Alito Alessi está rompiendo los muros del aislamiento y la creación de oportunidades para las interacciones positivas y visibles entre las personas con y sin discapacidad a través de su programa de baile, DanceAbility.
Alito Alessi is breaking the walls of isolation and creating opportunities for positive and visible interactions between people with and without disabilities through his dance program, DanceAbility.
Isolation of the disabled population from the non-disabled has negative impacts for the individuals as well as society. For example, when people with disabilities find that jobs and recreational opportunities are not available to them, this sends them a continuous message that they are not part of society. Lacking ways to interact positively, they suffer from loneliness and low self-esteem and are left feeling that they have nothing to offer the world. Being isolated from others, their psychological and physical needs for communication and interaction are not met, and they are left feeling trapped and ashamed of their bodies.
Society also suffers consequences from perpetuating the isolation of the disabled. Since little or no opportunities for positive interaction exist, many people do not know how to interact with individuals who have mental or physical disabilities. Being separated from the disabled, non-disabled people lose an ability to empathize with the disabled and tend to base their conceptions on preconceived notions rather than direct experience. As a result, non-disabled people often underestimate or discriminate against people with mental and physical disabilities, leading to a reinforcement of the patterns that caused the isolation in the first place.
Society lacks mechanisms and spaces for people to see that it is possible for the disabled and non-disabled to have positive interactions, to develop empathy for one another, to trust each other and to work together. These are the misconceptions that Alito is breaking down through a dance group that is not only for people with disabilities. Instead, Alito has made dance available to everyone without isolating anyone.
Whenever Alito is invited to a new city to put on his performances and workshops, he partners with a few key organizations. On a global basis, Mobility International, the renowned disabilities organization, has partnered with him to open doors for DanceAbility, to take his program to new places, and to ensure that disabled groups in local countries are included from his first visit not just as observers but as participants and even co-leaders of the program. Alito also works with local dance groups and universities.
After some initial performances and workshops, the group begins performing in public places, from streets to airports, train stations, schools and prestigious venues from the Kennedy Center to the inauguration of the Special Olympics. The aim of these performances is to create visibility of the interaction between the disabled and the non-disabled to a large public audience. This part of his strategy allows him to reach broad groups of people, and even though they may only have a brief and superficial exposure to DanceAbility, the performances challenge and often shatter the stereotypes that audiences have about people with disabilities.
Alito has placed strong emphasis on outreach to children. He has designed special performances and teaching guides for school groups. The performance is followed by question-and-answer sessions about disabilities in which the performers encourage disabled children in the audience to participate in answering their peers’ questions about disabilities.
The second part of Alito’s strategy has been to achieve a deeper impact on a smaller number of people via in-depth dance workshops. Alito and a disabled person co-lead mixed-ability workshops that last 40 to 80 hours, with one-third of the participants being disabled. These workshops have helped form a core group of people with in-depth exposure to his methodology, which includes dance improvisation, collaboration, and discussions about physicality and touch and how to deal with potential challenges. Finally, to learn how to “take it to the public,” teachers are instructed in public speaking, business and administration skills, and performance organization.
The final element of Alito’s strategy has been to form a series of permanent chapters that can carry out and replicate DanceAbility’s methodology. During the initial visits, Alito creates a Satellite Support Network of people to help him run his workshop. These members of the satellite team work closely with Alito during and after his stay in the country and are usually those who carry on working with the DanceAbility method after Alito leaves. After conducting the DanceAbility workshop and a performance, Alito continues to provide ongoing organizational and financial support for the budding dance troupes. Alito constantly mentors and provides networking assistance to the new teachers. He also guarantees part of the teachers’ salary as they are beginning their start-up and returns to provide continued support. Through this method, he has established DanceAbility troupes that are teaching and performing in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Finland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Holland, among other countries.
In order to expand more rapidly and nurture the development of semi-independent chapters, Alito will soon begin to certify some of his teachers to conduct the teacher-training workshops themselves. This will allow them to establish new groups in more cities and rural areas in their own countries. Alito also plans to foster greater networking between DanceAbility chapters.
Alito’s first positive life experience came through athletics. In middle school, he broke the state record for the one-mile run which opened up many high school scholarship opportunities to him. Just as he was about to pursue one of these opportunities, his family decided to move again. Instead of giving up his running, Alito stayed in his town without his family, living at a boarding house and working his way through high school. Upon graduating from high school he was awarded a partial athletic scholarship to the University of Oregon.
During college, Alito found a new passion in modern dance, which he pursued enthusiastically throughout his college career. At this time, he also worked for an after-school program for young children in which a mother asked Alito to be a private movement tutor for her son, Eli. Eli was wise beyond his years and told Alito that other people teased him only because “they don’t understand.” Soon, another mother asked Alito to choreograph a dance for her young daughter who had a physical disability. After performing the dance for her school, her classmates’ perceptions of her radically changed, and her self-esteem and social network improved. It was in working with these two children that Alito planted the first seeds of what would later become DanceAbility.
Shortly after graduating from college, Alito started a modern dance company, the Joint Forces Dance Company, which won domestic and international recognition. He was determined to find a way to incorporate these values and his family’s personal experiences of isolation into his dance practice. In 1987, he hosted his first inclusive dance workshop and, to his surprise, over 100 people showed up. From there, Alito set out to create a dance form that would be inclusive of all people—DanceAbility.