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Limitless movement


A dance class teaches technique to blind students of all ages.

Heide Brandes August 3rd, 2011

In Tanya Chianese’s youth ballet class, students listen more than watch. She describes movements using imagery, using words instead of steps to show her class where a foot is placed, how high a chin is lifted or how low a plié should be.

For many, the passion to learn dance comes from seeing dance. When ballet dancers float upon their toes as their arms sway through the air, their fluidity can seem magical. But the children, teens and adults at City Arts Center’s Movement Without Limitations ballet classes have never really seen dancing at all. Many have seen hardly anything.

Yet these students, all with varying levels of sight loss, perform and learn ballet at a six-week intensive ballet class for the blind and visually impaired. City Arts Center partnered with the Oklahoma City Ballet and NewView Oklahoma to host the workshop for the second year.

Sponsored by Devon Energy, Movement Without Limitations proves that creativity and connection to dance has more to do with enthusiasm than with sight.

“We started this last year during a summer camp, and now we offer two classes, one for adults and one for kids, who have a seeing buddy with them,” said Chianese (pictured), an Oklahoma City Ballet instructor. “At first, I was terrified to teach. I went online and did a lot of research, but as soon as I taught the first class, I realized that it was no different from other classes I teach. I teach the same way, except instead of demonstrating the moves with my own body, I do a lot more visual description and imagery.”

What results, she said, are students learning ballet basics just like any other class. Despite their challenges, it’s the connection to movement and music that make a dancer, she said.

“Balance, for instance, is connected to sight. I’ve had to pay attention to that, but the kids jumped into it and are having a blast,” Chianese said. “They realize through dance that they can do what their friends who aren’t visually impaired can do. They go home and practice and work hard in class. They are so gung-ho about learning to dance.” The camp was the brainchild of Mary Ann Prior, City Arts Center executive director, who brought the idea with her from London in 2009.

“I was inspired by the program at the Royal Ballet in London,” she said. “We have two dance studios here, and I thought it would be a wonderful use for those. The Royal Ballet in London’s program is in its 20th year, and it’s such an amazing program.

“One thing I noticed last year was that after one week, I saw an increased confidence, and everyone seemed so happy,” Prior said. “They really seemed to be enjoying it. All really felt comfortable and secure in the environment, and they trust Tanya completely.”

Both adult and youth dancers learn not only the art of ballet, but increased body awareness and a confidence to interact in unfamiliar surroundings. Some later enroll in “sighted” dance classes.

“I simply want them to have more confidence in themselves and to learn that they shouldn’t let an impairment impair the rest of their lives. They can do anything they want,” Chianese said. “I hope they find an expression through the connection with music.”

The sessions culminated in June with an open house. Prior would like to see the Movement Without Limitations class extend to full-year sessions.

“I would very much like the class to be permanent and grow,” she said. “We’re very lucky to receive funding from Devon, and we’d like to be able to have funding to cover a whole academic year, as well as transportation for our students. It’s such an important and wonderful thing.”

For more information, visit cityartscenter.org or call 951-0000.

Photo by Mark Hancock

 
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