Mana Hashimoto began training as a dancer before going blind in her early 20s. Photo Fred Hatt, courtesy Hashimoto

What It's Like to Be A Dancer & Choreographer When You're Blind

Since losing her eyesight due to an undiagnosed optic nerve atrophy, choreographer and performer Mana Hashimoto has dedicated her life's work to exploring how the body exists in space with or without sight.

Trained in ballet, jazz and Graham technique, she has performed all over the world, from her native home in Japan to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Jacob's Pillow. Hashimoto is also the founder of Dance without Sight, a series of workshops designed to discover movement through touch, sound and smell.

Dance Magazine recently say down with Hashimoto to learn more about her process, and what it's like to be a bridge between the seen and unseen worlds.


Where She Gets Ideas When She Can No Longer Watch Dance Alone

"I was able to see until my 20s. I have seen classic ballets, performing arts, pictures and paintings. It's in my physical memory."

"A challenge now is where can I get new information. I go to shows with close friends and ask them to describe what they see or show me through movement."

"I get ideas through everyday life. I listen to YouTube and get inspiration through people I meet, books I read. I am inspired by Helen Keller, goze (groups of blind female musicians), and Japanese female writers Sei Sh¯onagon, Murasaki Shikibu and Ichiy¯o Higuchi."

"I constantly question what it means to be a blind, Asian female dancer experiencing the world right now."

On Her Piece for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Last May

"Bridge over Troubled Water, performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last May, is a collaboration with the Lighthouse Guild Vocal Ensemble, a visually impaired choir. Before the performance, I showed them my movement by describing what I was doing and having them feel my body with their hands."

What Her Rehearsal Process Is Like

"I believe dance comes from my soul. I am presenting my soul. I have to make it convincing for those who can see. I invite close friends and family members to rehearsals for feedback to help make sure my work makes sense."

How She Makes Her Work Accessible to Visually Impaired Audiences

Dance artist Mana Hashimoto is giving a lecture to a group of visually-impaired audience members. She is standing on a platform, wearing a long white dress as the audience listens.

Hashimoto's Dances Without Sight workshops are designed to share movement through other senses. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Hashimoto.

"My performances include a seating area for audio descriptions where people describe the work. It's difficult to say everything, so I work with the speaker to make a balance between the abstract images and technical parts of the dance."

"Before the performance, I also invite visually impaired audiences on a touching tour where they can feel the costumes, walk on the stage, make sound and feel my body move."

"Dance is a visual art. It is difficult for visually impaired individuals to enjoy dance as an art form, not only as therapy. We need accessibility and sight assistance through touch to take classes. I teach workshops throughout the year. I would love to work with university dance departments to start a program to introduce movement for visually impaired dancers. They are our next generation of educators."

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Courtesy Schelfhaudt

These Retired Ballroom Dancers Started a Dance-Themed Coffee Company

Like many dancers, when Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul retired from professional ballroom dancing in 2016, they felt lost. "There was this huge void," says Schelfhaudt.

But after over 20 years of dancing, plus United States and World Championship titles, reality shows, and high-profile choreography gigs (and Paul's special claim to fame, as "the guy who makes Bradley Cooper look bad" in Silver Linings Playbook), teaching just didn't fill the void. "I got to the point where it wasn't giving me that creative outlet," says Paul.

When the pair (who are life and business partners but were never dance partners—they competed against one another) took a post-retirement trip to Costa Rica, they were ready to restart their lives. They found inspiration in an expected place: A visit to a coffee farm.

Though they had no experience in coffee roasting or business, they began building their own coffee company. In 2018, the duo officially launched Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, where they create dance-inspired blends out of their headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

We talked to Schelfhaudt and Paul about how their dance background makes them better coffee roasters, and why coffee is an art form all its own:

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