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Sarah DiPasquale
on Celebrating Difference and Seeking Pleasure Through Integrative Dance

In fall 2018, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Dance Sarah DiPasquale connected visual art and dance in a course for Skidmore students and the Saratoga Bridges community of differently abled adults. The class examined Joan Snyder’s painting Waiting for a Miracle (for Nina and John) (1986) and, in response, developed choreography for an integrative dance, which was performed on December 10, 2018.

Sarah DiPasquale
Associate Professor and Chair of Dance
Skidmore College

The “Bridges to Skidmore” course was created in 2010 by Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Social Work Crystal Dea Moore as a non-credit-bearing college experience for differently abled adults from the Saratoga Bridges community working together with Skidmore students.(1) In 2017, I redesigned the program to be a dance course and scholarly initiative examining the physical effects and creative processes of integrative dance on this population.(2) In the current course model, individuals from Saratoga Bridges are matched with Skidmore students, and together they engage in an integrative dance experience. As Caroline Kelberman ’17 and I have written, “Integrative dance may be defined as dance that encourages the participation of all individuals, regardless of ability, supporting and celebrating these differences through movement.”(3) The social aspect of dance is essential to the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Differently abled people are often socially isolated and identify disability-service users, staff, and family members as friends.(4) For example, people on the autism-spectrum scale commonly experience a deficit in appropriate communication, social empathy, and awareness or sensitivity to others’ emotional experiences.(5) These social insufficiencies may have impacts on the development and maintenance
of social relationships, and thus, may lead to social isolation.(6) “Bridges to Skidmore” was designed to meet the needs of differently abled individuals; the structure of the class was established with a conscious objective to create a socially inclusive and integrated dance environment. Profoundly important aspects to this work are the
deep and meaningful relationships that form between the participants and their college-student counterparts throughout the semester.

While social and cultural dancing at its foundation brings humans together to engage with one another, the practice of contemporary dance is often viewed as a more individualistic activity. In “Bridges to Skidmore,” contemporary dance is practiced within small groups to grant participants individualized assistance with Skidmore students providing suggestions for movement modifications and social support as needed. Throughout the semester, participants transition from requiring higher levels of support to dancing with increased independence. This organic shift creates an inherent awareness of community and an authentic sense of inclusion for participants working side by side with Skidmore students.(7) While true social inclusion is a multifactorial and complex task, “Bridges to Skidmore” strives to create reciprocal relationships between participants and their college-student counterparts who accept them as members of their collegiate community beyond their disability.(8)

The pleasure associated with dancing cannot be understated when discussing the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Research has suggested that exercise adherence is improved when the experience is enjoyable.(9) As differently abled people may be inherently prone to decreased attention spans,(10) creating an engaging dance experience becomes a critical aspect of compliance and overall classroom management. Furthermore, dancing alongside a partner may enhance socialization, creating a more pleasurable experience for all members of the group.(11)

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Joan Snyder (born Highland Park, New Jersey, 1940)
Waiting for a Miracle (for Nina and John), 1986
oil, acrylic, papier-mâché, straw on linen
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gifford Phillips

In fall 2018, the “Bridges to Skidmore” class embarked on a uniquely pleasurable journey of discovery, exploring how visual art may inform the choreographic process of integrative dance. The class spent ten days collaborating in the museum space. Reflecting on Joan Snyder’s painting Waiting for a Miracle (for Nina and John) from the Tang collection, differently abled individuals engaged with the painting alongside Skidmore students, expressing their embodied reflections of the painting through movement. The experience at the Tang brought incredible moments of exploration. The initial encounter with the painting was through a class discussion guided by Museum Educator for K–12 and Community Programs Sunny Ra using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). Asking open-ended questions, members of the class each had an opportunity to share what they saw in the work. The VTS session created a robust and exciting encounter with class members jumping out of their seats to show others the details they were finding in this beautiful artwork. Reminding enthusiastic class members to not touch the painting proved to be a challenging and unexpected aspect of this experience!

The class returned to reflect a second time on the painting, using it as inspiration to make visual representations on paper. These drawings then became the impetus for movement creation, with each member of the class creating their own movement based on their embodied reflection of the painting. Collaborating with their Skidmore student partners, some individuals found this process to be effortless with ideas and movements exploding from their bodies. Others found the creative process more challenging, visibly uncomfortable and requiring close guidance from their partners. Seated in chairs, traveling through space, telling stories through gestures—the diverse array of movements created that day were choreographed together into two distinct five-minute dances. Reflecting on Waiting for a Miracle created a rich environment of respect and expression.

Music plays a crucial role in the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Live music performed by the exceptional Skidmore Music Director Carl Landa enriched each class period and inspired students to explore the open space. Additionally, a talented member of the Bridges community volunteered to serve as a second accompanist, adding another level of rich collaboration. A palpable enthusiasm was present when the musicians would enter the room. One participant exclaimed, “I never want to listen to the radio again! I wish Carl could follow me around all day!”

Music may serve as an external cue or a movement facilitator(12) yet may also alter the neurochemistry of the body. Musical properties, such as tempo, impact underlying neurotransmission of cardiovascular and respiratory control, motor function, and higher order cognitive functions.(13) Furthermore, music can potentially enhance physical performance during exercise(14) and may help to motivate and create social support.(15) The relationship of music and dance cannot be undervalued and undoubtedly enriched the collaborative process within the “Bridges to Skidmore” class.

The Tang experience also brought numerous challenges for the group. The typical class structure of “Bridges to Skidmore” is exceedingly deliberate, allowing for consistency, clear boundaries, and a sense of safety among participants. In contrast, a museum space is inherently filled with heightened sensory stimulation, creating a new set of experiences to encounter each class period. Elevator noises, foot traffic, and cold concrete floors left some individuals on edge. Negotiating through new spaces with docents closely guarding the artwork on cold, rainy fall days created instances of anxiety and fear. Alongside the beautiful creative experience, there were times of tears, raising of voices, pacing the floors, panic, detachment, and even anger. The artistic process rarely comes without real and tangible challenges for all involved. These uncomfortable circumstances are an essential part of the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience and must not be disregarded. Indeed, moments of discomfort may also be profoundly meaningful moments of growth.

  1. See Kimberly Remis, Crystal Moore, Julia Pichardo, Zuliany Rosario, and Jeffrey Palmer Moore, “Teaching Note—Description and Preliminary Evaluation of a Modified College Experience for Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” Journal of Social Work Education 53, no. 2 (2017): 354–60.
  2. Sarah DiPasquale and Caroline Kelberman, “An Integrative Dance Class to Improve Physical Function of People with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities: A Feasibility Study,” Arts & Health 10, no. 1 (2018): 1–14.
  3. DiPasquale and Kelberman, “An Integrative Dance Class.”
  4. Angela Novak Amado, Roger J. Stancliffe, Mary McCarron, and Philip McCallion, “Social Inclusion and Community Participation of Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities,” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 51, no. 5 (October 2013): 360–75.
  5. Lisa L. Travis and Marian Sigman, “Social Deficits and Interpersonal Relationships in Autism,” Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews 4, no. 2 (1998): 65–72.
  6. Travis and Sigman, “Social Deficits and Interpersonal Relationships in Autism.”
  7. Cynthia Quiroga Murcia, Gunter Kreutz, Stephen Clift, and Stephan Bongard, “Shall We Dance? An Exploration of the Perceived Benefits of Dancing on Well-Being,” Arts & Health 2, no. 2 (2010): 149–63.
  8. Stacy Clifford Simplican, Geraldine Leader, John Kosciulek, and Michael Leahy, “Defining Social Inclusion of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: An Ecological Model of Social Networks and Community Participation,” Research in Developmental Disabilities 38 (2015): 18–29; Amado, et al., “Social Inclusion and Community Participation.”
  9. Richard Ryan, Christina Frederick, Deborah Lepes, Noel Rubio, and Kennon Sheldon, “Intrinsic Motivation and Exercise Adherence,” International Journal of Sport Psychology 28, no. 1 (1997): 335–54.
  10. Kate Breckenridge, Oliver Braddick, Shirley Anker, Margaret Woodhouse, and Janette Atkinson, “Attention in Williams Syndrome and Down’s Syndrome: Performance on the New Early Childhood Attention Battery,” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 31, no. 2 (2013): 257–69; Dilip R. Patel, Greydanus, Donald E. Greydanus, Hatim A. Omar, and Jaov Merrick, eds., Neurodevelopmental Disabilities: Clinical Care for Children and Young Adults (New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media, 2011).
  11. Madeleine E. Hackney and Gammon M. Earhart, “Effects of Dance on Gait and Balance in Parkinson’s Disease: A Comparison of Partnered and Nonpartnered Dance Movement,” Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair 24, no. 4 (May 2010): 384–92.
  12. Gammon M. Earhart, “Dance as Therapy for Individuals with Parkinson Disease,” European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 45, no. 2 (2009): 231–38.
  13. Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin, “The Neurochemistry of Music,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17, no. 4 (2013): 179–93.
  14. Caroline R. Campbell and Katherine R. G. White, “Working It Out: Examining the Psychological Effects of Music on Moderate-Intensity Exercise,” Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research 20, no. 2 (summer 2015): 73–79; Tiev Miller, Ann Manire Swank, Robert John Robertson, and Barbara Wheeler, “Effect of Music and Dialogue on Perception of Exertion, Enjoyment, and Metabolic Responses During Exercise,” International Journal of Fitness 6, no. 2 (2010): 45–52; Koç Haluk, and Curtseit Turchian, “The Effects of Music on Athletic Performance,” Ovidius University Annals, Series Physical Education & Sport/Science, Movement & Health 9, no. 1 (2009): 44–47.
  15. Sarah DiPasquale and Meaghan Wood, “The Effect of Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance Training on Hip Extensor Flexibility and Strength in Novice Dancers: A Pilot Study,” Performance Enhancement & Health 5, no. 3 (March 2017): 108–14.
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About Sarah DiPasquale
Skidmore Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Dance Sarah DiPasquale works to create opportunities to make dance training easily accessible and available to all people. DiPasquale’s scholarship, which focuses on the effects of dance training on people who are differently abled and at-risk youth, has been published in the Journal of Dance Education, Arts & Health, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, Performance Enhancement & Health, and Sports.

Cite this page

DiPasquale, Sarah. “Sarah DiPasquale on Celebrating Difference and Seeking Pleasure Through Integrative Dance.” Tang Teaching Museum collections website. First Published in Accelerate: Access & Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum 3 (2019).
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