Abilities Dance Boston provides a space for professional dancers with disabilities
Ellice Patterson created the dance company Abilities Dance Boston out of necessity, but it has grown into an artistic oasis for dancers with disabilities. After a spinal surgery that changed the way she danced, Patterson was repeatedly turned down by professional companies who weren’t willing to modify for her needs. She created Abilities to make space for performers like herself who operated at a professional level despite disabilities.
“Dance uses the body to tell stories and process emotions, and we deserve to be able to participate in that,” says Patterson. “People have a lot of preconceived notions about people with disabilities.” Her company hosts workshops and pop-up performances throughout the year as well as one major showcase. The next large-scale performance, titled “Audacity,” will be in March. Other events are listed on its website and Facebook page.
Patterson says the rehearsal process at Abilities is similar to a traditional dance company except with more attention paid to the dancers’ needs. The choreography incorporates modifications and creative ways to accommodate and utilize the dancers’ disabilities. There’s a lot of back-and-forth, she says, to make sure the performers are comfortable in each pose.
In addition to her physical disability, Patterson also celebrates her experience as a woman of color. She says it’s important to her to own that side of her identity as well. “I want to showcase diversity not just within disability but within race and sexuality,” she says. “We are not just our disabilities.” Patterson wants to be seen as a dancer, a black woman, and a multifaceted human rather than just a person with a walker.
Abilities Dance Company is just as invested in accessibility for audiences as in the diversity of their performers. The company’s latest innovation is incorporating audio descriptions to accompany the choreography so that visually impaired audience members can enjoy the performance. Written by a dance writer, the descriptions are meant to be art experiences in and of themselves, not just explanations of the routine.
The company has performed with The Brookline Ballet School and at Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center and several performance spaces in Manhattan. Patterson hopes they can continue to partner with the community to showcase the talents of dancers with disabilities. Community members interested in supporting the company can donate to their Giving Tuesday campaign, which will fund the company’s 2019 season and workshop programs. Donations are accepted via their website.
Most of all, Patterson hopes the company will continue to grow creatively. She says, “We’re definitely stepping out of our comfort zone, taking ourselves to our artistic limits.”