WHO IS RACHEL?
I am a visually-impaired dancer, choreographer, scholar, and teaching artist based in Philadelphia and New York. I see life through one sighted eye. I received a BA and MFA in Dance from SUNY Buffalo State University and Temple University, respectively. I am currently a second-year doctoral student in Dance at Texas Woman’s University with a focus on the Disability Aesthetic and its applications in choreographic practices in Contemporary dance. Currently, I am working as the Assistant to the Director of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program at CUNY Hunter College, as a Dance Specialist for Meta, and as a teaching artist for Dancewave. I also founded and artistically direct RACHEL:dancers (Rachel and Dancers), a multi-medium, multi-modal, dance performance company, as well as co-direct a collaborative performance arts project, Bashi Arts, with Enya-Kalia Jordan. I have presented work nationally and internationally, at venues including the Off-Broadway Kraine Theater, Movement Research, the biennial Decolonizing Bodies: Engaging Performance conference at UWI Barbados, the 2018, 2019, and 2022 NDEO conferences held in San Diego, Miami, and Atlanta respectively, DaCi’s 2020 special performance series and 2023 National Gathering, the Institute of Dance Artistry, Mark Degarmo’s NYC Salon Series, Philadelphia Youth Dance Festival, and more. I have had the honor of working with esteemed choreographers including Sidra Bell, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Wayne St. David, Dr. S. Ama Wray, Meriàn Soto, Awilda Sterling-Duprey, Carlos R.A. Jones, and as a principal dancer for Enya Kalia Creations, among others. I have been commissioned to create works for the UN’s World Water Day, the Utah All-State Dance Ensemble, Manhattan High School of the Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania State at Abington, the Buffalo State Dance Theater Company, Lawrence Public Schools, and more.
I make dance about life through my eye. As a visually-impaired choreographer, designer, and movement artist, I create work that speaks to the ever-evolving human experience through my perspective as a disabled woman. I create through collaborative, intuitive, processes centered on play, and with artists from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as dis/abilities. This process grounds itself in ideas of discovery of self, surroundings, and the world at large. My work takes a microscope to the mundane as a means to uncover the extraordinary through investigation of universal themes. Through this process, I call on improvisation and imagination to celebrate the ordinary, the unusual, and everything in between. I peer through the cracks of “difference” to explore the connections of collective experience. What connects us? What disconnects us? What do we know, and how do we know it? What does it mean to be human? And, where do we meet?
My approach to dance education emerges as a practice of inquiry and embodied understanding. It is a process of both knowing and unknowing the world around us and ourselves. As a dance artist and educator, I guide students through this process at the intersection of theory and practice. Teaching students to move toward the unfamiliar, I center my philosophy on the pillars of collaboration and play. This educational practice does not consider accessibility and equity peripherally, but instead builds it into the roots of my pedagogy, disrupting traditional power dynamics to foster a true sense of community through which to learn. By honoring the experiences and knowledge each of my students walks into the classroom with, we create a collaborative space that activates students' openness to curiosity and exploration.
I encourage students to activate their agency within the dance classroom. As experts in their own right, students find meaning through collaborations with their peers and instructor(s) alike. This democratic approach seeks to dismantle racism and ableism in the dance classroom, valuing the lived and embodied experiences of those who share the space, and those who came before us. Through this approach, my goal is to guide students through embodied practices that connect them with the future, past, and present, and encourage them to build a practice of questioning into their own emerging processes. This student-centered approach underpins any class I teach, whether it be an undergraduate contemporary technique course, a graduate-level practicum course, creative movement with toddlers, or teaching non-dancers about simple somatic practices to improve their daily lives.
My commitment to this work intersects at all levels of my practice. As a member of the anti-racism and curriculum committees at the Hunter College Dance Department, I actively engage in equity-based work that manifests at all levels of the institution, beginning in the classroom and moving into administrative practices. In my research on the disability aesthetic in contemporary dance, I engage in a practice-as-research process which mirrors the playful and collaborative embodied approach I encourage my students to explore. At the core of my philosophy is that this work does not live in a silo. Rather, it seeps into the roots of every level of my work as a scholar, choreographer, and educator.
The success of this approach manifests tangibly through student feedback and career successes beyond the classroom. Regardless of course subject matter, historical understanding and practical experience remain central. Through this approach, students understand the context of the work they are engaging with, while also envisioning a new future for their dance practice and knowledge. It is at this juncture that student success and growth emerge.
ABOUT “ALL YOU CAN EAT!”
ALL YOU CAN EAT! is an ongoing interdisciplinary process-based project which explores global mealtime traditions and their relationship to community and the individual. This work pulls from several reemerging ideas: mealtimes and eating, gesture, repeated routines, ephemerality, intimacy, and community/relationship building. Through these themes we investigate how mealtimes relate to individuality within a community. AYCE! uses dance as a foundation to reflect on how these relationships and routines are both impermanent and perpetual. Together, we explore how mealtime rituals and relationships are essential to the human condition, both as an act of survival and intimate shared experience. ALL YOU CAN EAT! was originally conceived as a choreographic inquiry of interpersonal relationships and their connections to routine. Ultimately, these connections were developed through investigations in American Sign Language, everyday aesthetics, and the disability aesthetic. This project has taken many forms including live concert dance performance, dance film, and multidisciplinary live performance. Each iteration of this project changes, as it is collaborative in nature and is built from the participants own lived experiences.