Michelle Ryan

PHOTOGRAPHY: SHANE REID

The Beauty in Our Differences

Our eyes are able to tell us vast things about the world and the people in it. The conclusions we reach based on what we see, however, should be paired with a curious mind, to understand that what we see is not the whole story.

Throughout the series of blogs in the lead up to our Rainbow Neighbourhood event, we have had multiple examples of genuine understandings being reached through seeing beyond initial impressions and attaining a deeper, truer knowledge of others and our community. It is perfect then that the last post in the blog tell the story of Michelle Ryan and Restless Dance Theatre. Michelle is the Artistic Director at Restless Dance and her journey exemplifies the beauty and strength in our diverse, real neighborhood.

“I grew up in Townsville and can remember dancing from a young age,” says Michelle.

“When I finished school I moved to Brisbane to study at QUT and my first job was doing school tours throughout Queensland.

“In 1992 I was very fortunate to join Meryl Tankard’s company in Canberra before moving to Adelaide to Australian Dance Theatre. We toured the world over – Paris, London, New York, and Tokyo to name a few – over the next seven and a half years.”

Michelle’s love of dance is palpable in her own passionate involvement and collaboration with others.

“Dance is a medium where verbal communication is not necessary. In dance, a simple movement of the eyes or fingers can be as powerful as a huge leap. Dancers can find their ‘voice’ through movement and creative expression. I rely heavily on the input of the people I work with and through the collaborative creative process, you can create work that is beautiful, provocative, and always honest.”

At the age of 30, Michelle stopped dancing when she was diagnosed with MS.

“For the next 10 years I worked behind the scenes in various roles to make other artist dreams come to fruition.”

Her diagnosis has meant that she has had to address some misconceptions people have about her own capabilities, which she handles with grace and a sense of humor.

“When I’m working with people there is always a moment when I stand up from my wheelchair. People appear shocked as they may have a preconceived idea of what a wheelchair user ‘looks’ like. It is the ‘it’s a miracle’ moment that makes me giggle.”

A surprise invitation to dance again at age 40 saw Michelle return to dancing and performing. Two years later she was appointed Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre at the beginning of 2013.

“After a 2-year break from working in the arts (when I worked at NDS), I was lured back by Restless. It was the only company that I was prepared to return to the arts for.”

Restless Dance Theatre challenges perceptions around dance and performers as Australia’s leading dance company working with primarily youth with and without disability.

“Restless Dance Theatre showcases diversity on stage. The company presents high quality work performed by artists who may not fit the stereotypical dancer image. It is in difference that you see beauty and creativity.

“It is also through inclusiveness that Restless allows people to express themselves through dance.

“I see the participants as dancers, not people with disability who happen to dance. I believe everyone can dance so the space is open for everyone to participate. Dancers with potential are invited into the performance group of the company.”

Michelle is focused on the enjoyment, creativity, and opportunities that she is able to facilitate as part of Restless. She has sage advice on how the wider community can be more inclusive, specifically to people with disabilities.

“I believe that if we all respect each other as human beings then separation wouldn’t occur. We all have something to give, so let’s embrace what individual offerings we can all contribute and move on.”

Her biggest challenge, like many working in the arts, is primarily to do with funding.

“Restless Dance Theatre is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. It is an established company that continues to create real, raw and uninhibited dance. We are only limited by the funds we have and look forward to continuing to enliven and diversify Australian dance.”

If you have been inspired by the stories in this blog, you can stay up to date with news from our upcoming event, ‘Rainbow Neighbourhood: Creating Diverse and Inclusive Organisations’, coming to Fitzy’s Convention Centre in Logan on Saturday 30 April, 2016.