Making the art of dance more accessible

By Michala Butler

Sep. 14, 2021

Dawn States, MFA ’20, has made it their mission to center disabled dancers in performing arts spaces through opening the Dawn States Company. The Dawn States Company is invested in breaking down stereotypes and showing everyone that there are no limitations in expression. The company has ultimately found ways to make ballet and dance more accessible, with the idea that disability is a valuable approach to the art of dance.

After experiencing two severe spinal surgeries and injuring their hip in a car accident, States made it their personal passion project to make dance more accessible to people with physical disabilities. They founded their dance company to provide everyone the opportunity to participate in the art of dance with additional features such as audio description, sign language and arenas that are accessible to those with disabilities. 

Recently, States was awarded funding through the Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund, a competition sponsored by the Fox School’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI), which supports ideas, business models or ventures that are scalable, innovative and further advance women entrepreneurship. 

“Growing up I loved dancing, and I was training in the pre-professional world until I had operations that changed that path,” says States. “When I heard about other dance companies in the United States that were combining dance and disability, I became more involved and wanted to generate an impact for other disabled people.”

Through owning their own company, States has learned how to properly advertise their mission to help grow their business and support more of the community. The company works with people ranging from ages six to 50. Their classes are especially popular with teenagers from the Philadelphia area. 

“I found that Philadelphia has a high population of disabled folks, but there is not a robust amount of services provided for them,” says States. “This motivated me to open my own company to give everyone a chance and space to dance.” 

The company has increased visibility of disabled artists’ work most recently in the performance Healing Connections: 2020 shown virtually at the FringeArts Festival. The Philadelphia Fringe Festival is a month-long celebration of contemporary performances from artists across the city.  

“Our audiences and the community have been really receptive towards our performances which is wonderful,” says States. “People have begun to appreciate the accessibility features we provide during our performances and how these features like audio description can add value towards the art.”

States emphasizes how dance is a unique form of art because it is visual and it is memorable. Through inviting and including disabled folks in this space, it will leave a positive impact on the dance community and enhance performances. 

Their time at Temple in the MFA program gave States the opportunity to establish themselves as a performer and as a player in the industry—and the confidence to start their own dance company. With support from IEI and the seed funding, States can take the next step in their career and mission to highlight a diverse range of performers. 

“Being a recipient of the Lori Hermelin Bush Seed Fund will allow me to have the means to better support a network of dancers within the company, help fund their final performance and formally become a nonprofit organization,” says States. “This award confirms that the work I am doing is being valued, especially because you never know what people’s reactions are towards putting individuals with disabilities out in the public eye.”