Meet the Dancer Who's Redefining What it Means to be Disabled
In Rachid Ouramdane's Tenir le temps, Annie Hanauer articulates the choreography with unforced precision, her natural demeanor and smooth transitions the perfect fit for Ouramdane's undulating, abstract patterns. Few seem to notice that there is something slightly different about her: Hanauer was born missing part of her left arm, and now has a prosthetic one.
Hanauer, 30, has achieved what many thought impossible for a performer with a disability: a thriving career in the mainstream dance world. After performing with the UK's Candoco Dance Company from 2008 to 2014, she is now an in-demand freelancer, and a tall, striking presence in the works of contemporary choreographers Emanuel Gat and Ouramdane.
Born in Minnesota, Hanauer started taking a range of classes at a local studio when she was 10. Both her family and dance teachers were supportive: "I was never excluded," she says. "It was recreational, but when I got to the age of 16, I was taking class every night."
Still, pursuing a college degree in dance was far from an easy decision. "I remember having a crisis when I was accepted, saying, 'Am I ever going to get a job, because I've got one arm, you know?" she remembers dryly. The dance department at the University of Minnesota welcomed and nurtured her, and the curriculum helped widen her horizons. "I was the first person like this that they'd ever taught," she says. "It was probably a challenge for them, but we got a lot of individual attention."
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In college, she also learned to work around issues linked to her disability. Partnering proved especially complex, although improvisation helped in the long term. "My strategy was to just do it to the best of my abilities, like every other dancer," she says.
The faculty prepared her for the challenges she would likely face in the industry: "I was ready to struggle through and have seven day-jobs," she says. During her senior year, she spotted an audition notice for Candoco, which bills itself as a "company of disabled and nondisabled dancers." They offered her a permanent contract, and the day after her graduation, Hanauer found herself moving to London.
The diverse repertoire of Candoco introduced Hanauer to European contemporary dance with creations by the likes of Hofesh Shechter, Rafael Bonachela and Nigel Charnock. The company was also invited to perform at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012.
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In 2014, Hanauer decided to "stretch her legs" and go freelance. "I wanted to keep growing as a dancer and to see how I would be received as a performer in a different context," she says. Gat and Ouramdane, who had set works on Candoco, soon called, and she now regularly commutes between London, where she lives, and France, where both choreographers are based. Hanauer has been part of three creations with Ouramdane, including TORDRE, a "double portrait" tailor-made for her and another woman. In 2016, she appeared in Gat's SUNNY, where her serene confidence and movement quality were highlights in the fluid group sections.
Prejudice is still part of Hanauer's experience, however. Partners sometimes offer to change choreography before she's had a chance to try it. "You have to be really in touch with your own body, and clear about what you need," she says. Reactions to disabled performers have also frustrated her in the past. "People are surprised that I'm not clunky or awkward. The level of discourse about disability is not super-complex. Either it's shocking, or a novelty, or else it's 'They're so noble.' "
Hanauer knows her success story is fairly unusual, and believes inclusive companies are still relevant and necessary: "The dance world is still very restrictive. In the UK, there is more of a historical conversation about this because of Candoco and others, but there's a lack of opportunities for dancers with disabilities." She now teaches regularly, and is exploring work of her own with three dancers and support from Candoco and London's The Place. "I still wonder if the industry is ready for me," she says with a laugh. "You just have to keep going and try to change people's minds by doing it."
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
"So why did you quit?"
It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.
"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."
We'd love to know what it is that has Pina Bausch, Rudolf Nureyev and Gerard Violette so amused, or what Toer van Schayk (far right) is thinking here, but one thing's for certain: We're terribly envious of the journalist (second from right) who got to be there when this shot was taken in 1986.
It's the end of a long rehearsal day for the dancers of Abraham.In.Motion. They're reviewing phrases of a new work, Dearest Home. It's a pretty typical rehearsal scene. Some dancers cluster around a laptop trying to piece together steps learned long ago. Others review choreography together, working to figure out who remembered which arms correctly.
What isn't typical: The company's director and choreographer, Kyle Abraham, is nowhere to be seen.
That's because while the company is based in New York City full-time, Abraham spends most of his year teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he joined the faculty last September. It's an unconventional model for a single-choreographer–led troupe, almost functioning like a repertory company in which choreographers drop in for a week to set a piece, leaving it up to the rehearsal directors and dancers to keep the momentum going.
La Scala Ballet has a knack for snagging exceptional guest artists, and the company's rare West Coast appearance this weekend at Segerstrom Center for the Arts is no exception. Principal dancer étoile Roberto Bolle will partner both Misty Copeland and Marianela Nuñez in Giselle. And in an extra international twist, they'll be accompanied by the Mikhailovsky Orchestra for the engagement. July 28–30. scfta.org.
Serious dancers interested in musical theater face a difficult choice when applying to college: Should you major in dance or musical theater? "You can make a career following either pathway," says Lynne Formato, associate professor of performing arts at Elon University. If you choose to go the musical theater route, find a program that will challenge your dance technique: