Kayah Guenther has difficulty communicating verbally, but he has no trouble getting across a powerful message.
For several years he has been using dance as a form of expression and communication — one that transcends language and overcomes barriers placed by disability.
Guenther said he began dancing because he thought it was something he could learn, and grew to love the medium.
“When I am dancing I breathe in and I feel my heart grow full,” he said.
“Dancing makes me remember who I am and who I would like to be.”
Guenther has been dancing since he was in high school. Now in his twenties he has gained recognition for his talent and danced all over the world.
Currently in Chile — where he has been invited to dance at a festival — he said communicating through movement was far easier for him than communicating verbally.
“People sometimes don’t listen to my voice but they listen to my dance,” he said.
“I need to think really hard when I speak, but I can move really easy when I dance.”
When he was younger, Guenther was bullied for having difficulty speaking. He said dancing had improved his self-esteem and facilitated building of friendships.
“It helps me to focus. I am proud of myself because I would like to be a good dancer,” he said. “Dance is like a friend.”
Guenther’s dance style is confident. It is more than movement in time to a beat; it expresses power, masculinity and his place in the world.
“Dance is a passion for me. Dance helps me become a different man.”
Giving people their voice back
Emma Bennison, the chief executive of Arts Access Australia, said facilitating participation in artistic pursuits gave people with disabilities a voice in a society that often tried to take it away.
“Oftentimes people with disability don’t have a voice — they don’t have a platform for expressing their views,” Ms Bennison said.
“They might not be able to physically speak, but also because sometimes society’s low expectations actually limit the opportunities for people to have a voice of their own.
“Often families and friends and carers are asked to speak on behalf of people with disability — sometimes that is necessary and appropriate, but there are times where it is really quite devaluing for people not to have a voice.
“Myself, as a blind person, will walk into a shop and the shop assistant will speak to the person I am with, or hand them the money — and that is incredibly irritating and disempowering.”
She said the arts offered a good “entry point” for people with disabilities to communicate, if they could not speak or communicate verbally.
“People are seeing the [art]work first, they are not completely distracted by, or fixated on the impairment, but are rather seeing the work for what it is,” she said.
“I think any process that allows people — whether they are people with a disability or not — to express their own ideas and have the ability to create something without interference or censorship is a positive thing.”
People with disabilities need to lead
According to Ms Bennison, there had been an increase in the amount of programs available for disabled people looking to get into the arts; however there was always room for more.
She said she believed programs that encouraged people with disabilities to take agency over the artistic process were important.
“There is room for opportunities for things which we call ‘disability-led’ so things that are led by people with a disability,” she said.
“I think the NDIS creates a fantastic potential for people with disability to have more opportunity to contribute to and participate in the arts — whether that be in specific projects or in arts projects which are ‘mainstream’ projects.
“There is always a need for more training opportunities for artists, because we are not just talking about the arts as therapy … but we are also talking about people with disability making a living and becoming economically independent.
“It is really important that we have good mentoring pathways and training opportunities and employment opportunities in the arts and cultural sector.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, but we have certainly seen some improvements over the past few years.”
Source: ABC News.
By: Thea Halpin