Dance is an art that often relies heavily on visual perception to communicate. Many would assume that this prevents individuals with visual impairments from experiencing live performances. According to this New York Times article, dancer Mana Hashimoto would disagree. Ms. Hashimoto grew up in Japan, where she studied ballet. During her teenage years, her sight deteriorated due to optic nerve atrophy. She moved to New York to continue studying dance after her doctors assured her that her vision wouldn’t completely disappear. Within a year, Ms. Hashimoto had entirely lost her sight.
After a friend’s suggestion that they enroll in a dance class together, with Hashimoto utilizing touch to learn the friend’s movement, she realized that her lack of vision didn’t have to end her career. Instead, her it provided her with the opportunity to make an impact. She’s learned to adapt to her new performance environment, crafting solo routines to avoid collisions with other performers, and using carpets and a cane to remind her of her physical space.
Perhaps most impressively, Hashimoto creates workshops for other individuals with visual impairments to “feel” her dance routines. As she moves, participants (either without vision or blindfolded) place their hands on various parts of her body. They simultaneously focus on Hashimoto’s movements, the textures of the floor and her costume, and the sound reverberating throughout the room to vividly experience the performance.
These workshops offer an interesting solution to issues of accessibility in the context of dance. Instead of merely providing audio descriptions of movement, the workshop’s participants can re-imagine their experiences with Ms. Hashimoto, allowing them to more fully engage with the performance. They’re also a reminder of the richness of dances as both an art form and casual activity. There are endless layers of communication and emotion to explore. Ms. Hashimoto’s work certainly contributes a new perspective to both those with and without vision.
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