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DanceAbility International selected for the Essl Foundation’s Zero Project and the Ashoka Foundation’s Impact Transfer Program for 2019. Eugene, OR – DanceAbility International has been selected as an Innovative Practice of the Zero Project 2019 by the Esselfoundation. In addition to this award, DanceAbility was selected as one of ten international programs to participate in the Zero Project Impact Transfer program for 2019, a collaboration between the Essl and Ashoka Foundations. The Zero Project is an initiative of the Essl Foundation, based in Austria, to identify the most innovative and effective Policies and Practices that improve the lives of persons with disabilities.  


The Essl Foundation and Ashoka join forces to initiate the first Impact Transfer to globalize the most innovative disability solutions for a barrier-free world. Together, their work supports the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and works for a world without barriers.

Through its annual Conference, Report and Awards, the Zero Project disseminates and promotes replicable and innovative solutions for the problems people with disabilities face, by raising public awareness of the issues and stimulating reform, thereby acting as a catalyst for a more inclusive world. Additionally, DanceAbility was selected as one of ten organizations for placement in the Impact Transfer Program, out of the seventy-five organizations in forty-one countries selected for the Zero Project.

The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program prepares these organizations to develop their programs into business models for worldwide application on local levels. A dedicated Ashoka mentor guides the organization through this process, providing their skills and lessons from their experiences in the field.  DanceAbility’s mentor is
Doris Rothauer, who mentored the Museum of Modern Art Education in New York City in the first impact transfer project in 2018. The ten participants then present their programs in a nine-minute pitch to conference attendees, local implementers, and funders to help match organizations with interested parties.

“Participation in The Zero Project Impact Transfer Program has the potential to extend the reach of the DanceAbility method to a worldwide audience through Ashoka’s connection to funders and local implementers. We are creating a class of Master DanceAbility teachers who will teach others how to apply our work in their home cities and countries. This will be our legacy to future generations of DanceAbility method instructors.” said Alessi. “This is an extremely high honor for me personally, and is perhaps the ultimate validation of my life’s work of breaking down barriers between people with and without disabilities through dance.” Connie Vandarakis, Vice-President of DanceAbility’s Board of Directors, project manager and attended the webinars and mentoring sessions along with two master
certified teachers, Maja Hehlen and Jana Meszaros. &quot
; This opportunity has helped us shift our organization from an arts initiative program to a social entrepreneur program. One cannot over-estimate the potential of being selected for the Zero Project and the Impact Transfer Program. The impact will magnify the DanceAbility
methodology all over the world.

The 2019 Zero Project Conference will be held in Vienna, Austria, February 20-22, at the United Nations Office in the Vienna International Centre.  Representatives of over seventy-five organizations from forty-one countries will attend. The conference website is Links to the Essl Foundation, Ashoka
Foundation and the Zero Project can be found on the conference website.

For more information, or to arrange interviews with Alito Alessi or Connie Vandarakis, contact John Watson, DanceAbility Managing Director, at 541-357-4982 (office) 541-520-0874 (cell) or email at

Some of the following awards were made to DanceAbility International or parent company Joint Forces Dance Company. Others were awarded to Artistic Director Alito Alessi, and regarding these, Alito notes, “The individual awards are an honor, but not mine alone. I have learned so much from each person I have danced with, as well as each person who has helped behind the scenes. I am so grateful to all the pioneers of dance and mixed-abilities dance who have created a world-wide movement that continues to grow.”

  • International Dance Day: Award winner, Keynote Speaker and featured choreographer: Shanghai, China 2017

  • US State Department Cultural Envoy trip: Uruguay, 2016

  • National Building Museum performance, collaboration with Frances Bronet: Washington D.C. 2016

  • US State Department Cultural Envoy trip: Mongolia, Indonesia, Philippines

  • Fulbright Senior Specialist, 2007

  • Hong Kong Choreographer of the Year Award, 2007

  • Asian Cultural Council Fellowship, 2006

  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 2005

  • Fentress Endowment Award, Eugene Arts and Letters Award, 2005

  • National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship, 1995 - 1996

  • National Endowment for the Arts 2-year Choreographer’s Fellowship, 1992-1994

  • Oregon Arts Commission Choreographer’s Fellowship, 1990-1991

  • National Educational Film & Video Festival, Silver Apple Award, and American Film & Video Association Festival , Finalist, for ‘Common Ground: Dance and Disability’ (co-producer, teacher of workshop documented), 1991

  • Oregon Governor’s Arts Awards, Guest Choreographer, 1991

  • Metropolitan Arts Commission Award, 1989-1990

  • Tides Foundation Award, 1988-1989

  • Common Foundation Artist in Community Award, 1987-1988

  • University of Oregon Kole Cup Award and Joseph Kinsman Starr scholarship for outstanding community contributions, 1974

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