We are Canaries, 2016

The phase of the lifecycle of any project that we refer to as “support” considers the ways your needs are met in order for you to dream, practice, and work on any project. Support refers to the care and maintenance that is provided and requires deep social-emotional intelligence. Types of support include: personal support, interpersonal support, and monetary support. These are described in the discussion section of the chapter.

Alice Sheppard is a dancer and choreographer who attends to the complex intersections of disability, gender, and race by exploring the societal and cultural significance of difference. Alice speaks about how she practiced self-care when transitioning from her life as a musician and an academic to the uncharted territory of becoming a disabled dancer:

I would say I had gone through life taking with me the kind of narrow focus that I had about being a musician to my work as a professor. I went through life checking every box—literally . . . I worked through this pathway and built a narrow life. It was, at some sort of ridiculous level, what society thinks of as a high level of achievement. It was deeply privileged and in many ways extraordinarily magical. Don’t get me wrong about that. My decision to leave looked very different. It involved not focusing on being the best. I gave myself permission: to start again as a dancer and permission to not ask if I am any good. To actually be able to go home at the end of the day and stop, and not do. Do you know what I mean? It was really a different way of finding my way, a different practice, a different way of thinking. This was structurally necessary because, as it turned out, the state of training for disabled dancers in the US is pretty much zero, so I couldn’t obsess about being the best. Why? Because there were no ideas, no ways to get training, no way to figure it out. There was no language for what a good disabled dancer looks like. So, I had to begin at the beginning, understanding that my expertise as an academic didn’t mean anything. I had to give myself permission to start again, learning holistically and not repeating the same kind of cycle. It was both a blessing that the cycle was not there for me to repeat, and also a conscious training decision not to repeat it. But I was definitely supported in that it wasn’t there for me to repeat.

Alice Sheppard’s ability to “go home at the end of the day and stop, and not do” is a practice of personal support. To be able to do this, to transition from the academy to dance, Sheppard had to learn to embody the capacities of patience and compassion. In Chapter 5, we define patience, as “the ability to remain present amid delays or repetitions. . . . aware of your own feelings of annoyance or frustration, noticing them without acting upon them.” We define compassion as the ability to “practice sensitivity and care with yourself and with others, sensing interdependence and connection to all of life.” See Chapter 5: Capacities for more. Sheppard embodies these capacities while continuing to push the field of disabled dance; without losing sight of the historical conditions and forces that make the state of training “pretty much zero.”

Download the full chapter: Support as a PDF

Download Teacher/Facilitator Guides

  1. Future Project: Support (worksheet)
  2. Past Project: Support (worksheet)
  3. Historical Consciousness (worksheet)
  4. Intergroup Dialog (activity)
  5. The Heart Chant (practice)
  6. Mindful Moment (practice)
  7. Walking Meditation (practice)
  8. Joy (assignment)