Dreams to Life: Community Hopes, Dreams and Aspirations Realized

Rik Daniels in CELEBRATION, 2013 Photo by Andy Gillis
Rik Daniels in CELEBRATION, 2013
Photo by Andy Gillis

Year: 2013-2014
DanceForce Member: Jim Self
Artists: Rik Daniels, Jim Self
Community Partners: Cornell University, Finger Lakes Independent Center
Audience: 738
County: Tompkins

The intention of the “Dreams to Life” project was to express, perform, exhibit and demonstrate the aspirations of individuals and groups in Tompkins County. Specifically, the project involved Rik Daniels, a physically challenged performer, and the FingerLakes Independent Center, a local organization committed to providing help services to those individuals with limited or reduced physical and financial resources.
Dreams to Life has been a two year project. The first year’s focus was research, planning and development for community partners, informal movement workshops and lectures. Also included were rehearsals and production meetings for Rik Daniels’ performances, and organizing/planning for Colleen Culley’s workshop project with Finger Lakes Independent Center clients. The second year (2013-14) included performances, lecture demonstrations, and workshops.

Rik Daniels is an aspiring dancer/gymnast/entertainer. He worked with Jim Self on a flexible, multi-tiered performance/dance piece, “Celebration,” to be used during motivational speaking events, dance performances and other gatherings.

Rik was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital birth defect. He relied on his arms and upper body to get around while growing up, and eventually became a NYC champion gymnast and 7-time NCAA All-American gymnast. The “Dreams to Life” project allowed Rik the opportunity to expand his range of performance and public presentation skills, as well as providing greater visibility in the community as an arts/disability advocate.

In the Summer/Fall/Winter of 2013/14, Rik showed “Celebration” as part of the Robert Treman State Park Camp for People with Disabilities (7/30/13), a choreographer’s showcase at CRS Barn in Lansing, NY (8/18/13), and the Cornell Dance Concert (12/5-7/13). In October, Rik gave lecture demonstrations at Ithaca College and SUNY/Cortland, using material from the dance developed with Jim Self.

Two special movement workshops (8/ 21,23/13) for the clients of Finger Lakes Independent Center (FLIC) were led by Colleen Culley. Colleen has special training in the area of stress reduction through movement, and has worked with multiple populations with special needs. FLIC is an advocacy and assistance organization for a wide range of people with disabilities and special needs.

I am including here two communications I received regarding the project. One is from a Cornell student who saw Rik’s performance as part of the Cornell Fall Dance Concert, and the other is from Rik himself describing the value in participating in the project.

My favorite pieces were “Celebration” and “Edge of the Gorge”. “Celebration” was one of the most uplifting things I’ve seen all year. When I first saw Rik Daniels ride his wheelchair out onto the stage, I thought: “oh this is nice! He’s going to ride his wheelchair around in an interesting choreographed way. How good of whoever planned this concert to feature such diversity!”

I was not expecting to be blown off of my feet, but that’s what ended up happening. Daniels’ performance was as graceful and visually interesting as any dance I have seen in my life, and even more physically impressive. When I saw him perform I did not think “look what he can do despite his disability”. I thought: “look what his disability enables him to do.” No one without his disability could make the same sorts of movements and shapes that his body could make. I also really appreciated the script of the performance: it was quite poetic, visceral and moving. The performance gave me an extremely positive mentality.

After the show, I considered calling my mother again just to tell her how much I loved the show. In particular, I wanted to tell her about “Celebration” and how impressive and uplifting I found it.
Matthew Pegan – 12/5/2013

“Celebration” has been a life changing experience! The impact of the performance is still resonating. People continue to acknowledge how “amazing” and “incredible” it was, with smiles and praise!
Collaborating on the creation and development of “Celebration” with Jim Self has personally been a life changing experience as well! Jim’s passion and commitment to art and “the integrity of the process” has left an indelible impression on me as a dancer and inspirational performance artist. His mentoring and mastery established a conversation about form, movement, and beauty that remains an inspiration for myself and others.
I have subsequently collaborated on a touching dance for a Tompkins County Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center fund-raiser, collaborated and performed an acrobatic dance in the Ithaca “Art Circus” fund-raiser for The Youth Farm Project, and am about to begin collaboration on a tango piece. I am also modeling for a local artist.
My dreams and aspirations of sharing myself and my body inspirationally with the world are alive and momentous! Thank you Jim and the New York State Dance Force for providing and fostering these opportunities!
Rik Daniels – 5/5/2014