I have written about Tracy before - her battle with breast cancer, our dogs, what-have-you - but I have never really written here all that much about her life. I met Tracy way back in the chaotic days when the 20th Century was coming to an end, when thoughts of Y2K danced like sugarplum fairies in our nightmares.
At the time, Tracy, an accomplished dancer/choreographer, had brought together a troupe of very differently-abled people as dancers. Not all of them were “able-bodied” in the traditional sense: one was blind, and two were in wheelchairs. I was able to see them in performance on two occasions, and it was very inspiring.
Tracy was also one of the original members of a long-standing dance organization in Northwest Arkansas. Though sidelined the last few years by her battle with cancer and two car wrecks (gotta love those yahoos driving while yapping on cell phones), she is ready to begin again, and put a new company together - though she is not sure what shape it take as yet.
Non-dance related: One night while we were in a restaurant in Dallas, we noticed a commotion a few tables away. An older woman was choking badly, and family members and retaurant staff were standing around wringing their hands. Tracy just stood up, walked over to the woman, performed the Heimlich Maneuver, and calmly returned to her meal.
Crusader for Dance/Occupational Therapist
Local therapist addresses Toronto Conference
Tracy Reeves-Cutaia is on a crusade. Where once dance occupied a major part of our culture and entertainment, now it seems relegated to venues in which only the well-off financially can enjoy and patronize it. For whatever reasons, dance is no longer considered important or popular enough to reach the mass audience. She is dismayed that dance no longer captures the public imagination, and is resolved to introduce as many people to dance as she can, no matter the form it takes.
In late September, Reeves-Cutaia was a featured speaker at the Canadian Seating and Mobility Conference in Toronto. The conference was an opportunity for those (such as occupational therapists) who work with individuals confined to wheelchairs or are physically challenged, an opportunity to share information, In this way, participants would have the opportunity to enhance their base of knowledge and increase their personal skills.
Reeves-Cutaia is known locally as the founder, artistic director and choreographer of DanScape Movement Theatre, a dance troupe which utilized the talents of several “differently-abled” individuals. Prior to coming to Northwest Arkansas, she was one of the organizers and founders of dance Fusion, a dance company based in Dallas. While dancing professionally, she attended Texas Women’s University where she graduated Cum Laude with a BS in Occupational Therapy and MFA in Dance at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
It was while working on her MFA in Modern dance that she decided to combine her two passions, those of dance and occupational therapy, in the belief that dance improves function and strength. She says, “Dance takes the most advanced rehabilitative processes used by therapists and goes a step further, increasing not only range of motion and strength, but also psycho-social skills.”
The company she founded, DanScape Movement Theatre, is one of a handful of dance companies around the world utilizing dancers who might be seen by others as “handicapped,” as well as professional and amateur dancers.
While mainly attended by Canadians, the two-day event also attracted participants from the United States and Great Britain. Like so many conferences, it featured a myriad of workshops. Subjects included the challenges of seating and mobility for children with spinal muscular atrophy, power wheelchairs and creating barrier-free environments in homes.
Championing a dance form known as Contact Improvisation, Reeves-Cutaia's emphasis is on what she calls “getting out of your head.” This is a process by which one rises up through their physical limitations by preparing emotionally and spiritually for the exercises. She is a strong believer in the use of visualization techniques.
Often, she encourages those she works with to imagine that they are in water because of the fluidity it allows. One can easily visualize a sort of aquatic ballet, as people move gracefully around each other, and around those in wheelchairs or with other physical disabilities. In the meantime, those who are confined to wheelchairs, or blind, can also avail themselves of the opportunity to move with the music.
She uses a lot of what can be described as New Age music. She has also collaborated with local musician Catherine Reed, who composed original music for adaptations for any disabled person and non-dancer as well as professional dancers.
As she explained, both in her speech and in an additional workshop, Reeves-Cutaia has worked with men and women with several types of disabilities. She is not so much concerned with traditional dance technique, as she is about what each person (disabled or not) is capable of doing.
It is an interesting experience, watching people clad in casual wear, “getting out of their heads,” and becoming aware of just what dance offers. It is easy enough to imagine fully-abled men and women dancing, but what about the disabled? Is it really possible? And can one dance
with a partner in a choreographed work? Though there seemed to be some skepticism at the start of the Toronto workshop, when it was over, there was a roomful of true believers.
More than that, these health care professionals honestly seemed to be enjoying themselves. As she says, “Everything in therapy is so serious. It should also be fun.”
Using a wheelchair as a prop, Tracy Reeves-Cutaia demonstrates dancing around a partner, and then, with someone else sitting in the chair, she gracefully dances around them. Upon seeing the actual possibilities, the doubt seemed to melt away, and was replaced by enthusiasm.
The dancing in the workshop seemed a very close approximation to what has been seen in performances by the DanScape Movement Theater.
It is easy to see that it can be a very intense experience. While an ivory tower elitist might quibble over the use of the word dance, after watching performers from her dance company, one quickly realizes that dance is more than an appropriate term for what she teaches.
Reeves-Cutaia says that the entire body benefits from these exercises. “People have learned to move physically in ways they thought they never could.”
It is Reeves-Cutaia's hope to develop DanScape Movement Theater into a touring company in order to demonstrate to everyone that the only limitations are inside our heads.
Ozark Gazette - October 5, 1998