create the movement where you're not laying your movement along with the music.

Christine Malec:

For a blind person, audio description is the only in to experiencing a dance performance. And so to a certain extent, the dance performance for us is going to be as good as the audio description. And so just imagine, I know you're not trained as a describer, but imagine if you were describing a dance performance, do you have a sense of what you would emphasize and how you would carry that meaning to someone who couldn't see it? What would be your goal?

Annemarie Cabri:

Well, to come away with a feeling. Yeah, what it would have been like if you had gone through that dance yourself. Was there exertion? Was there these balance moments? Was it quiet? Was it very minimal, something very delicate and quiet, or was it a jumping, joyous section? If it was a story ballet or a story dance, you'd want to be giving the story. But my goal would be somehow to fit in there about what it feels like for the dancer to do any of the parts.

Speaker 2:

Bar hand, heels together, breath plie. Arm float to stretch, standing up and stay. Again plie. Down and push to stand up and you wait again. Plie down.

Christine Malec:

In this last segment of the podcast, I'd like to bring into the conversation another of our lead hosts, Ramya Amuthan, and welcome back Rebecca Singh, an audio describer with Luminato, to tease out more the idea of how we tell stories without words and also dance, and what kind of relationship a blind person and the blind community can have with a medium that is nonverbal, that's movement generated, movement related. And so Ramya, I suspect that like myself, many blind and low vision people have a bit of a complex relationship with dance and the idea of dance. Can you say anything about your relationship with dance?

Ramya Amuthan:

Yeah, I can say a lot. Growing up, I did not feel any comfort or confidence or even just the non-resistance to dance. It wasn't there because physical movement just felt so difficult for me. And I think it was just the idea that people were going to watch me do something that I had no clue what was supposed to be visually okay. And it hit very, very deep. So as I got older, I had to really unpack a lot of that stuff. And now I feel much more comfortable saying these things out loud. But for a very, very long time, it was kind of like, "No, I'm not going to dance. No, this is..."

Even by myself, I can remember many instances where you get the momentum to dance, you're listening to music, I always loved blasting music around the house, but felt uncomfortable going there with my body. And I think that over the last maybe five-ish years, I've explored it more openly and talked about it with other blind, low vision people. And this sharing of, "Yeah, we've felt that way too." And this collective understanding of why it could be difficult and uncomfortable, and that has made it easier to get going and start relaxing into wanting to move and wanting to move whether or not you're being watched. But that was always the biggest part of it for me, Chris, that people were watching.

Christine Malec:

Rebecca, I've gotten more and more interested in the idea of how do you tell the same story in different media? And so in dance, in ballet especially, we get things like say, Cinderella or stories that we know from another context that get told without words. And so in your experience as a describer who's done a lot of dance, can you talk in an overarching way about... More about, because I know I've asked Annemarie about this and you in other contexts, but can we just keep saying more about how a story can be told with the body and not using words?

Rebecca Singh:

Sure. Yeah. I think one of the keys is quite simply how you take up space. So how does the body exist in space and how does it travel through space? Some of it could be... There's certain levels of status that dancers can convey, and actors as well. There's this physical "body language" that you can use by standing straighter or just even the way that you may hold your head, how you position your arms, the way with which energy you walk across or dance across the floor. So in that sense, there's a way that energy becomes embodied, and that is part of the storytelling. So that is part of the chemistry as well between dancers and of course that is where we can understand what are the relationships between the dancers, the characters, what have you, on stage.

Christine Malec:

I think that's interesting, and it makes me think of how body language is a bit of a foreign language for blind people. And I don't know where I'm going with that, but I just throw that out there, that there's a way in which this language is a foreign one and an unknown one to people who have grown up without sight. And so as a describer, I feel like you've really got your work cut out for you in conveying that. And so I love to see and hear how that unfolds. Ramya, I happen to know that you have recently become active in blind soccer. Is there a way in which you feel there's an overlap between doing sports and one's experience of dance? Doing dance one's self?

Ramya Amuthan:

I actually do look for the overlap in other physical activity that I take part in and do the comparison in my head or find out what thresholds I'm good with or what kind of movement I'm getting better at and becoming more comfortable with. Because dance always seems like the highest point of needs practice to feel comfortable with. But I think what's interesting is when something is adapted for you, like blind soccer is very much an adapted sport. Everyone who participates is blind.

There are a set of rules that everybody follows and puts you in the same head space and physical body space as other people. That plays, I think, for obvious reasons, a huge role in why something like organized parasport is much easier to get on board with. It feels more reasonable to try something like this compared to walking into an open social dance space and moving your body and not exactly knowing what the rules are, what's going on around you, and how you're being perceived. So this has helped me kind of understand that, understand the differences and the comparisons, but it's also made me more comfortable to try other things. Now that I'm comfortable doing blind soccer and I can fully immerse myself in it, maybe that is more helpful as a catalyst to try doing things that are less comfortable, that I'm less confident in.

Christine Malec:

I love that. I got the chance recently to participate in a folk dance class geared toward blind people and one of the things that they experimented with was in teaching a step first have everyone sitting down and have a volunteer person behind them tapping on their back and shoulders. And as another instructor is talking through the step, moving their fingertips on your shoulders and back so that you're getting a sense of the patterns before you're trying to achieve them in real space. And so it brings me to a question I have for you, Rebecca, that the field of describing dance in my perception is really evolving and experimenting and innovating. And are there different innovations that you've come across in how other people are experimenting with this field?

Rebecca Singh:

Yeah, absolutely. I've been involved in different discussions about new techniques for both screen dance and live performance. One of the themes that comes up is this is equivalency. So how do you create, and this is a conversation that from what I've heard has been mostly led by sighted folks, but the idea of equivalency, how do you create an equivalent experience in terms of dance for your blind and partially sighted audience? It's led to some really interesting offerings.

One of them is, there's a dancer named Alice Shepherd, her company's Kinetic Light, and they have an app that you can use while going to their live performance, which essentially has nine different audio tracks that will begin at the beginning of the dance piece. And they were created through the question of what is the dance piece, the dance piece was called Wired, in sound?

So each of those nine tracks has a different interpretation version, translation perhaps, of the piece in sound. So one of the tracks is poetry, one of the tracks will just be the sound, like a real closeup of the dancer's bodies, their body sounds. One of the tracks is the sound of their chairs. So they're wheelchair users. And the idea is to get closer to having somewhat of an embodied experience and not being, just needing to come to the level of audio description. So having that cognitive filter and there is a traditional audio description track, and essentially you can toggle between those.

Christine Malec:

You've been listening to episode four of the Radio LUMI podcast. Join us Saturday, June 10th at 8:00 PM at the Fleck Dance Theater for an audio described performance of the dance piece, Nuit by Jean-Pierre Perreault with description by Superior Description Services.

And we invite you to stick around after the performance to chat about the show and your experience with me, Christine Malec, as well as fellow community members. The talk back will finish at approximately 10:15 PM and there will be volunteer guides available throughout the evening to provide you with any assistance you may need. We hope you'll join us. For more information or for assistance booking tickets and reserving audio description devices, contact Emily Maxwell by email at emaxwell@luminato.com or by phone at (437) 776-1569.