Investigating Absence

Typing “disability” in Youtube’s search engine reveals a variety of videos. Some create a spectacle of difference, while others fetishize the body. Still others approach a more complex and nuanced reading of ability, privilege, and difference.

The following video, simply called “How To Dance Without Legs,” offers a critique of the dominant paradigms of bodies.

The visual culture of this video serves as active resistance in that the privileged, abled body is challenged. We enter into the ballet studio, a space relegated to the abled body by nature of its construction. The positionality of the ballet barre exempts some disabled bodies from participation. The built environment of the studio is created with the premise that the dancers will be exceptionally abled (this is also true of many of the positions and movements in classical ballet). The culture of ability, uniformity, and bodily perfection, however, is transformed once the dancer without legs enters the studio.

At first, he is a mere observer, but a powerful reversal is signaled once he enters the dance studio and begins to move with the skill of a highly refined dancer: his entry into a physically regulated space signals an unavoidable disruption. We as viewers are made to question the hegemonic standard of ability, its sedimented presence and its exclusivity. The video’s focus on absence, on restriction, asks the viewer to question why dance culture has so seldom included disabled bodies.

Further, the fluidity of the two dancers’ bodies speaks to a corporeal blending. Indeed a multiplicity of form can, and should, exist. The blending of forms begins the important work of pointing to the artificiality of privileging one body over another. Here, in this visual argument, the narrative of perfection is being contested. This is particularly true because of the agility and grace of both dancers.

Once the ballet is over, the dancer leaves just as he arrived, as if to assert that such movement, and, most importantly, such inclusion, can be innate and effortless.

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10 Responses to Investigating Absence

  1. Marina Wood says:

    Awesome. Beautiful video and great explanation/analysis of able-bodied (or is it now called “generic”?) privilege. This video/analysis also brought up a lot of questions about prosthesis for me as an expected “cure” of sorts to limb loss when prosthetic legs would most likely only inhibit the dancer’s movement.

  2. Marina, this is a very complicated conversation (one that I personally still find tension with). It’s a similar conversation that the deaf community has with cochlear implants. In other words, should you “cure” something that you don’t think is damaged? The discourse argues that a person with a disability is not damaged and therefore does not need of “repair.” Still, its a complicated argument…thanks for the feedback!

  3. Marina Wood says:

    Totally complicated. And I think plastic surgery ties in greatly in the case of reconstruction. I agree that “damage” is subjective and appreciate you opening up this discourse.

  4. MP:me says:

    There is an important genre of YouTube self-rep on epilepsy. It would be interesting to hold up to this, an art video, quite beautifully using disability to make a political point.

  5. J.F. says:

    This conversation reminds me of how cultural movements like steampunk and cyberpunk have ostensibly appropriated prosthetics to a point of fetishization, so much so that non-organic limbs are viewed positively, if not problematically, as a literal link to becoming hyperhuman.

    Exhibit A:

  6. The image also really reminds me of Crash (David Cronenberg’s version). There was a similar fetishization of prosthetics. I am interested in this idea of prostheses as being hyperstylized, whereas they used to be things that should be hidden beneath clothing. I don’t know too much about steampunk/cyberpunk. How would you describe them?

  7. J.F. says:

    Hmmm. I’m not terribly familiar with either, but I do know that steampunk is considered to be a branch of cyberpunk, and that both literary/media genres are highly stylized in a futuristic, yet anachronistic, dystopia – hybridity, cyberspace, and industrialism are their usual buzzwords. Steampunk’s distinction, however, is its Victorian-era setting and its emphasis on steam-technology.

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