José Galán (bottom) with Lola López. Photo by Ginette Lavell, Courtesy Galán

This Choreographer Directs a Physically Integrated Flamenco Company in Spain

Spain's José Galán challenges audiences to rethink how they perceive those who are disabled. For the past decade, he has directed Compañía José Galán de Flamenco Inclusivo, a professional company that features artists in wheelchairs, with vision impairment and with Down syndrome alongside dancers without disabilities. Regarded as the foremost expert of flamenco dance for people with disabilities, his trailblazing productions require a mindful gaze on the dancers' bodies. Along with his company, his instructional method, Inclusive Flamenco, has been presented across the globe at flamenco's top dance festivals and events.

He recently spoke with Dance Magazine about how he got into this work and how he collaborates with his dancers.

A man in all-black steps across his body, his front arm swiped across his chest. A woman in a wheelchair makes the same arm gesture.

José Galán (left) with Lola López

Ginette Lavell, Courtesy Galán

How he started his company:

"I improvised for the first time with a group of people with Down syndrome as an undergraduate pedagogy student. I fell in love with their ways of feeling, expressing and the trusting relationship they formed with me without even knowing me. It awakened my interest in approaching dance from another place.

"In Madrid I danced with Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras and also an inclusive theater and contemporary dance company, El Tinglao. When I returned to my hometown of Seville in 2010, I combined flamenco and inclusive dance, creating the first professional inclusive flamenco company."

On his dancers:

"I look for dancers with artistic quality and stage presence; everything else can be worked on.

"The choreographies are designed for the functionally diverse artists so that they can demonstrate their artistic qualities. As I create, I physically put myself in their place (wheelchair, etc.), testing and experiencing the choreography.

"I search for innovative ways someone with restricted movement can achieve the same intention, such as hitting the floor with the wheelchair to create what would be the percussion of footwork.

"To mount any collaborative work, you need to know the dancers very well as people before starting, so that trust and appreciation exist between one another. Professionally, you must also understand each other's artistic potential, the starting point and limit."

How disability was viewed in the past:

"In researching my doctoral thesis I discovered that, historically, flamenco artists' disabilities were not seen as an impediment but an asset. Their stage names were nicknames of their disabilities—such as El Ciego ("The Blind"), El Cojo ("The Lame"), El Loco ("The Crazy")—serving to bring emphasis to their disability rather than treat it as a defect to be hidden."

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020