Full Radius works to make dance accessible to both performers and audiences with disabilities. / Courtesy photo

Full Radius Makes Dance Accessible to the Disabled Community

When Douglas Scott founded the dance company originally known as Dance Force in 1990, he had no idea what it would become. Growing up gay in the ’60s and ’70s, Scott was always keenly aware of and connected to others marginalized in society — and his experience in the dance world showed him whom the art form was often exclusive of. When he began teaching dance classes for people with physical disabilities in 1993, the course of his career completely changed, eventually leading to the foundation of E=Motion, a company specifically for disabled dancers, in 1995 and the eventual merger of Dance Force and E=Motion into Full Radius in 1998.
“I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, which was a repressive time to be gay,” Scott, who is the Artistic and Executive Director of Full Radius, told Georgia Voice. “There were no role models, I was in a small town in Ohio and a small town in Kentucky. There were no [gay] neighborhoods to go to, there were no organizations or clubs … [That experience] has made me more aware of the ‘other’ in society. There are so many people in society who are marginalized — in dance, someone who does not have what society thinks of as the traditional dancing body, they’re certainly marginalized. I just wanted to create a place where we could explore freely, where we all felt accepted, where we all felt valued.”
Full Radius believes that access to the arts is a human right and works to make dance accessible to both performers and audiences with disabilities. While other venues and companies offer American Sign Language interpretation for deaf and hard of hearing audiences when requested — with often as much as a month in advance needed for the request — Full Radius always includes an ASL interpreter at every Saturday night show. Sensory kits with stim toys and other materials are always offered at every performance and information regarding the duration of each performance is clearly on display in the lobby.
Full Radius operates with the knowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accessibility. People often have competing access needs, so it is impossible to make a space accessible to every single person. Prioritizing accessibility is often challenging, and mistakes are made, but the most important goal of Full Radius’ accessibility practices is to create a space where everyone feels empowered to vocalize their needs and speak up on behalf of themselves when their needs aren’t being met. Both disabled and nondisabled dancers are members of the company, and all are treated with bodily autonomy and respect.
“If we’re in the middle of a rehearsal and you need to go sit down, because your blood sugar’s low, you go sit down and we make no judgments about that,” Scott said. “I never would have dreamed of doing that in the ballet companies and the other companies I was in. We respect you as an individual, and you must do what’s best for you as an individual and your body in order for you to fully contribute to the company and be there with your whole self … We are committed to the principle of body integrity, meaning there is no one way to have a body. All bodies have the right to exist as they are. Everyone determines how they want to feel about their body, what foods they want to eat, and how they define their health, physical, emotional, and/or psychological.”
The company’s idea of body integrity differs from the more traditional idea of body positivity. Instead of being focused on encouraging unconditional love for the dancers’ bodies, the members of Full Radius understand that disability often leads to a complicated and painful relationship with the body — and that’s completely okay. The company focuses instead on honoring the individual and their body’s needs, something not common in many traditional dance spaces: according to a study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, dancers are three times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their peers.
“There’s just so much that we all carry, so much judgment around their own bodies, and sometimes around the bodies of other people,” Scott said. “So, we choose the word body integrity. Some people say body positivity, but if you’re in chronic pain, you may not really like your body. Body integrity says, ‘Okay, I will eat what I want to eat. I will do what I want to do with my body. I have the control over it.’”
Full Radius is preparing for the Modern Atlanta Dance Festival on June 7 and 8, a festival founded by Scott and hosted by Full Radius showcasing the diversity and excellence of Atlanta’s dance scene. This year’s festival will be held at Emory Performing Arts Studio and feature A. Raheim White, Caroline Alcott, Catching Mangoes Dance, Fuerta Dance Company, Monica Hogan Danceworks, Nadya Zeitlin, and Novoa Dances. After the festival, Full Radius’ season comes to a close and they will soon begin preparing for next season.
To keep up with Full Radius and find them around the city, visit them online at fullradiusdance.org or follow them on Instagram @fullradiusdance. You can purchase tickets for the Modern Atlanta Dance Festival at fullradiusdance.org/mad-festival-2024.