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Abled, disabled connect through dance in DanceAbility

DanceAbility co-founder and artistic director Alito Alessi (center) begins the session with all attendees in a circle for a moment of silence, so that all participants, regardless of their abilities, begin the class in the same state of being. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
DanceAbility co-founder and artistic director Alito Alessi (center) begins the session with all attendees in a circle for a moment of silence, so that all participants, regardless of their abilities, begin the class in the same state of being. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

Alito Alessi wants to eliminate that which isolates people from one another. He does it through dance, in particular, a program he co-developed called DanceAbility. Alessi teaches workshops that mix abled and disabled dancers together. As they improvise and touch, they learn from one another.

“I work with all people simultaneously, that’s from the highest-level professional dancers to the most severely disabled you could imagine,” said Alessi. “I have a system that introduces people to their own body, that [explores] how you make relationships non-verbally through movement, using various elements that range from everything from non-touch all the way into touch…. It’s a way to move together.”

Alessi was in Berkeley June 28 to teach a two-hour workshop for the West Coast Contact Improvisation JAM. He instructed about 20 dancers at the Sawtooth Building on Tuesday.

While Alessi has traveled the world teaching his methodology, (he estimates he has trained 500 instructors in the DanceAbility method and reached tens of thousands of people) and has been awarded a Guggenheim grant for his efforts, he had not been in Berkeley for 10 years.


Berkeleyside contributing photographer Kelly Sullivan attended the workshop and took photos that capture Alessi’s approach.

Alito Alessi (standing, in purple) leads a beginning exercise in which participants become fully aware of all parts of their bodies through a series of movements.
Alito Alessi (standing, in purple) leads a beginning exercise in which participants become fully aware of all parts of their bodies through a series of movements.
Alito Alessi begins the workshop with a series of non-contact movements to help participants warm up and become aware of their movement potential.
Alito Alessi begins the workshop with a series of non-contact movements to help participants warm up and become aware of their movement potential.
 A four-person group improvisation includes points of physical contact between dancers. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

A four-person group improvisation includes points of physical contact between dancers. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Alito Alessi (in purple) moves through a series of poses with India Harville (kneeling). Harville is one of 500 certified DanceAbility instructors in more than 40 countries; she has been practicing mixed-ability dance since her childhood. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Alito Alessi (in purple) moves through a series of poses with India Harville (kneeling). Harville is one of 500 certified DanceAbility instructors in more than 40 countries; she has been practicing mixed-ability dance since her childhood. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
India Harville, a certified DanceAbility instructor who sometimes uses a wheelchair, dances with a partner using a chair at the DanceAbility workshop during wcciJAM 2016. DanceAbility is designed to be inclusive of all kinds of bodies, and to teach participants to be receptive to all new forms of movement; to break habits and patterns of thought in a supportive atmosphere. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
India Harville, a certified DanceAbility instructor who sometimes uses a wheelchair, dances with a partner using a chair at the DanceAbility workshop during wcciJAM 2016. DanceAbility is designed to be inclusive of all kinds of bodies, and to teach participants to be receptive to all new forms of movement; to break habits and patterns of thought in a supportive atmosphere. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
lito Alessi and India Harville demonstrate the "One Mover, One Watcher" DanceAbility exercise, wherein one participant moves according to the sensations he or she experiences, and their partner makes deliberate corresponding movements in order to change his or her perspective on the mover. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
lito Alessi and India Harville demonstrate the “One Mover, One Watcher” DanceAbility exercise, wherein one participant moves according to the sensations he or she experiences, and their partner makes deliberate corresponding movements in order to change his or her perspective on the mover. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
DanceAbility workshop participants pair off to practice the "One Mover, One Watcher" exercise. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
DanceAbility workshop participants pair off to practice the “One Mover, One Watcher” exercise. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
wcciJAM 2016 has more than 30 different classes, jams, labs, and one-on-one sessions for this year's 200 attendees to participate in and explore. The festival also includes a daily lunch served at the Westside Cafe on Ninth Street, family workshops and playcare for pint-sized attendees, and strives to provide an inclusive experience for all participants. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
wcciJAM 2016 has more than 30 different classes, jams, labs, and one-on-one sessions for this year’s 200 attendees to participate in and explore. The festival also includes a daily lunch served at the Westside Cafe on Ninth Street, family workshops and play care for pint-sized attendees, and strives to provide an inclusive experience for all participants. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

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