Photo by Paula Kiley
[ID: A beautiful black & white headshot of Vanessa Hernández Cruz. Vanessa is a Mexican American woman who, in this photograph is holding white mesh fabric and making it feel like a tunnel. Her arms are raised high with elegance and she is looking towards the side.]
*While this letter is for our disabled dancers, I welcome
all who wish to create equitable changes in our dance field.
My beloved disabled dancers,
I am gazing at the shadows of trees dancing upon
gravel walls as the golden hour sun joins in.
It’s beautiful isn’t it?
There is this longing that tugs at my heart
to have all the answers for you.
How much can I change the world for
I know that our bodies clash with
what society carves out for us.
For my multi-marginalized disabled dancers
future, present & past:
You are a dancer despite being told no.
You are a dancer despite all the rejection placed upon you.
Your artistry is there even if they say it’s not.
You are a dancer even if you had to stop or were told to stop.
You are still a dancer even if you feel alone & unsupported.
You are skilled beyond measure.
The way you caress your wheels as you glide
across the floor.
The strength of how you slow down and shape trembling spirals
with your unique disabled body.
This makes you a fierce and graceful dancer.
“If I wasn’t disabled….”
haunts our minds,
I know, breathe.
I know. It hurts.
I know, beautiful. It’ll be okay.
Because it’s not your fault.
It never was.
Your body, mind & spirit are not to blame.
We push these dark thoughts aside
but it’s there every single time
when we are told no.
When we are placed in the back of dance class.
When we struggling to keep up.
When opportunities are robbed from us.
When spaces are inaccessible.
When we are ignored.
When we are left to advocate for ourselves.
When we audition knowing that our bodies will be used against us.
When we are infantilized.
When we are villainized for asking for our basic human rights.
When microaggressions put us down.
It’s okay to grieve but know that your ancestors are embracing you
when no one is there at your lowest.
We may never get an apology from the ableism we have had to endure.
They may never know how deep our wounds go
or how deep they have hurt us.
But I want to say I am sorry.
I am sorry that you have to cry yourself to sleep.
I am sorry that our depression is ignored.
I am sorry that our tears fall on empty grounds instead of warm hugs.
I am sorry you have to mask your needs in order to survive.
I am sorry that our negative experiences make it that much harder to reach out.
I am sorry that this journey can feel lonely.
I am sorry that the dance field makes us feel unworthy.
I am sorry that you have to have your guard up at all times.
I am sorry that you are exhausted from fighting the good fight.
I am sorry that you feel isolated.
Even though our society has reminded us time and time again
that we are to them unloved & unworthy
that is deeply false.
Your disability makes you the incredible dancer that you are.
Your disabled body ignites innovation & creativity.
You are the life force of what community care can look like in dance.
You have so much light to give to this world.
Your dance work is vital.
It is vital because you exist!
The countless stories and interests you have
give us a glimpse of possibilities and what utopia could be.
I cannot take your pain away.
I cannot even take my own pain away.
But know that you are not alone, darling.
You carry the wisdom of our disabled ancestors.
The time capsule of what dance will be.
I do not have all the answers.
But I do know that
we must continue to create at whatever pace our bodies allow us.
It’s okay to slow down for a second or 2.
It’s valid and it will always be.
It’s okay to rest.
That is our power.
It’s okay to let go for a while.
But please come back with your beautiful disabled self.
Even though we are far apart
we are still tethered to each other.
Most importantly, create for yourself.
You no longer need to prove to the dance world
that we can dance.
We are the future of dance.
It’s going to be okay.
And if it isn’t I am here fighting for us.
For our liberation.
One moment at a time.
We have each other.
Gazing upon the night sky
filled with ever glistening stars
our ancestors are smiling at us
because we are their wildest dream.
With so much love,
Your Chicana Disabled dance friend,
Ways to Connect & Support:
This article appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of In Dance.