When thinking of rehabilitating people with special movement abilities, it has become normal for many of them to re-enter society working in many fields. Most of them are desk jobs or employment that does not require movement. However, seeing a wheeled professional dancer has not-yet-become a normal scene in Egypt.
Art enthusiasts gathered last weekend downtown to thrillingly witness a heart-capturing disability integrated performance. At Al-Sharifin street, the first full Egyptian performance featuring disabled dancers took place, as part of the Down Town Contemporary Art Festival’s (D-CAF) urban visions programme.
For the first time in Egypt, the show saw the light with Egyptian performers, choreographers, and musicians.
The main performer of the show, Mahmoud El-Gazzar, is one of Egypt’s few special needs dancers. He was selected from a two-week workshop held by the show’s choreographer, Shaymaa Shoukry.
The show is not the first to take place in Egypt. It has been a part of D-CAF’s schedule since 2015. Yet, it was always choreographed by foreigners.
For almost half an hour, the duo completed each other through their performance and the wheelchair did not take away any part of its captivation, but only added to its charm, authenticity, and enchantment.
“For me, it was not about teaching the dancers new moves, it is all about combining the moves they already knew and mastered in harmony. It’s an experience of exchanging knowledge,” Shoukry told Daily News Egypt.
This is not Shoukry’s first time to be a part of an integrated dance show. She has been the assistant of another choreographer two years ago, and witnessed the details of creating the show with rhythmical moves between the dancers which reflect the harmony they feel with the music.
“At the workshop, I offered what I have been teaching as a choreographer, to see how they accepted and dealt with it,” Shoukry added. Throughout the training, Shoukry focused on the communication between the two partners, and on El-Gazaar’s self-exploration.
“I aimed to degradingly focus on his physical exploration. At first, we started exploring his capabilities of using the surrounding space. After that, we started exploring together the possibility of leaving the wheelchair and using another one, with considering the artistic movement steps, and ways to maintain his balance. It was not long after that we started exploring the ground, and what he can make out of it,” Shoukry explained.
With every training session, new explorations exposed expanding the limits of dancing movement, until the sky was their limit.
Shoukry stressed that the main focus of the workshops was the disabled partner in the dance show, not because he is in need of much efforts than others, but rather that he is the key of unlimited options and abilities which can only be achieved through his strength and capabilities. As for the female dancer, Salma Salem, she has been a partner in integrated dance performances for several years, whether with mentally or physically disabled partners.
Being the trainer added an inspiration factor to Shoukry. Breaking all of her pre-concerns, astonishment was a constructive factor with all of the workshop sessions she had with Al-Gazzar.
“You wouldn’t believe the will, mental strength, and the capability of pushing one’s self out of one’s comfort zone!” she amazingly said.
Shoukry added that her astonishment piled up with Al-Gazzar’s abilities to transform, creating new borders for the handicapped, and drawing new lines for one’s comfort zone. “It was very inspiring for me to see how he listens to his body, and accepts it in a way that many abled dancers don’t! When you have any sort of injury, you are forced to listen to your body, and start communicating with it, which is reflected in your art productions,” she added.
Both El-Gazzar and Salem danced on the music of Mohammed Shafik. Shoukry concluded with the belief that the whole experience is soul feeding. “When I choreograph something beautiful like that, it reminds me of what I am here to do, and what art can bring together,” she smilingly concluded.