If any average person were to imagine a dancer, the “diva” cliché may come to mind – self-centered, self-interested and self-aggrandizing. Yet, time and time again, dancers and dance organizations defy this stereotype by giving back (locally or toward more widespread charitable efforts). Dance art can be a platform for raising funds, awareness, community and solidarity around a particular issue.
Ballet artists Janelle Gilchrist and Rick Vigo, along with dance photographer Bill Parsons and the dance collective The Dance Complex, offered time and talent in this way toward Girls Chronically Rock (GCR). GCR is a fashion LLC focusing on destigmatizing chronic illness and disability, offering a platform for women with chronic illness or disability to share their stories, and supporting these women in the ways they may need it.
Dance Informa spoke with Keisha Greaves, GCR founder and director, to learn more about her mission and alliances with Boston dance. Greaves started GCR when she was finally ready to speak out about her diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy, as a means to help improve the lives of people like her living with disability or chronic illness.
This past July 1 and 15, Greaves, Parsons and the two ballet dancers shot photos with Girls Chronically Rock shirts. Also modeling were a few friends of Greaves who are wheelchair users. Thus, the photo project embraced models at all levels of mobility and physical ability.
Those participants posted teaser photos on social media with hashtags like “#mydisabilitydoesntdefineme” and “#doesmywheelchairmakemybuttlookbig”.
Such messages are both witty and challenge social conventions of “otherness” around disability.
On July 1, the group shot above a set of railroad tracks (given challenges with getting down stairs to the tracks with the wheelchairs), as well as in Graffiti Alley (a fully-painted alley in Cambridge’s Central Square). On July 15, they shot in a studio at The Dance Complex (also in Central Square). The organization donated space to the effort. Models wore Girls Chronically Rock shirts, all Greaves’s designs. The photos will be released soon on social media as part of a GCR marketing campaign.
Greaves is savvy in general when it comes to social media marketing for her designs, which also include jewelery with positive messages inscribed. She hopes to soon expand her line with more shirts proclaiming positive, inspirational messages around disability and chronic illness. T-shirt designs currently include the phrases “Chronically dope” and “Embrace your dopeness”. “I always tag Target and fashion magazines where I’d love to see my designs sold,” Greaves reveals. She’s also mindful about smart hashtag use.
Greaves additionally uses Instagram’s “story” function two to three times daily, to keep followers updated on what’s happening with her and GCR. She also makes sure to update links in her bio to include those that are currently most meaningful. These seem to be key social media strategies for dancers and dancemakers as well!
Greaves hopes to continue doing shoots. What might she have learned from these shoots, her first ever for GCR? “I think I can organize and plan out shoots a bit more beforehand,” she says, although explaining that all did go fairly smoothly with these two shoots.
Greaves also hopes to work herself into the podcasting and blogging worlds – of course spreading the word about these offerings through her social media know-how. Another idea she’s excited about is a documentary series about the everyday lives of herself and her friends living with disability and chronic illness.
As another dance world connection, Greaves says she might also someday collaborate with Boston’s Abilities Dance. For Greaves, the company’s Founder and Director Ellice Patterson is a friend and ally in efforts to raise disability/chronic illness awareness and lower the stigma around these conditions. It’s one more example of how dancers, dancemakers and dance entities can be part of efforts to make the world a more inclusive and more just place, one issue and one community at a time.
Follow Girls Chronically Rock on Twitter and on Instagram.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.