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‘Disability deserves to be seen and heard’ – Scholars and alumni hear from accomplished dancer

Posted: 14 December 2022

Alumni, Disability, Experience, In Australia, Inclusion, Scholar,

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities this year, Australia Awards – South Asia & Mongolia scholars and alumni gathered in-person and virtually to hear about the impressive journey of Australian dancer Michelle Ryan. Michelle is the Artistic Director of Restless Dance, Australia’s leading creator of dance theatre by dancers with and without disability.

Michelle spoke to scholars and alumni about her own challenges after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) during the height of her dance career. Overcoming personal struggles, it was the support of her peers that emboldened Michelle to return to dancing, regardless of her use of a wheelchair.

“I was asked what my greatest fear was. I responded, ‘falling over’ or ‘people not being interested in watching a disabled person on stage.’ My dance mentor asked me, ‘but wouldn’t you just get back up and continue dancing?’ and I realised I could only try. When people clapped after my first performance at the Brisbane Festival, I was overwhelmed and proud,” said Michelle, during the talk.

Michelle’s commitment lends itself to not only embracing inclusion in her dance company but also challenging societal views on where the dancers perform. “I arranged for one of our performances to be held in the open public spaces of functioning hotels in Adelaide, Gold Coast and Seoul. I wanted people to see our dancers for their ability, not their disability. I wanted people to know we are here,” she said.

Abeerah Saad, an Australia Awards scholar from Pakistan and Professor of Fine Arts, noted that she would seek to instil Michelle’s attitude and vision in her students, particularly those with disability. “I loved when Michelle said her organisation was not focussed on disability, but just happened to include people who deal with disability in their lives. For me, this represents a step towards inclusiveness in one’s mindset which I think is essential for growth.”

Rajuna Singh, an Australia Awards alum from Nepal and wheelchair user, noted that she was inspired to express herself through dance after listening to Michelle. “If we could learn some dance steps in a wheelchair, that would be helpful for our physical movement as a therapy too”.

The Australia Awards scholars present in Adelaide were able to interact with Maven representative Nick Schumi and Sam Paior of the Growing Space. Scholars expressed gratitude for the opportunity to connect with experienced professionals in Australia’s disability sector and to hear from Michelle about her journey.