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Krishna writes about Dark Room Ballet and Audio Description for GIBNEY: Imagining (Issue 5, May 2021)

Hello, Dark Room Ballet Community!

We want to share with you the news that Issue 5 of the GIBNEY: Imagining journal includes an essay by Krishna Washburn entitled: What Sounds Feel Like: Ways of Exploring Audio Description

There is also audio version of the essay that you can listen to as part of the journal, recorded by our Program Coordinator, Alejandra Ospina.

Note: there are no direct links to individual essays either in the print or audio versions, so while you may have to read or hear some other works ahead of or after Krishna’s essay, they are also interesting!

As always, Krishna welcomes your feedback on her thoughts!

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Krishna's Thoughts News / Announcements

Krishna writes about Dark Room Ballet and Audio Description for GIBNEY: Imagining (Issue 5, May 2021)

This essay was originally published online in the GIBNEY: Imagining Journal (Issue 5, May 2021)

You can listen to an audio version of the essay below (as read for Krishna by Dark Room Ballet Program Coordinator, Alejandra Ospina) via SoundCloud

What Sounds Feel Like: Ways of Exploring Audio Description

By Krishna Washburn

During these strange quarantine days, I find myself in the most unexpected circumstances: confined completely to my Harlem apartment, mostly the tiny dance floor in my kitchen, unable to make any kind of physical contact with anyone, and yet, suddenly quite famous. I think it was the USA Today article that really changed things: suddenly, I was being approached by radio podcasts, magazines, news programs, all sorts of media outlets, and my email inbox was spilling over with messages from people who wanted to study with me.

And who am I? 

I like to characterize myself as a crazy blind lady dancing by herself in her kitchen. While this description is accurate, I ought to think about the reasons why I choose to use these words, which reveal a desire not to take myself too seriously, but also might reveal the scars of trying to be taken seriously as an artist in an ableist world.

The last few months aside, I have spent most of my career as an artist fighting for any and all kinds of scraps: opportunities to perform, maybe in exploitative work, maybe in respectful work; opportunities to make professional connections, maybe with people who share my philosophies, maybe with people who think of me in ways that I find degrading; opportunities to make a little bit of money here and there, never enough, just anything; opportunities to teach, to use my hard-earned Masters of Education degree, my extensive study of biomechanics, and thirty-six years of classical ballet training. If I managed to grab hold of any of these things in any quantity, I knew that I needed to feel grateful, because chances like these for artists like me were few and far between, chances for blind artists. I learned to not ask for too much, I learned to swallow my pride, especially when all I really wanted was to beg for someone, anyone, to just talk to me.

At its most basic form, audio description is someone talking to you, using a voice and some words, to tell you what your eyes cannot. As performing arts venues have started to consider accessibility for disabled audiences, audio description has become a topic of some interest in the arts. The question sometimes arises: what is the best practice for audio description? Panels of intelligent people with extensive knowledge of performing arts theory discuss this question. Whether they come to any resolution, I could not say, considering that I have never been invited to be part of a panel like that. 

What I do know, though, is what the audio description services are like when I attend a performance, whether live or digital. Usually, I find much to be desired, but I have been trained to smile and feel grateful that anyone offered me a headset at all.

Quite a few years ago, a friend had a ticket for a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at City Center and couldn’t make it. So, I got to go in her place. I got my little headset and sat myself down in what I knew to be a very expensive seat (grand tier), but I was really very far away from the stage itself and would not be able to feel air resistance from the dancers’ movements or hear their footfalls. This program included Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, a piece I had always wanted to experience. I sat there, listening to the little voice in my ear describing diagonal pathways of movement, whether right and left arms were straight or bent, how many dancers were on stage, the colors of their costumes, in the most neutral tone of voice that a human can produce. The people sitting around me, however, were, for the most part, in tears.

I heard people crying, laughing, crying and laughing at the same time, gasping in joy and surprise. Now, I’m not a detective, but I could tell that I was not experiencing the same performance that they were. I was getting my audio description, I was having my access need met, and I should have been grateful for that, but I didn’t feel grateful in that moment. I felt the deepest, most powerful FOMO* that any blind person could ever feel. (Note: FOMO is an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. It describes a certain kind of social anxiety that stems from the fear of being excluded from important events and activities. I believe that FOMO is in general popular use, but I know that it is heard frequently in disability community to describe the desire to participate in life, but being afraid or unsure that our access needs will be met, and that we will be left out.)

I wanted to experience a performance that would make me respond like everyone else in the audience. I considered to myself that these folks would be remembering this performance for years, maybe the rest of their lives, and that they would remember crying in the grand tier at City Center. I also considered that they would not remember everything about the performance. I suspected that whether the dancers’ right or left arm was bent or straight was not going to be the most permanent part of their memories.

Audio description is still a rather new field. Most of what is considered “best practice” for audio description is meant for television or film, media where the performers typically speak; actors act and emote with their voices. The neutral voice in that context sometimes makes sense: it is better to interpret the emotions of the performers based on their performances rather than through explicit description. However, in dance, performers only very rarely speak. The emotional content of their art is conveyed through movement. Is the neutral voice really the best choice in this circumstance?

Quarantine, in its strangeness and its totality for me, an immunocompromised disabled person, has encouraged me to start asking many questions about audio description. I have spent most of my quarantine trying to establish myself as a ballet teacher. My class, Dark Room Ballet, is designed specifically for the educational needs of blind and visually impaired dance students, particularly those who have never gotten to study dance before, but who want to learn the real skill. I speak continuously and constantly through class; a Dark Room Ballet class requires me to develop a rhythmic script which requires about six or seven hours of preparation before I teach. I have this style of teaching coursing through my blood at this point: I dig my heels in before every class and I think about how every movement feels and how to express it in the most musical but most complete way possible. What I have ended up doing, interestingly, is teaching a ballet class where I never talk about what anything looks like. My students learn quickly and learn a lot, they ask me exceptionally well-formulated questions about movement, and I know that some of them are considering professional dance careers. We accomplish this as a group without ever talking about what anything looks like.

Maybe that is the real flaw of audio description for dance, I started to wonder: the language chosen in most audio description is focused on what movement looks like, rather than what it feels like. 

Some of my students have never had sight. They don’t have a list of visual shorthand in their memories that can tell them what a bent arm symbolizes as opposed to a straight arm. Honestly, at this point, neither do I. Perhaps only the most visceral type of audio description, the type that can activate the motor neurons in their own bodies, would be interesting to them.

What sorts of words could do that? What tone of voice? I think it is the tone of voice that those audience members who shared the grand tier with me at City Center would have had when they shared their experience with a friend the next day: intense, passionate, deeply connected to the emotional content of the artistry. Was it an accident that two of my closest friends are audio describers of this kind? For those of you lucky enough to remember life at Gibney in the Before Times, they might have noticed that I came to many performances there, usually with either Michelle Mantione or Alejandra Ospina, or both of them, sitting next to me, whispering to me while I can barely keep my body still in my seat. 

Maybe describing the visual component of dance is less important than the visceral when developing audio description for dance. Maybe, when we develop performances, we have trained audio describers working alongside us during our rehearsal process. Maybe–and this might be my most radical suggestion yet–artists might consider their blind audience as they develop work from the outset. Maybe dancers should be allowed to talk, to self-describe, to emote what it feels like to jump three feet into the air while they’re doing it.

I, myself, have been creating art for blind audiences for quite some time, both in collaboration with visually impaired artists like iele paloumpis and Kayla Hamilton, but also on my own, just creating art that I think my blind and visually impaired colleagues and students will find interesting and exciting and memorable. I never say what I look like as I dance because, truthfully, I neither know nor even really care. I say what it feels like. 

Almost as a lark, I started to work on a screen dance project with a choreographer in California named Heather Shaw. She was a rare choreographer who thought interesting audio description could actually make a dance performance better for the whole audience. I came up with an idea based on the children’s game of telephone, where dancers would film themselves while listening to an audio description track, and audio describers would describe said dance videos, and the chain could go on and on, perhaps evolving along the way, each artist taking their own spin on the expressions, different styles of movement, different styles of speaking, but all having lots of fun. The Telephone Dance and Audio Description Game, which might remain an eternal work in progress, a film that never stops collecting video and audio, is meant to welcome artists from both within and without the disability arts community into the experience of audio description, demystifying it, and legitimizing it as an art form in its own right. 

Before I wrap up my thoughts, I want to clarify that I know that my ideas about audio description are unpopular, not only with arts institutions and dance companies, but also with members of the disability arts community. I don’t speak for every blind artist, and I don’t pretend to be able to do such a thing. I do, however, think it’s worthwhile for me to use my time to create dance performance and dance education for my fellow blind and visually impaired folks, and for me to try every possible way to change the script for audio description, to help it develop into a truly extraordinary art form, to actualize its true potential to help everyone in the audience laugh and cry at the same time together. What better way for a crazy blind lady dancing by herself in her kitchen to spend her time?

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News / Announcements

Dark Room Ballet Introductory Classes for Blind and Visually Impaired Students — Cycle 2 begins on Saturday, May 8!

Beginning Saturday, May 8 from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM (Eastern Time)   

NOTE: This class is designed specifically for the educational needs of blind and visually impaired people.

This is a FREE class!

Hosted by Movement Research, Dark Room Ballet is designed specifically for the educational needs of blind and visually impaired people.

About Saturday Introductory Level Class:

This class is suitable for people with no prior knowledge of ballet. This repeating series of eight classes introduces students to the most common ballet vocabulary that they would need to know in order to participate in Open Level Dark Room Ballet Class. The class introduces students to necessary anatomical concepts like turnout, torso stability, foot sensitivity and mobility, sightless balancing, and the use of a taped floor for orientation.

Classes take place each Saturday online via the Zoom platform; there is also the option to call in via phone.

Register:
To register, email: info@darkroomballet.com 
You can also reach Dark Room Ballet by phone at (929) 367-0025

  • If you are a blind or visually impaired individual interested in learning ballet remotely, please get in touch before May 8th so you can be registered for this class. If you have some ballet experience, you may also qualify to join the ongoing Dark Room Ballet: Open Level Class on Monday nights; please get in touch with us if you are interested.
  • If you work with an organization that serves blind or visually impaired people, please distribute this information to people who may be interested in registering for this class.
  • If you are NOT a blind or visually impaired student, you may qualify to join the ongoing Dark Room Ballet: Open Level Class on Monday nights on a select basis; please get in touch with us if you are interested.

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Dark Room Ballet with Krishna Washburn – ballet for blind and visually impaired people

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News / Announcements

A message from Krishna about The Telephone Dance and Audio Description Game

Hello Dark Room Ballet Community!

Many of you probably already know that choreographer Heather Shaw and I have been working on a really fun, joyful disability community film project called The Telephone Dance and Audio Description Game. We are proud to announce that our trailer for the film was recently released to the public! Hooray!


You can watch it on Vimeo here: Telephone – Trailer

We are continuing to collect submissions from dancers and audio describers to include in the film throughout the year, building a portfolio of work from artists dedicated to creating beautiful accessible art. I’m really thinking of the film as a document to capture this special moment in art history, the moment that audio description came into its own as a truly powerful art form. This is going to be a very large cast of artists!


Please let us know if you know of any organizations who might be interested in screening Telephone down the line (universities, galleries, museums etc). We are in conversation with a few already and hope to share this message far and wide. 


If you want to support the artists of Telephone, there’s ways for you to do that! 

  • You can join our Patreon as a monthly supporter: www.patreon.com/telephone
  • You can make a one-time donation through Ko-Fi: 
    www.ko-fi.com/telephonefilm
  • You can share the Telephone trailer on Facebook or other social media and tell people why audio description is an important, powerful, visceral art form!

Much love to all of you!

Yours always,

Krishna

Dark Room Ballet with Krishna Washburn – Ballet for blind and visually impaired people

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Krishna's Thoughts News / Announcements

The Telephone Dance and Audio Description Game

An Invitation from Krishna:

Some of our community knows me best as a dance educator who is passionate about developing dance curriculum that suits the educational needs of blind and visually impaired people. Other folks might know me best as an artist and performer who is passionate about creating art developed with blind and visually impaired audiences in mind and cultivating the beautiful art form of audio description. Over the past several months I have been able to combine my two great passions, education and art making, in an ongoing film project in collaboration with choreographer Heather Dayah Shaw called the The Telephone Dance and Audio Description Game.

Telephone is everything I love: amazing dancers, amazing audio describers, people pushing the limits of their creativity, friendship and community, and dance art that is truly accessible to the blind and visually impaired community. Heather and I have been working on this as a project for a while, and we’ve started to drum up some interest from arts organizations, which means that we need to start thinking about funding for help with editing, promotion, and supporting the huge roster of Telephone artists.

For more information about how you can support this project, please visit our Patreon page! We have sneak peeks of the film, interviews and information about the Telephone team, and an accessible anatomy class that I’m teaching, Anatomy from the Inside Out.

Feel free to share information about our Patreon within and beyond the Disability Arts community. Much love, everybody!

Video description:
Camille Tokar Pavliska is dancing alone in an empty room with an accordion door. The footage is black and white. Seta Morton’s voice narrates her movements. Davian Robinson appears on the left hand side of the screen. He is in a living room dancing in front of his dog, Charlie, who lays on the floor observing. Meanwhile, the text “Dance is visceral… Not merely visual” appears on the left hand side and is narrated by a male voice. Lillian E. Willis’s voice then describes Davian’s movement. Footage of Lillian appears next to Davian’s, she matches his movement. Lillian is in a bedroom with a chair on the left side of the bed.

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Krishna's Thoughts News / Announcements

Dark Room Ballet on the Eyes On Success Podcast

Eyes On Success is half-hour weekly radio program and podcast discusses products, services and daily living tips for people with vision loss. Eyes On Success is hosted and produced by Peter Torpey and Nancy Goodman Torpey and distributed by WXXI Reachout Radio in Rochester, NY through the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS).

On Episode 2113: Understanding Your Body (Mar. 24, 2021):

Krishna Washburn is a professional ballet dancer and instructor who runs Dark Room Ballet. She believes that visually impaired people could benefit from having a better understanding of how their bodies and body parts work. Hosts Nancy and Peter Torpey talk with her about her instructional methods as well as how her on-line classes work.

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News / Announcements

Webinar: Celebrating Color & Identity in Arts Education, April 1 (Featuring Krishna Washburn of Dark Room Ballet)

Image description: Digitally illustrated flyer with green stylized text and depictions of a couple dancing in traditional folk clothing, a person playing a violin, and a pair of ballet dancers turning while on pointe. Text detailed in post below.
Image description: Digitally illustrated flyer with green stylized text and depictions of a couple dancing in traditional folk clothing, a person playing a violin, and a pair of ballet dancers turning while on pointe. Text detailed in post below.

Celebrating Color & Identity in Arts Education

What role does social justice play in arts education? What does it mean to be a culturally responsible teacher? This webinar panel discussion, moderated by Kate Fitzpatrick, will give participants a broad view of what representation looks like in various fields of artistic study. If you are an artist interested in inclusive teaching, accommodations, and examining positionality within the classroom, this session is for you.

Featuring Krishna Washburn (Dark Room Ballet with Krishna Washburn), Victoria Miller (Detroit Public Schools Community District), and Dr. Anthony Cuyler.

When: Thursday, April 1st from 4:00pm – 5:30pm EST

Where: Virtually on Zoom — Details on the SMTD EXCEL Program Facebook page

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Krishna's Thoughts News / Announcements

In place of catastrophe…

For the past four years, I have been fortunate enough to be in constant collaboration with fellow visually impaired choreographer, iele paloumpis, and their magnum opus In place of catastrophe, a clear night sky, which would have premiered as a live performance at Danspace here in New York City in May of 2020. IPOCACNS, as we cast members often call it, was always meant to be a performance that centered the interests, needs, and desires of blind and visually impaired audience members, so it will come as no surprise that we have continued our artistic collaboration during these pandemic days as a podcast series! Please listen to our first episode here:

More information on the podcast — In place of catastrophe: The Podcast (transcript available)

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News / Announcements

Dark Room Ballet Intro Classes are back! (Starts March 13)

Hello Dark Room Dancers!

I’m so happy to announce that I am going to be teaching Dark Room Ballet Intro Classes again, hosted by the wonderful folks at Movement Research!

The first class is Saturday, March 13, at 4 PM Eastern Time, 3 PM Central Time, 2 PM Mountain Time, 1 PM Pacific Time, and 12 pm Alaska Standard Time!

Hosted by Movement Research, Dark Room Ballet is designed specifically for the educational needs of blind and visually impaired people.

About Saturday Introductory Level Class:

This class is suitable for people with no prior knowledge of ballet. This repeating series of six classes introduces students to the most common ballet vocabulary that they would need to know in order to participate in Open Level Dark Room Ballet Class. The class introduces students to necessary anatomical concepts like turnout, torso stability, foot sensitivity and mobility, sightless balancing, and the use of a taped floor for orientation.

Register:

To register, email: info@darkroomballet.com



Schedule information on the Movement Research website:
[Virtual] Dark Room Ballet: Open Level Class

If there is anyone you know who has never studied dance before, in particular anyone who has been unable to study because they were unable to find a class designed specifically for the educational needs of blind and visually impaired people, please share this information!

Movement Research is contacting other organizations on my behalf, but only at my request. If there is an organization that you would like Movement Research to contact to inform the folks there that Dark Room Ballet Intro Class is starting, please include that in your message.

Open Level Classes are also available.
Schedule information on the Movement Research website:
[Virtual] Dark Room Ballet: Open Level Class

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News / Announcements

Krishna Washburn: “I’m Cutthroat; This is My Career” (Stance On Dance)

Originally posted on February 8, 2021 at Stance on Dance

Please consider making a donation to support the completion and publishing of the Discussing Disability in Dance Book Project!

Krishna Washburn: “I’m Cutthroat; This is My Career”

February 8, 2021

BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT; ILLUSTRATION BY LIZ BRENT-MALDONADO

Krishna Christine Washburn has performed with many leading dance companies including Infinity Dance Theater, Thinkdance, Heidi Latsky Dance, marked dance project and LEIMAY. She has collaborated with many independent choreographers, including Patrice Miller, Iele Paloumpis, Perel, Vangeline, Micaela Mamede, Apollonia Hoelzer and, most notably, with A I Merino who especially created her signature role, ERZSEBET Bathory. She boasts several ongoing artistic collaborations, including work with wearables artist Ntilit (Natalia Roumelioti). Krishna is the artistic director of The Dark Room, a multi-disciplinary project with fellow visually impaired dancer Kayla Hamilton.

Please consider making a donation to support the completion and publishing of the Discussing Disability in Dance Book Project!

To learn more about the Discussing Disability in Dance Book Projectvisit here!

Illustration of Krishna Washburn

Image description: Krishna is pictured facing the front, her head tilted toward her left shoulder and arm. She is holding a white cane in her right hand and her left hand and arm are extended to the side. She is illustrated with long brown hair sweeping right above her head, adorned with red ornamentation. She is wearing a white slip dress.

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How did you get into dance and what have been some highlights in your dance history?

I started dancing as a sighted child at age three. I studied ballet with the Royal Academy of Dance. I was accepted to Barnard College at age 18 and was in a preprofessional dance track. By the end of my first year, I experienced rapid dramatic vision loss. I stopped dancing for a long time. I missed dance a lot, but I didn’t have any life skills; I didn’t know how to walk or open a door. I was helpless for a long time. Seven years ago, I felt like I had regained confidence enough to study dance again, and I’ve been working professionally for five years now.

I have been a principle dancer with Infinity Dance Theater and Jill Sigman’s Thinkdance. I just did my second leading role as Elizabeth Báthory in Erzsébet at the New York Theater Festival Summerfest. I’m also working with other visually impaired dancers and choreographers like Kayla Hamilton. I used to dance for Heidi Latsky, for which people probably know me best because she uses photos of me in promo material. In addition to ballet, I have a considerable background in butoh. I’ve played a lot of ghosts.

I primarily dance in other people’s work, but I’ve done some of my own choreography as well, usually in collaboration. I’ve choreographed for collaborations with a visual artist who does wearable sculpture and with a playwright.

How would you describe your current dance practice?

I take class 365 days a year. I’m one of the only people I know at this point in their career who literally takes class every day. I take mostly ballet class, though I also do a lot of jazz and some contemporary. Most days of the week, I’m also rehearsing in one project or another. I generally have three or four projects going on at any given time. In addition, I am a strong believer in conditioning. I weightlift most days. I also teach athletics to disabled youth; I have a certification as an integrative conditioning coach through the American College of Sports Medicine.

When you tell people you are a dancer, what are the most common reactions you receive?

Though I use a white cane, a lot of people don’t know what a white cane is for. They don’t know that it means I’m blind. I generally have to explain. People who know I’m blind often think that dance is some kind of hobby or cute inspirational thing. No dude, I’m cutthroat; this is my career.

A lot of people assume things about the dancing I must do. They wonder how I know where I am. I am patient and happy to explain the minutia to people if they are asking me those questions in good faith. I’m more patient than most, but it is kind of sad. Most people don’t even know a blind person. They don’t understand what it means to be blind.

What are some ways people discuss dance with regards to disability that you feel carry problematic implications or assumptions?

There are two categories of feedback I find problematic. One is: “I couldn’t even tell you are blind/visually impaired,” as if I’m trying to hide it or I’m ashamed of the fact. Why would I be embarrassed? This is who I am and this is the body I work with. I think they are trying to assure me that they couldn’t tell I have a disability. The other feedback generally comes from people who know ahead of time that they are going to see a blind performer. I think it colors their perception of what they are about to see so strongly that they are not able to see the content of what I’ve done, and instead are fixated on seeing some blind lady dance. It’s almost as if my identity is too distracting that they can’t pay attention to the performance itself.

With regards to press, what advice would you give to a reporter who is unfamiliar writing about dance artists with disabilities?

Talk to the disabled performer. I understand that sometimes reporters work on a deadline and have to run home and write but, if you have the opportunity, talk to us directly. If you have dumb or embarrassing questions, let me help you out so what you write isn’t detrimental to disabled dancers as a whole.

Do you believe there are adequate training opportunities for dancers with disabilities? If not, what areas would you specifically like to see improved?

I’m only going to speak for blind and visually impaired dancers, but I feel like the educational opportunities available take the worst possible approach. They treat the blind or visually impaired dancer’s body like a marionet and don’t encourage bodily autonomy. In other words, the teacher moves the student around, which basically prevents the student from learning how to dance.

Nobody should ever touch a blind person without saying something first. I don’t know why this is so hard for people to understand. I know a lot of blind people are accustomed to being manhandled, but it’s not the mindset I want serious dance students to cultivate about themselves.

There are certain skills I believe a visually impaired or blind person needs to have prior to studying dance seriously, which are directional hearing, internal balance and foot sensitivity. I created a workshop called Dark Room Ballet which develops these skills. However, I haven’t gotten to teach it to many blind people, though I keep trying. I’ve mostly been teaching it to sighted people, which is kind of sad. But if a blind or visually impaired person can cultivate those skills first, they can study any dance technique they want.

I really like when teachers use verbal descriptions. That’s one of the reasons why I’m still in ballet class; I know my terms, so I can listen and comprehend. I feel that the more contemporary tradition of just having dancers follow the teacher or choreographer is very inaccessible. Being able to describe the steps or choreography is vital for visually impaired dancers.

I also like when dance teachers offer their own body for blind students to touch and learn from for more complex shapes and patterns. It’s much more respectful than moving the dancer like a piece of clay.

Would you like to see disability in dance assimilated into the mainstream?

Something I like about our disability arts community is that in a way we’re pioneers. We don’t have to replicate the crappy things about dance culture that already exist. We don’t have to encourage dancers to trash themselves physically and ignore their wellbeing. We don’t have to replicate tyrannical choreographers. We have a cleaner slate. I would actually like if non-disabled dance culture would assimilate to us.

With regards to open classes, I sneak into open class every day. My money is the same as anyone else’s. Sometimes I ask the teacher for permission; usually I don’t. If you feel confident enough that you can be in the room and no harm can come to you, do as you want. If somebody treats you wrong, they’re breaking the law.

As for performance venues and festivals, why would they not consider disabled performers and artists for any program? We’re spectacular. We’re talented. We’re creative. We’re coming up with some of the newest and most innovative ideas.

Once I auditioned for a dance company and had a great audition, but the choreographer told me that, while he liked the way I moved, he wasn’t sure if he wanted his company to go in that direction, as if disability is a distraction from his genius. I don’t know what to do about people like that. I don’t want to collaborate with people who aren’t thrilled to collaborate with me.

On the other hand, I sometimes get approached for projects or companies I’m definitely uncomfortable with. I was recently approached by a playwright wanting to make an inspirational semi-autobiographical play about me but with a tragic romance. That’s called fetishism.

What is your preferred term for the field?

I like the term “visually impaired” because it’s like a big tent and it doesn’t ask people to go into the minutia of how much sight they have and thus create a sight hierarchy, which I think is counterproductive. I like “disability arts” because we all have multiple artistic skills, whether it’s dance, music, acting, writing or visual arts. As for me personally, I call myself “blind lady” or “blind lady dancer.”

In your perspective, is the field improving with time?

I feel like it is improving in certain ways. Alice Sheppard won a Bessie award, and that was one of the greatest things that ever happened. I want to be Alice when I grow up. However, while the disability arts community is becoming bigger and more exciting within it, getting non-disabled people to support us is still challenging.

For example, in order for me to be safe in my performance space, I need a little time in the space before tech rehearsals. That’s just basic. If I can’t learn the dimensions and feel the floor texture, I can’t perform safely. Sometimes venues don’t understand that. On the phone or over email, they’ll tell me I can’t come in early, but when I appear and I have my cane and am wearing shades, they say, “Oh my god, what can I do for you? Can I guide you around by the arm?” It’s this weird bipolar relationship. On the phone they deny me access, but when they meet me in person, they suddenly feel guilty. It’s very complicated and stressful and puts me in a lot of uncomfortable situations. I was able to get an hour and a half on my stage when I performed last month. I had to work really hard really fast. If I was not as skilled as I am, I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. This scenario happens to me repeatedly.

Any other thoughts?

What I would really love is to just do my work. That’s all I care about. It’s been so difficult for me to acquire the skills I have so that I can work at the level I do. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t the most important thing in the universe to me. I’d sacrifice just about anything else. I breathe dance every minute of my life. And I’m a hustler. I take every gig I can get unless I think it is inspiration porn. I’m in class every day. I’m constantly building my skills and talking to people about the art I do. I’m always striving. I work so hard, but some people think I just show up on stage and manifest as a fascinating other-worldly alien creature. No man, I’m a straight up jock hustler. I have a gig every month, and it’s going to be like that until the day I die.

Krishna Washburn, photo by Jazzmine Beaulieu

Krishna Washburn, Photo by Jazzmine Beaulieu, taken in relation to Maria, a choreographed drama by Micaela Mamede

Image description: Krishna is pictured standing and facing front with her left foot gently pointed to the side of her. She is holding a white cane to the right of her body and both hands are delicately holding the cane. She is smiling with her face cocked over her left shoulder. Her hair is in a long braid adorned with a white headdress and hanging over her right shoulder. She is wearing a white slip dress.

~~

To learn more about Krishna’s classes for visually imparied dancers, visit darkroomballet.com.

Please consider making a donation to support the completion and publishing of the Discussing Disability in Dance Book Project!

To learn more about the Discussing Disability in Dance Book Projectvisit here!