Thursday, February 05, 2009

Disability Issues: Singing, dancing - Hong Kong brings disabled into the mainstream

It is called "inclusion" and it is a worldwide effort to bring disabled people into the mainstream.

Holly Yau moves her body to a four-part beat, stepping front to back, side-to-side, swaying her hips and twisting.

As she touches the shoulder of her partner, Peter Yu, he bends forward in his wheelchair, and then moves his left arm forward and his right back, quickly spinning in a tight circle.

During the cha-cha, the two sometimes grasp hands. At other times they dance apart.

Yu has been dancing for four years. He says the art form is beautiful.

Yu says, in the beginning, dancing in his wheelchair was very difficult, but then he put in great effort, memorizing the steps each night.

Yau and Yu have been dancing together for one month. They practice with eight other couples - one partner-abled and the other wheelchair-bound.

The dance group is among programs offered by the Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth. The federation and Arts with the Disabled Association Hong Kong aim to include the disabled in everyday activities. They sometimes team with similar programs, worldwide.

Shan Lau is project officer for Arts with the Disabled. She says the program, which started in 1986, is still evolving. It brings together people of all ages and abilities.

"Somehow we are now coming to say 'inclusive art' because art should be for everyone. We should not say 'outsider art' because it is inclusive. All can enjoy art," Lau said.

Edmond Chan is manager of the Jockey Club Activity Center. He works for the Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth. He says some Hong Kong people do not know to respect and communicate with people who have disabilities. Programs like the dance class show them how.

In Hong Kong - a city of about seven million people - some disabled students attend public schools. Others attend more than 80 schools for the disabled.

Arts with the Disabled brings its programs to the schools, but also takes the students and their work out into the community. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust helps fund programs, which are overseen by the Hong Kong government.

Recently, Arts with the Disabled presented an art show and cabaret-style performance. More exhibits, performances, courses and workshops are slated, later this year.

The exhibit featured work by disabled artists, including a Japanese artist. Some pieces could be both seen and felt. A primary-colored collage was dotted with circles with rough, smooth, slick or bumpy surfaces. A sculpture composed of soft plastic popped, snapped and crackled when touched.

An interpreter for the deaf assisted the masters of ceremonies at the association's recent performance. Ten groups made up of abled and disabled performers danced, sang, drummed and acted before a full house at the Tuen Mun community center.

Yu and Yau and seven other couples performed the samba - the disabled dancers twirling and dipping in their wheelchairs.

Back in the studio, Yu and Yau and the others practice for a dance competition, later this month in Hong Kong.

Yau is president of the Student Union Dancesport Society at Hong Kong Baptist University. She danced with abled partners before volunteering to dance with wheelchair-bound men a year ago. She says it was difficult, at first.

"I have no idea how to handle their hands, how not to let the wheelchair step on my boots. So at the very beginning it was very difficult. But, yes, we tried for more times and now, yes, it is okay for us," she said.

At 21, Yau is the youngest dancer. The oldest is in his 60's. The couples are male-female, with either in a wheelchair.

Their teacher, Alan Li, says the couples can dance most styles: Chinese, ballet, jazz, social dance, the cha-cha, rumba, jive and Latin.

Li says it is not necessary to dance with legs. People can use their hands, arms and upper bodies.

To demonstrate, Li sits in a wheelchair. He moves his arms forward and back, in opposition, so his movements appear to be choreographed with his partner.

The couples mimic his motions, their faces taut with concentration. As Li counts one-two-three-four, their bodies relax into the motions.

Yau, Yu and some of the other dancers will perform next month in Beijing

Published with the permission of Voice of America

Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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