Dance for all: Third Inclusive Dance Festival features artists exploring the possibilities of pain

Beginning Friday, the Chicago Inclusive Dance Festival (CIDF) is excited to host its third gathering of movement-related activities for dancers of all abilities. The free, open-to-the public, multi-day event features something for all dance lovers: movement workshops, dance films by two local companies, a day of family-oriented events, a keynote address and an animated film screening. This year will be the first time the festival is online-only due to pandemic restrictions, but that isn’t diminishing the content or enthusiasm of its coordinators or participants. I spoke with three people involved with CIDF over Zoom to get the inside scoop on this weekend’s offerings.

“The purpose of the festival is to bring more diverse bodies to the dance community, to highlight places in Chicago where training can happen and to create networking opportunities that allow people to connect and grow the community,” said Deborah Goodman, CIDF founder, who is also a dance teacher at Chicago Academy for the Arts, the Academy of Movement and Music and Loyola University Chicago.

Over the last few years, the world at large, and the dance community specifically, have internalized the buzzwords diversity, equity and inclusion, which is a good step forward in awareness and fairness, but for CIDF, what exactly does inclusive mean?

“When I think of integrated dance, I think people with or without physical disabilities. When you add in “inclusive,” it’s just everybody. Every kind of body and every kind of mind,” Goodman said. “This year’s festival is more inclusive than it’s ever been. Our Sunday Family Day has a dance workshop which focuses on autism movement therapy. We’re partnering with Keen Chicago (which provides free recreational activities to adults and children with disabilities), so we’re adding opportunities for younger movers. It will be interesting to see how it plays out online.”

One past attendee, Robby Lee Williams, had a life-changing experience and is now involved in multiple aspects of this year’s CIDF. A former dancer with Tango 21, Williams survived a gunshot wound which left him with a spinal cord injury. His physical therapist happened to be a former dancer and helped him look for ways to keep creatively moving. He attended the 2019 CIDF and was “discovered,” and is now a company member of Chicago-based integrated dance company Momenta.

“It was meant to be,” Williams said. “I studied tango and swing; they’re a conversation between bodies. That doesn’t change just because I’m in a wheelchair.” He is featured in Momenta’s dance film and is also teaching a movement workshop.

“It’s really a full-circle moment to have Robby in this year’s festival,” said Goodman.

New this year is a keynote address by Maggie Bridger, who will present part of her University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Master’s thesis, “Sustaining a Bodymind: Disability and the Value of Moving With/In Pain.” Her work is based on an idea that disabled dance artist Kris Lenzo originally developed called “sustainable choreography.”

“I took the idea of sustainable choreography and complicated it with my own experience of pain,” said Bridger. “How do you build dance that is sustainable for a body, especially a disabled body? What does it mean to dance in an aging, pained and tired body? As a person with chronic pain, I was really excited about this idea. I’m trying to think about pain in dance as having generative possibilities.”

Bridger is a co-founder of the Inclusive Dance Workshop series at Access Living and is on the organizing committee for CounterBalance, a Chicago integrated dance concert. She also mentors through Bodies of Work, a consortium of some of Chicago’s cultural, academic, healthcare and social service organizations, which is housed in UIC’s Department of Disability and Human Development. She was paired with Williams, one of the Spring 2021 Bodies of Work 3Arts fellows.

“The fellowship is helping me learn to express myself more openly, I want to connect people through spoken-word poetry and dance on the topic of pain. It’s a shared experience we can all relate to. It’s one thing that connects us. Pain is so prevalent in our lives; everyone can recognize it,” Williams said. “A lot of my recovery has been around pain: trying to stay ahead of it, managing it. Dance is one of those times when the pain goes away. There is something about the movement, the adrenaline and the energy of it gets me out of the pain for the moment.” (Williams’ new work will be part of this year’s CounterBalance performance in October.)

The festival will also feature additional movement workshops, a dance film from Revolutions Dance Company and a viewing of the animated film, “The Penguin Who Couldn’t Swim.” ASL and CART (real-time captioning) interpretation is available with audio description available on Saturday (other days by request).


Chicago Inclusive Dance Festival runs Friday, April 30 through Sunday, May 21. For more information and to register, visit or click the event page below.