Meet the Blind Choreographer Envisioning a New World of Dance

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Photo Source: Fred Hatt

Mana Hashimoto is a New York City-based contemporary dancer and choreographer whose career has spanned from her native Tokyo to many stages worldwide. She also happens to be blind. After losing her eyesight due to optic nerve atrophy, she was determined to keep dancing despite the unexpected obstacle. Since then, she has dedicated her life to merging blindness and dance, and to create artistic works through the use of her remaining senses.

How did losing your eyesight change your trajectory as a dancer?
I trained as a classic ballet dancer and it’s very common that when you take class, you have to check in the mirror to see how you look. It becomes a sort of obsession and trap, consciously or unconsciously. I think it was a relief that I no longer had to see myself in the mirror, but instead be in the moment and be with myself and accept who I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Were there certain things you learned about yourself as a dancer after losing your sight?
I learned how to accept who I am, [to] be free, and to observe myself internally. It changed my perspective of what beauty is. Visual information can be overwhelming and we are shown what beauty should be instead of who you should be. There are so many models that play a role [for what is] ideal. Right now I don’t have these intense intimidations so I can totally focus on who I am. Any daily movement as a blind person can be [beautiful].

What advice do you have for blind dancers and dancers with disabilities?
I’m still a work-in-progress as a human being, but if I could advise something: keep enjoying dance. If there are some challenges, you can take them as opportunities to make your dance original. Any challenge is a door we didn’t expect we could open. I think we have tremendous possibility from this unexpected door. Keep dancing and be hopeful.

How do you convey dance to those without sight?
There are many descriptions of “what is dance?” Some people may say it’s movement, a physical expression, but I use dance to represent souls, something spiritual. And in dance, I can be completely free. In my daily life I have many wonderful supports but in order to survive, I have to constantly think, “Where can I get help? What do I need to get through these circumstances?” On the stage, I have independence and liberty.

What would you like to see more of in the New York dance community?
I think more accessibility and openness to have visually impaired participants for workshops and classes. Once we have the right access, dance is open to anybody’s needs. I would also like to see more verbal description for dance performances. Before my performances, I invite visually impaired audiences to feel the space; they can touch and feel the props and costumes.

What are some of your goals for the future?
I would love to offer more workshops for visually impaired and blind participants, and anyone who would like to experiment with dance in this way. Sighted students can be blindfolded and learn to capture their own beauty in the moment without seeing. I would like to continue to perform with my cane and advocate for the visually impaired community through performance. I hope I can connect with dance companies [who are] willing to collaborate with me in this direction.

What advice do you have for dancers encountering major setbacks in their dance career?
Hold onto your hope. I think it’s very important to share your difficulties along with your dreams. When I started to dance again, I never gave up the idea of dancing even though I lost my sight. I always carried my dance shoes in my backpack, even for grocery shopping! That was the significance of my hope that I could dance again. When I shared that side of me with my friend who is a dancer, she really took it very seriously and we [started going] to dance class together.

What advice do you have for dancers and choreographers looking to create more inclusive workshops and companies?
I am very excited and very proud of what is going on now in the world and community of New York City. It’s never been more inclusive and I’m very happy that I can be a part of this movement.

The experience is so different between being born blind or becoming blind later, whether you are trained in braille, or with those who have partial vision or not. Pay attention to those small voices and each human’s individuality. I hope that inclusiveness develops. It takes time, like growing flowers. It’s a daily process of care and excitement of every little growth.

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