Mind over Metal

By Park, MiRi | Dance Spirit, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Mind over Metal


Park, MiRi, Dance Spirit


URBAN

THE CRUTCH MASTER CREATED HIS OWN MOVEMENT VOCABULARY AND IS NOW TEACHING OTHERS HOW TO DO THE SAME.

Those who look at Bill Shannon's work for the first time may be awed by the beauty of the hybrid b-boying, gliding and skateboarding movements performed with the aid of crutches. It appears as if be floats across the floor, defying every rule of gravity. But for the Crutch-- Master, as Shannon is known, this way of telling his story is organic to his identity as an artist, as a dancer and as a person with Leggs-Perthes, a disease that makes his hips too weak to support his full body weight for extended amounts of time. During an interview in his Brooklyn, NY, studio apartment, he shares what it's like for him to create dance and to help students find their own unique ways of moving. In Shannon's words, he conducts "workshops that give people a frame to develop a vocabulary. I have ways of mining information and ways of discovering information to help you get there."

FORGING NEW GROUND

While growing up, Shannon felt like he was constantly on stage. His physical appearance with crutches and leg braces caused people to watch and wonder how he would complete certain tasks. He says, "There were never peers doing it before me so that I could follow their steps. It got to be a situation where I had to create my own." He says his experience isn't unlike what others go through: Being in any minority group affects your identity and therefore your movement.

"A lot of my vocabulary is completely independent of other forms. I'm creating my own technique," he says, explaining it as "disability-based crutch technique, combined with hip hop, break dancing, house, skateboarding and performance art, mixed with slapstick Charlie Chaplin. I could be break dancing and then drop my hat on the floor, go into mime, pick it up with my feet, pop it on my head and then kick out like a skateboarder." Of his workshops, he says, "I talk about how to develop original vocabulary out of your personal history and out of your physical history. A lot of my workshops are about ideas as much as they are about getting on the floor and breaking a sweat."

By establishing parallels between his own history and other people's lives, Shannon asks his students to study the events from their past. …

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