Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Creative Crocketteers

This Spring semester, for the fifth year in a row, we are partnering with Crockett High School in Austin, TX to host our New Media Arts Class for high school students in Mrs. Jane Comer’s Life Skills classroom. We have 15 eager students who are learning about still photography, filmmaking, and stop motion animation. Our team of teaching artists includes Jo Ann Santangelo, who spent the first few weeks working with the students on camera skills such as portrait vs. landscape, street photography, still life photography, and studio photography. They even got a chance to get a closer look at her large format 4x5 camera.

Dominic looks through the lens of the 4x5 camera
as Jo Ann assists.
Jo Ann says, “introducing and teaching photography to the Life Skills students at Crockett High School, has been a beyond amazing experience so far. I am inspired by their energy, eagerness and curiosity to learn. I’m looking forward to working on their film and seeing the final piece at the showcase in a few months!”

Jo Ann and Chris prepare to take a still life photo.
Currently, the class is working with Stephen Sprague on their ideas for a short movie that he will help them film. So far, their ideas include a talent show, a storm, a superhero, and a thief. Sounds exciting! I can’t wait to see what they come up with. Some students are interested in behind-the-scenes work, while others are stars waiting to shine.

Connor, Genevieve, and Chloe in the portrait studio
And on Fridays, the students work on animations to include in their movie with The Edge of Imagination Station’s Johnny Villarreal. His unique stop motion animation technique has been a hit with the students. They are currently creating animated credits for the movie.

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel here so that you are the first to be notified when their short film becomes available for public viewing in May.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Body Shift and DanceAbility!

Hello, friends!  This is Olivia, project coordinator for Body Shift, VSA Texas’ acclaimed mixed-ability dance project.  I can't believe it was 12 years ago that Silva, who is originally from Finland, and I first met in the DanceAbility course in Trier, Germany.  By good fortune we are now here in Austin teaching together.  The DanceAbility method has been devised and reined by Alito Alessi over the past 30 years.  Along with Celia Hughes, VSA Texas' executive director, I recently organized the DanceAbility Teacher Certification Training in Austin.  Many locals as well as people from across the country and Mexico came together to take part.  The course was successfully completed in December and Austin now has 17 people of all abilities certified to teach DanceAbility!

Check out highlights from the “informance” directed by Alito Alessi and featuring the participants of the teacher certification course:

So what is DanceAbility?  DanceAbility is a form of movement training that uses the fundamentals of dance improvisation and choreography to make movement accessible to people of all ages and abilities.  Founder of DanceAbility, Alito Alessi, explains, “DanceAbility is a dance method.  It is not a form of therapy.  In therapies, which happen for all people but particularly for people with disabilities, there’s always an idea about ‘How can we help you?  How can we change you?  How can we teach you to conform to what is the norm?’  And that process of moving in that direction is usually about teaching someone how to function better.  We [DanceAbility International] value expression over function.  We have been taught how to see and it’s not really seeing.  It’s assumptions that organize the way that people see something.  So one of the interests in our work is to show them things they’ve never seen before.”

Watch this video of Alito and his long time dance partner Emery Blackwell explaining the philosophy of DanceAbility:
Alito working with participants of 2013 DanceAbility
teacher orientation in Austin
In DanceAbility we work with four principles – sensation, relationship, time, and design – to develop increased body awareness, understanding of non-verbal communication, strategies for moving in new ways beyond habitual movement patterns, and awareness of how to present work to an audience.

Besides having fun dancing together, one of the main benefits I have noticed for myself as well as our regular participants is that improvising using the DanceAbility method encourages mindfulness.  Mindfulness is paying attention or noting whatever is happening in the moment with a gentle and open mind.  It involves being present in the moment, the one you’re in right now.  Mindfulness can help lower stress and builds resilience so you can meet the demands of your day with more ease. It allows you to have more clarity to solve problems.  Mindfulness can help you be patient with yourself and others.  And it can make you more effective and feel happier.  I also find that people discover new and unique ways of moving their body they would not otherwise experience.  Jana Meszaros, a participant in the Austin DanceAbility certification course and teaching artist for DanceAbility International, said, "When you grow up training vigorously to be a professional dancer you gain a lot of closed minded ideas about what it is to dance and this sort of work and this sort of teaching completely shatters all of those ideas."

You can experience the DanceAbility method when you join us for our semi-monthly Elements of Dance class at the Townlake YMCA every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month!  Check our website for more details:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Introduction to Audio Description Equipment

Hi blog readers, Lynn here to tell you a little bit about VSA Texas Audio Description Equipment. In an earlier blog, I talked about Audio Description and what it takes to be an Audio Describer (you can read that here), but I didn’t tell you about the equipment that makes this magic happen. Just a refresher, Audio Description is the verbal translation of visual information to make theater, television, films, museum exhibits, and outdoor events more enjoyable for people with low or no vision. That being said, in this video you will get a quick taste of what equipment is needed for the patron to hear the audio description without disrupting the patrons around him/her.

If you are interested in learning more about Audio Description and the equipment, VSA Texas has scheduled an Audio Description Taster Workshop on Wednesday, March 30th, from 10:00am-2:00pm, in the Kodosky Lounge at The Long Center for the Performing Arts. Please RSVP to or call 512-454-9912. This is a free event! Come join the fun!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Meet the Body Shift Team

With support from Impact Austin, our Body Shift program is growing! Here are our newest VSA team members, Silva and Olivia, to tell you a little bit about themselves:

A Note from Silva:

This is my very first blog post. I'm a little nervous about it. If I could dance it to you, I would. Here, isn't everything possible nowadays?

Slow motion video of Silva dancing in a kitchen

Dancing and movement have always been part of my life. First as a classical ballet, then different modern dance techniques and finally my heart setting on dance improvisation. I have been teaching and choreographing with Body Shift since 2010 and that is when I took part of the intensive that Body Shift offered and it made me so happy to dance with everyone that I begged to be a part of it. Now I teach Elements, which is our bi-weekly class, and co-create with the participants a performance in a month-long performance workshop where we bring dance to a public place like the pedestrian bridge or in front of the court house. This month we also start choreography lab, which is a place for anyone to bring their ideas about a dance that they want to make or an idea about a dance score that they want to try out. As always with Body Shift, these classes are open to all! I hope to dance with you soon.

A Note from Olivia:

My love for movement and dance started when I was a child playing records and twirling around in my room to The Beatles.  Mom took me to ballet classes but I quickly lost interest as that style of movement did not appeal to me.  I wanted to be free to move in whatever way I chose and express my individuality. Soon after, I discovered mime, musical theatre and acting classes.  This led me to studying theatre improv and physical theatre as a teen.  In undergrad as a theatre major I was introduced to improvisational dance and I was hooked.  I found it was a form of dance that could be used with actors for ensemble building and for generating extraordinary character interaction.  My friend and mentor, Pat Stone, introduced me to the idea that improvisation could be used to make dance accessible to all people.  The idea that people who move in unique ways and might otherwise be isolated from something so wonderful could experience their bodies through improv was so exciting to me that I went all the way to Germany to take part in the DanceAbility teacher certification program with Alito Alessi.  That was twelve years ago and since then I have made it a priority to share dance with people of all abilities. 

I started working with VSA as the movement coach and sound designer for Actual Lives, a theatre company made up of adults with physical disabilities.  When Allison Orr offered a mixed-ability dance workshop back in 2009 I was there along with a group of actors from Actual Lives and Body Shift was born!  We started out by offering an intensive in 2010.

The Actual Lives theatre company celebrates the end of
another successful show.
I had met Silva in the DanceAbility course in Germany and it was our great fortune that she fell in love and married a man from Austin (she’s from Finland!) and moved here not long before that first Body Shift intensive. After the 2011 intensive, people were hungry for more opportunities to dance together so we started offering a monthly class in addition to the annual intensive. In 2013, we launched the performance workshop series which ends with a site-specific showing of our work.  Now, many of the regular participants have gotten so advanced that they are making their own work and share at choreography lab every 3rd Saturday of the month.  In addition, Silva and I have begun teaching a weekly class at the Conley Guerrero Senior Center on the east side and have taught workshops for Texas School for the Blind, Texas Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services and more.  To summarize – Body Shift has grown from one intensive to now two beginner classes each month, two performance workshops a year, a choreography lab once a month plus an intensive and regular workshops and classes throughout the community. 

It brings us so much joy to see people moving together and having fun that we can’t stop adding more opportunities to make it happen as much as possible!  When will you come and dance with us?!?

Participants of Elements class at Town Lake YMCA

You can find more information on the Body Shift website here: or simply come to one of the Elements of Dance classes, held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, from 2:30-4:30pm at the Town Lake YMCA (1st floor exercise studio), 1100 West Cesar Chavez Street in Austin! Cost is on a sliding scale of $5-$20. See you there!