Dancer Voices

What It's Like to Be Part of a Human Sculpture Gallery

The author participating in ON DISPLAY. Photo by Nicholas Saretzky, Courtesy Dombroski

There is someone less than a foot away from me, just off of my right shoulder, observing the way I'm holding my hand strangely, but perhaps gracefully? I hope my nails are clean. My arm is starting to tremble. I'm not even sure how much time has gone by. I let my arm gently, almost imperceptibly, fall, allowing my shoulder to melt with it, and stop myself mid-breath. "I am...right here," I say to myself with my director's voice in my head. I am ON DISPLAY.

ON DISPLAY is a human sculpture court, a living gallery of individuals that experience themselves just as they are from moment to moment, without any premeditated movements. Created by Heidi Latsky, it serves as commentary on the body as spectacle and society's obsessions with body image. This piece reverts the objectifying gaze members of the fashion, disability and performance worlds are subjected to.

Heidi first invited me to perform ON DISPLAY with her company, Heidi Latsky Dance, after attending a rehearsal in the hopes of becoming an ambassador for the work, which would allow me to create my own installation. I knew how it felt to be a part of this sculpture court in the dance studio, but I had not yet encountered what it would feel like to have an audience walking through us, as if in a museum. We were to wear all white, with zero traces of jewelry, nail polish or makeup. I wondered if I would become self-conscious about that blemish I couldn't cover up or that bruise on my leg as people stopped and stared. How close were people going to get to me? Would I start to think about my to-do list, or get bored or tired? I didn't know what kind of effect holding these positions and moving in slow motion would have on me after an hour.

Photo by Nicholas Saretzky, Courtesy Dombroski

When we took our places in Central Park, our stillness created a peaceful environment for others to join. As people walked by, they couldn't help but stop and observe. "We are helping these fast-paced New Yorkers slow down!" I thought. We hold our first grand sculpture pose the longest, and it's from there that we start our journey.

At the start, as people approached me I felt myself freeze a little more, scared to move my eyes or smile or laugh. We did not have to look anyone in the eye, nor were we supposed to, but there was very clearly an exchange present. You feel the public's eyes on you, just as you are, and by feeling their presence and letting them see you, you are acknowledging them as well. The audience is intertwined and part of the sculpture court as they walk through us and see us for who we are; no elaborate costumes, no extravagant makeup, no fancy tricks to impress.

Photo by Nicholas Saretzky, Courtesy Heidi Latsky Dance

As the minutes passed, I began to surprise myself more. I began to sink in deeper. I became more acutely tuned in to myself, yet completely aware of my surroundings. Beside me, a young girl who was about 8 years old sat down and created a sculpture pose. She even caught on to the timing of closing the eyes while moving and opening them when still. Her dedication to the task made my heart swell.

I found myself in awe as my gaze rested on a company member gracefully arched back in his wheelchair with perfect balance, on another dancer with a hand of two fingers reaching towards the sunlight. To my left, an amputated leg stretched along the ground and a burn victim held her face, staring boldly into the distance. How beautiful is was to just be together.

After completing the sculpture court, it felt like I had just sat in meditation for an hour. A sense of calm permeated every fiber of my being and I felt that I had shared a precious moment in time with both participants and viewers.

In ON DISPLAY, the goal is not to be performative in nature, but rather to be dedicated to stillness. At the heart of this social and artistic movement is the act of displaying oneself fully in the present moment. I am a different person and artist after participating.

Photo by Nicholas Saretzky, Courtesy Heidi Latsky Dance

Getting to work side by side with these incredible individuals of all shapes, abilities and backgrounds, now as a member of Heidi Latsky Dance, has made me so much more aware of the disability community. Our diversity creates a striking collage that brings us together to experience art just as we are, without judgement; we celebrate each other's differences as well as our own. The acceptance, vulnerability and honesty I've experienced through this work bring so much more humility and compassion to my everyday life and, I hope, to those I encounter. I am so grateful to be a part of this movement.

On Display will be performed on December 3 in recognition of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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