Circus Bodies with Disabilities

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Circus Bodies: Circus Bodies with Disabilities

After the inaugural Circus and Its Others conference in 2016, a series of articles was published in Performance Matters, a peer-reviewed journal. Dr. Tina Carter (Founder of Airhedz) contributed an essay, “Freaks No More: Rehistoricizing Disabled Circus Artists,” in which she uses the term  disabled  “to reflect both the medical and social models of disability as it is not only that the bodies of the artists bore impairments, but,” as she argues, “that the historians rendered them invisible and forgotten, therefore historically disabled by omission” (Carter). [1] Carter’s scholarly work centers around aerial performers with disabilities who toured and headlined shows, and yet have been overlooked in mainstream circus history. Memory and history define current perceptions, and Carter’s research unearths untold stories giving a needed foundation to present-day artists. Research such as Carter’s is one step toward inclusion which necessitates both the exhumation of lost stories and the need to unburden present identifiers laden with stereotypes.
Codified Virtuosity vs. Meeting People Where They Are At A consistent thread through this Circus Bodies series has been how true inclusivity challenges mainstream perceptions of virtuosity. Circus disciplines have codified skills that signal “success,” but these skills are only available to a narrow portion of the population for a myriad of reasons. In a recent interview with Lisa B. Lewis (Founder, Omnium), she gave a comparison to dance saying that a multiplicity of forms were developed from ballet “because the original rigid structure didn’t apply to everyone, and other people were still virtuosic.” We agreed that only positive expansion to the art form can come from loosening the confines of what is perceived as virtuosic or successful.  To do this, circus must be accessible, ...
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Madeline Hoak

Madeline Hoak is an artist and academic who creates with, through and about circus. She is an Associate Editor for CircusTalk, Adjunct Professor of Aerial Arts at Pace University, a member of the American Circus Alliance's EDI committee, and the Editor and Curatorial Director of TELEPHONE, an international arts game. Madeline has performed, coached, produced, and choreographed at elite regional and international venues. Her background in dance and physical theater are infiltrated into her coaching and creation style. She is passionate about providing her students holistic circus education that includes physical, historical, theoretical resources. Madeline initiated the Aerial Acrobatics program at her alma mater, Muhlenberg College, where she taught from 2012-2017. She is also a regular contributor to Cirkus Syd's Circus Thinkers international reading group. Her circus research has been supported by Pace, NYU, and Concordia University. Recent publications include "Teaching the Mind-Body: Integrating Knowledges through Circus Arts'' (with Alisan Funk, Dan Berkley), a chapter in Art as an Agent for Social Change, "expanding in(finite) between," a multimedia essay in Circus Thinkers: Reflections, 2020, and "Digital Dance & TELEPHONE: A Unique Spectator Experience." Madeline has presented academic papers at numerous conferences including Circus and it’s Others (UC Davis), the Popular Culture Association, Gallatin (NYU), and McGill University. Madeline earned an MA from Gallatin, New York University’s School of Independent Study, where she designed a Circus Studies curriculum with a focus on spectatorship. madelinehoak.com