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, an...
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Madeline Hoak

Madeline is a NYC based performer, producer, professor, and choreographer specializing in aerial, acrobatics, dance and movement direction. She is an adjunct professor of Aerial Arts at Pace University, on staff at Aerial Arts NYC and The Muse Brooklyn and initiated the Aerial program at Muhlenberg College where she taught from 2011 - 2017. Her movement direction contributed to Circle Theater NYC’s production of The Mountain winning Outstanding Original Choreography/Movement, 2015. She co-choreographed The Battles, a musical voted by Broadway producer Ken Davenport one of the top 10 new scripts of 2016. Madeline's choreography has been presented at Dixon Place, Circus Warehouse, BAX, The House of Yes, Abron Arts Center, Times Square, The Flea, STREB, Galapagos, and The Muse. She received BAs in Dance and Theater from Muhlenberg College and is currently studying at NYU’s Gallatin school of Individualized Study where she is designing a master’s degree in circus studies with a focus on dramaturgy and creative processes. madelinehoak.com.