"Dance me to my song" (Rolf de Heer 1997): The story of a disabled dancer
Starrs, D. Bruno (2009) "Dance me to my song" (Rolf de Heer 1997): The story of a disabled dancer. In Harvey, Mark (Ed.) The Scopic Bodies Dance Studies Research Seminar Series, Faculty of Arts: University of Auckland, University of Auckland, New Zealand, pp. 62-71.
Rolf de Heer’s "Dance Me To My Song" (1997) is a film with very little traditional dancing, being the story of a wheelchair-bound young lady who suffers from cerebral palsy. Two years before she died, real-life aphasic star and co-writer, Heather Rose, was the keynote speaker at the Pacific Rim Disability Conference in 2000 at which she said: "I wanted to create a screenplay, but not just another soppy disability film, I wanted to make a hot sexy film, which showed the real world." For Heather and other disabled persons, the real world does not necessarily preclude dancing. Thus, despite her twisted body and drooling visage, Heather’s story culminates in a joyous jig of triumph as the indomitable redhead dances in her wheelchair with the able-bodied Eddy, whose sexual affections she has won notwithstanding the best efforts of her emotionally stunted and jealous carer, Madelaine. In contrast to Paul Darke's 1998 conception of the "normality drama" genre of the disabled film, Heather has created a disabled character superior to her able-bodied antagonist. As de Heer has done in other films, he has given a voice to those who might otherwise not be heard: in Heather's case via her electric voice synthesizer. This paper argues that de Heer has found a second voice for Heather via Laban's language of dance, and in doing so has expanded understandings of quality of life for the disabled, as per the social model of disability rather than the medical model of disability. The film reinforces Petra Kupper’s notion that a new literacy in dance needs to be learned in which students "understand dance not only as a manipulation of the body in time and space, but also as a manipulation of the concept of 'the body' in its framework of 'normality', 'health', 'wholeness', 'intelligence', 'control' and 'art'." (2000: 128). Furthermore, Heather proves herself superior in the film-making industry by successfully assuming primary credit for the film. The ambivalent status regarding the screen-writing role for "Dance Me To My Song" creates a space in which authorship is contestable, although its other candidate, director de Heer, willingly concedes the credit to Rose, and this paper concludes that not only is Heather Rose the deserving author of this film, the film itself is deserving of a new genre label, that of "disability dance drama".
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