WE USUALLY THINK of dance as an expression of bodily perfection. The ideal dancer is thin, strong, flexible, fabulous. But increasingly, there are exceptions to this. Some dance companies count among their ranks elderly performers, stocky performers, performers with physical disabilities. One of these, Seize the Day!, appears this weekend in a work with a message: Dance is for every body.
The Mount Rainier-based troupe, made up of able-bodied dancers as well as those with physical limitations, performs "He Speaks for the Trees," based on Dr. Seuss's children's book, "The Lorax." Artistic director Patricia Krauss says the story's message about safeguarding trees and appreciating all forms of life is especially meaningful for audiences and for her dancers.
Krauss was going it alone as a choreographer and solo performer before founding Seize the Day! in 1993. She became interested in the movement potential of people with disabilities after teaching in local special education programs.
"I was getting itchy for something new -- I didn't go looking for it. It came to me," she says.
Now Krauss is giving the chance to dance to people who have undergone crippling injuries and illnesses. Among her dancers are survivors of polio and those with spinal cord injuries. Some are in wheelchairs -- though at times even the able-bodied dancers glide around in the devices.
"We use them as props," she says, "so we can do what they're doing."
Krauss is the first to admit that her dancers' limitations heighten her artistic challenge. But she craves this test to her own creativity. The key to working with people with disabilities is "tearing everything down -- simplifying things to what kind of movement can a person do with this kind of disability," Krauss says. "You need to find the beauty and the grace in that person. It's really about getting beyond the disability to the person and seeing who they are, through movement.
"You have to just completely throw out your old perspectives," she continues. "I always think, `What if I were in a car accident and became disabled?' I wouldn't be any less of a dancer. If you have that in your heart and that's who you are, a disability shouldn't stop you."
SEIZE THE DAY! -- Mixed-abilities dance company performs "He Speaks for the Trees" Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Rd., Cheverly. Tickets: $15 general admission, $8 students and seniors. Call 301/277-1710.