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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.

~~

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!

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News / Announcements

Instead of a mirror, blind dancers rely on their ears, feet and a strong sense of their body in space

Originally posted on January 6, 2021 at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s BLOOM Blog

Woman doing ballet in kitchen in front of laptop
Bloom Logo

BLOOM BLOG
Jan 06, 2021

Instead of a mirror, blind dancers rely on their ears, feet and a strong sense of their body in space

Photo © Danielle Parhizkaran – USA TODAY NETWORK 

By Louise Kinross

Krishna Washburn (above) is a blind dancer in New York City who teaches a free online ballet class at Dark Room Balletfor adults who are visually impaired. Her students come from around the world. They can’t see her, but they rely on her verbal descriptions of exercises and how to move their body into different shapes. Instead of a mirror, students use a strip of tape on the floor to orient them in space. Krishna is a professional dancer who has performed with many companies. She holds a Master’s of Education from Hunter College and a special certification through the American College of Sports Medicine. No experience is necessary for her introductory class, which runs every Monday night. We spoke about her non-visual style of instruction which is grounded in a deep understanding of the body. 

BLOOM: What is dark room ballet?

Krishna Washburn: The concept is a system of teaching ballet that does not privilege sight. It’s based on several different techniques that I’ve absorbed over the years. I was taught ballet through the Royal Academy of Dance, so that is the ballet style we use. I don’t give my students a mirror as a tool. Instead, I give them a strip of tape on the floor, so we have to learn with a different mindset but with the same, shared vocabulary that all ballet dancers use. It’s very anatomy-based. I take a lot of inspiration from Feldenkrais techniques about coming to understand how your anatomy interacts internally, and from the great tradition of Japanese Butoh, which is also a dance style that is non-visual and very much about knowing how your nervous system works.

I have a Monday night group class at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and I have students who come from every part of the world and every time zone. My students mean so much to me. Monday class is open level so it’s suitable for people with an introductory level understanding of ballet positions. We typically do six exercises, including centre, and I use very fun music. I speak and describe continuously through the music. Some of my students have some sight, but most of my students don’t see me at all. The first hour is focusing on being in your body and ballet technique. The last half hour is the most important part, because it’s question and answer time. Students can ask me to explain something we did in more detail so they’re clear on it. It’s also a time for the blind and visually impaired community to get to know and support each other in their dance journey. 

BLOOM: Why do you call it dark room?

Krishna Washburn: For many reasons. A dark room in photography is where images develop, so the dark room is also a theoretical place where you as an artist take time to develop and allow yourself to change chemically.

BLOOM: I love that analogy. How is blind dancing different from sighted dancing? I read this on your website in a piece called Breaking down stereotypes about blind dancersSome people, even other disabled people, think that the aesthetic of the blind dancer is basically what a sighted dancer would do, just not as good. This is a mistake that people make because of ableism. A highly skilled blind dancer is absolutely not lesser than a highly skilled sighted dancer, but is, indeed, different.

Krishna Washburn: That essay is about breaking down stereotypes about blind dancers and taking the fear away from talking about ableism. When we talk about the difference between how a sighted and blind dancer moves, it’s really very different, because we need to think about our bodies and our movement choices very differently. We have to use our ears, use our feet, use our sense of internal orientation, and we need a much greater awareness of our own anatomy.

The study tool of the sighted dancer is the mirror. You watch your teacher in the mirror and copy your teacher. The blind dancer can’t do that. The blind dancer has to understand the floor, that is our tool. We use a tape strip. The orientation tape on the floor is a very old tradition. It’s how blind teachers teach blind students how to keep their spot as they’re studying, how to keep their sensitivity in their feet, how to understand where they are, and how to feel confident where they are. I need to understand where all of my bones are in my body. Maybe a sighted dancer doesn’t have to do that. I need to know exactly how much space I have before I begin a choreography. A sighted dancer doesn’t have to think twice about that. That doesn’t mean that the quality of my artistry is in any way secondary to what a sighted dancer does. I’m not compensating. I’m using technique that is appropriate to me. I’m a master of my art in the same way sighted dancers are a master of theirs. 

I feel there’s a very unhealthy narrative we teach to kids that you have a disability so you’re going to have to overcome that disability and compensate in order to achieve what you want to achieve. That’s a terrible thing we teach our kids. It doesn’t reflect reality. The reality is we live in an ableist world. I’ve mentored younger, pre-professional dancers who’ve told me ‘I thought I needed to compensate or work harder or do something to overcome.’ We need to be frank. There is a problem in our culture called ableism. People think what you do is less valuable and less important than what non-disabled people do. And that isn’t true. When people discriminate against you and use stereotypes about your disability, instead of interacting with you as a unique person, we need to point it out, or get an older person to help. 

BLOOM: What’s the greatest challenge of doing your class online?

Krishna Washburn: The hardest part is making sure my technology is not going to break, because that has actually happened. The compressor in my extremely expensive microphone did break and we had to do old school and use the internal microphone in my laptop. But I got a new one right away. So you have to make sure the technology is your friend.

I love teaching online because I don’t have the commute. I didn’t even realize this but prior to quarantine, I spent an easy four hours a day in the subway in New York City, getting to studios. I have so much more time now and I work so much harder. I’m doing many private classes as well as group classes, and I’m rehearsing in arts projects and creating art on my own. 

BLOOM: What’s the great joy of your online class?

Krishna Washburn: There’s so much joy. Having conversations with my students in Q and A time, when you can hear in their voice that something clicks. Ballet is fundamentally a dance form that prioritizes balance. You stabilize one part of your body so you can have freedom elsewhere. Most of the time you stabilize your torso, so your arms and legs can move freely. Once that clicks, and the student says I know how to find the back of my heels, to transfer my weight from foot to foot and keep my torso stable so my legs can move as I want, and I can feel balanced and not feel scared, then every movement from then on is like the first domino falling on the floor and the rest fall into place.

BLOOM: What do people, especially beginners, say they get out of the class?

Krishna Washburn: A lot of blind folks have been deprived of information about their own bodies because somebody decided that because they’re blind or visually impaired, they don’t need to know about their own skeleton, about their own nervous system, and about the names of the parts of their body. I’ve had conversations with adaptive physical education teachers who work with young people, and I always encourage them not only to always use their voice and describe movements, but to explicitly teach anatomy, even to little kids.  A lot of blind dance beginners who are adults need this education, and there aren’t people offering it to adults. 

If I’m starting with someone who has been prevented from knowing the basic facts about their body and their body’s capability, I’m giving them the opportunity to truly take ownership of their body and to know what it is and what it does and what it can do, and to not feel anxious about movement. I want them to feel happiness in movement and to feel freedom in movement and to not feel the weight of judgment of sighted people watching.

BLOOM: How did you get interested in dance?

Krishna Washburn: I started out as a sighted person who was scouted by the Royal Academy of Dance when I was three. I went through the entire curriculum and it wasn’t until I was a young adult in a pre-professional stage of my training that I experienced vision loss. All of my paid work has been as a blind performer.

BLOOM: I know you perform with a number of dance companies. What pulls you to teaching?

Krishna Washburn: I was born to be a teacher. That’s always mattered to me. And I don’t want what I’ve learned in life as a dancer to die with me. I want to grow this as a field and gain legitimacy and not become a separate group that no one has heard of. If you’re American, it’s very normal for you to have dance lessons as a kid. Unless you’re disabled. I would like dance to be a normal part of growing up, whether you’re disabled or not.  Every child should have a chance to learn about the body and take time to understand these are how my bones feel together, and I can feel the nerves in my fingers and feet, I know they’re there. It’s not theoretical stuff from science class, it’s real.

BLOOM: What is the best way for someone to contact you if they’d like to consider joining your Monday class?

Krishna Washburn: Just e-mail me at info @ darkroomballet.com.

You can learn all about Krishna and her classes by visiting Dark Room Ballet.

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News / Announcements

Virtual ballet class for blind dancers thrives during the pandemic

Original article published at NorthJersey.com, December 15, 2020

The pandemic cut off George Stern from his go-to physical activities. No more jiujitsu. Goodbye running group. 

Stern, who is deafblind, needed something safe and accessible that could keep him healthy. He stumbled upon a post in a social media group where people with disabilities talk about fitness and discovered Dark Room Ballet, a virtual class run out of a New York City apartment and designed for people with impaired vision. 

Stern was inspired by Misty Copeland, the first African American woman to become a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, to sign up for private lessons. 

“Uppermost in my head as I went into this was the memory of an NPR feature on … Copeland, and her words to the effect that ballet was for all body types, not just tall, skinny ones,” Stern said.

Krishna Washburn teaches her 'Dark Room Ballet' class, a virtual ballet class for blind and visually impaired people, from her kitchen in New York on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.
Krishna Washburn teaches her ‘Dark Room Ballet’ class, a virtual ballet class for blind and visually impaired people, from her kitchen in New York on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com

And not just sighted ones.

Dark Room Ballet founder and instructor Krishna Washburn, a blind dancer based in New York, taught Stern that people with disabilities can also practice ballet. And during the pandemic, offering the classes virtually made her lessons accessible in a way they weren’t before. 

With two laptops, a microphone and a chair used as a ballet barre, Washburn guides students through the technique of a highly visual art form using detailed descriptions of how they should move their bodies. She teaches virtually on Zoom from her Hamilton Heights apartment every Monday evening.

Sighted ballet dancers scrutinize their movements in large mirrors until they perfect a sequence, but perfection isn’t what matters in Washburn’s classes.

She believes it’s immaterial to talk about how dancers should look. Instead, she explains how her students’ bodies should feel in order to build their confidence to dance.

Washburn launched Dark Room Ballet in April, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her teaching philosophy works well, she says, in an environment where it isn’t safe to be close to other people. 

“Pretty much every person who I teach all have a history of being touched in unwanted ways … a lot of the available [dance] curriculums are predominantly about that because they assume people cannot think and interpret for themselves,” Washburn said. “Blind people really learn by having a conversation and through repeated experimentation.”

Through this experimentation, Washburn aims to introduce her students to new ways of movement and self-expression. One student, Len Burns, had practiced jiujitsu and yoga, but never took a ballet class before the pandemic caused nationwide shutdowns in March.

A blind man in his 60s, Burns believed he did not “quite fit the stereotype of a beginning ballet student,” but a friend encouraged him to give Washburn’s class a try.

“Little could I have known on that quiet Sunday afternoon that I had begun a journey that has already transformed me in ways I could never have imagined,” Burns said.

Washburn’s classes also thrived during the pandemic, allowing people from around the globe to join. Burns practices in the central coast area of California. Washburn said another student wakes up at 5 a.m. just to dance with Dark Room Ballet.

Washburn believes she’s the only person teaching the way she does. Some companies have offered special classes or programs for visually impaired dancers, and the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association in Brazil says on its website that it is the only dance school and company in the world made up entirely of visually impaired people.

Washburn considers herself a “ballet folk artist” because she is largely self-taught, but she takes dance classes every day and follows the guidance of her blind dance mentor, Mana Hashimoto.

Hashimoto studied dance at the New England Conservatory of Music, Berklee College of Music and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. She performed dance around the world, including at the world-renowned dance space Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts. In 2009, Hashimoto founded Dance Without Sight, a workshop series that teaches movement through touch, sound and smell.https://www.usatodaynetworkservice.com/tangstatic/html/pnjm/sf-q1a2z3be0d353f.min.html

Washburn performed with several companies, including Infinity Dance Theater in New York City, where she climbed the ranks to principal dancer. Along with her extensive dance background, Washburn holds a master’s degree in education and certification from the Indiana-based American College of Sports Medicine.

Still, Washburn said ableism in the dance industry is “almost inexplicable,” and it held her back as a teacher and performer.

She’s been barred from classes with sighted dancers by instructors who fear she could injure herself or others. People have underestimated her intellect, and a lot of work placed Washburn in “unsafe and disrespectful environments,” but she took it anyway because she thought she wouldn’t land any other jobs.  

To help break down barriers for visually impaired dancers, Washburn offers her group class and private lessons for free. 

“My true mission is to fight against educational denial,” Washburn said. “If someone wants to learn something from me, I never, ever say no, because they deserve to learn.”

Krishna Washburn talks with students before her virtual "Dark Room Ballet" class begins in her New York City home on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.
Krishna Washburn talks with students before her virtual “Dark Room Ballet” class begins in her New York City home on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com

Washburn delves deeper than typical ballet technique instruction by explaining skeletal awareness and biomechanics. She coaches dancers to tune in to their bodies and feel how each muscle moves in order to place them in a prescribed form.

On the first day of class, Washburn instructs her students to place a line of tape on the ground and get used to the feeling of it. That helps dancers feel “confident and oriented in their dance space,” Washburn said. People move more freely about their space knowing there’s a home base to return to. 

Stern said his private lessons with Washburn provided insight into his identity as well as his physical body. 

“Ballet provided a welcome chance to reconnect with and recommit to my body, and in a not stereotypically ‘manly’ way that appealed to my queer identity,” Stern said.

He was drawn to Dark Room Ballet because it suited every type of body. Stern could learn the moves as a 30-year-old who was deaf and blind. So could Burns, who is 30 years his senior. 

Dark Room Ballet welcomes people with any amount of dance experience and all abilities, though most people who attend have some visual impairment. Although virtual classes started during the pandemic, Washburn said she plans to continue teaching the class for the rest of her life. 

“The person I get to be today, I get to be a teacher,” Washburn said. “I get to work only with people that I respect and I get to be treated with respect. But this is a recent development, and I had to wait for the world to fall apart for it to happen.”