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In 1987, Alito Alessi and his dance partner Karen Nelson began exploring mixed-abilities dance after being inspired by an article that appeared in Contact Quarterly magazine. Together they created the term DanceAbility (DA). Their company, Joint Forces Dance Company (JFDC) produced its first mixed-abilities workshop in 1987 using the dance vocabulary of contact improvisation. 

After Karen left JFDC to pursue other activities, Alito began teaching DanceAbility internationally. Colleagues and friends from his previous performing and teaching work with JFDC invited him to share DA internationally, beginning in Germany in 1991. From 1990 to1995, JFDC held annual gatherings of inclusive dance in Eugene, Oregon. These were team-taught by people from several countries who had been teaching inclusive and contemporary dance. These integrated dance camps hosted not only a diverse group of people studying these ideas, but also a diverse group of people teaching. These exchanges contributed greatly to the overall development of mixed-abilities dance internationally.

In 1997, Alito conducted the first DanceAbility Teacher Certification course. Since then, these courses have been held all over the world. More than 600 dance artists, people with disabilities, and those interested in working with people with disabilities have attended, coming from 45 different countries. Many have continued teaching integrated dance in their home communities, with DanceAbility International (DAI) acting as a consultant, guest teacher, and choreographer as requested. 

In addition to DanceAbility workshops, the work of DAI has spread through educational events, award winning videos and award winning performance pieces. The Youth Outreach program was created in 1995 to educate youth about art and the potential of people with disabilities. Tens of thousands of children in the state of Oregon and beyond have benefited from these inspiring performances and educational events. Common Ground, a documentary about a DanceAbility workshop, won a Silver Apple Award in the National Educational Film & Video Festival and was a finalist in the American Film & Video Association Festival. Other videos show DA workshops and performances around the world. 

In 1996, Alito directed the first Street Performance Parade in Hanover, Germany. Street Performance Parades have continued through the years and are a unique aspect of DanceAbility International’s programming. These publicly-sited performances with people with and without disabilities have been performed at the Duomo and the Galleria (Milan, Italy), in Wan Chai (Hong Kong), the Museums Quarter (Vienna, Austria) and in many other locations including Eugene, Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands.

In 2007, DanceAbility International received a large donation from Marisa de Leon to spread and support inclusive dance throughout Latin America. One center of this work is at the school that Marisa founded in 1941 for children with disabilities in Montevideo, Uruguay. DanceAbility workshops have been held in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, São Paulo, Montevideo, and beyond. Click here for more about Latin America activities. 

DanceAbility International continues to pursue its vision of using art as a means to change people’s preconceived ideas about disabilities through performances, workshops, educational programs, teacher training and choreography in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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From left: Nancy Stark Smith, Karen Nelson, Steve Paxton; Alito duets with a workshop participant; Alito Alessi and Karen Nelson; a DanceAbility Workshop.

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