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Combining dance with academic research

While some graduate programs in university focus on statistical sciences, surveys, and other research methods, Lindsay Eales uses what she has known since age 10 — dance.

Eales is one of the 127 students in a Physical Education and Recreation graduate program. She wrote — and choreographed — her Master’s on social justice and integrated dance, which included a performance by dancers using wheelchairs.

“We have understandings of disability that are really medically-based, where there is something wrong in the body that needs to be fixed,” Eales said. “But a lot of disabled scholars, activists, and artists articulate the problem is actually not that people’s bodies are different, but that social structures expect certain kinds of bodies in a space.”

Eales is continuing to use dance in her PhD to study madness, the psychiatric system, and dance itself, in order to question what can be done to increase accessibility for the “mad” — people labelled as mentally ill for not viewing reality as others do. For example, some dance exercises, she said, may force dancers to work with parts of the body that evoke trauma.

Eales has earned a Vanier scholarship and was involved in starting two dance companies during her education: Solidance Recreation Society and CRIPSiE (Collaborative Radically Integrated Performers Society in Edmonton) — both of which incorporate dancers from across a spectrum of ability and gender identity. She continues to run both projects in her PhD research.

Pursuing a Master’s and PhD has been freeing, Eales said. Previously, she hadn’t envisioned making dance, her “passion project,” into a career.

“I ended up creating things (in my education) that are more interesting than I could have ever imagined,” Eales said. “I never imagined I would be running two dance programs. I never imagined I could use dance in research, or draw together dance and disability in a way so that we now pay our artists to be professional dancers.”

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