A photographer captures one dancer leaning against another in a wheelchair and one more kneeling on the ground while another wheelchair dancer moves behind.
Fulbright Finland News Magazine

Dance Enriched Through Disability

12 June 2024 • Text: Sydney Erlikh, Photos: Pääsky Miettinen

Dancing between topics and roles has been a routine, straddling disability studies and dance studies, educator and dancer, scholar and artist. Coming to Finland, I hoped to be firmly in the arts area. I came to conduct a dance ethnography with Kaaos Dance Company. Founded in 2010, the company aims to “present work that dissolves distinctions and transforms concepts between able and disabled by presenting art that is enriched through difference”.

This research for my dissertation explores how the culture of companies incorporates the artistic expression of dancers with intellectual disabilities (ID) with the goal of establishing best practices for supporting their artistic development.

Observing the company perform at festivals and rehearsals, I discovered that although I was in a new country, there is something crossnational about the disability experience. Dance has a way of physically connecting individuals in a cross-impairment experience. Watching Siiri Tiilikka perform her solo Birdsong at Oodi library for DiDa - Disability Day Art & Action festival I was reminded of this when the MC of the event began to weep onstage. I came to Finland to be enveloped in the artistic academic experience. 

As I reflect on my year in Finland, I realize I have created one more community to dance between. 

My Fulbright is at the University of the Arts, Helsinki where I took classes and collaborated with a new cohort of performing arts doctoral scholars at Tutke, where scholars complete their artistic research after years of established practice in the field. Here I found myself embedded in conversations with artists and faculty questioning scholarly methods and the ethics of artistic research. 

My collaborations highlighted the ways my research is framed between two fields, just as I am.
As I reflect on my year in Finland, I realize I have created one more community to dance between. Outside of the university, I spent hours taking dance, teaching, attending rehearsals, and attending or talking about performances. This is where I found my Finnish rampa (crip) dance community.

After spending a year in two communities, one U.S. and one Finnish, I have started to choreograph future collaborations to share cross-national artistic practices. Returning to the U.S., I hope to merge my scholarly, pedagogical, and artistic communities to create
partnerships in order to share artistic and access practices to expand the possibilities of disability art and aesthetics.

Sydney Erlikh
PhD Candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago
2023-24 U.S. Fulbright Fellow; University of the Arts, Helsinki, Kaaos Dance Company

Sydney Erlikh Wins the Roth-Thomson Award

Sydney Erlikh received the 2024 Roth-Thomson Award. The award supports her return to Finland in 2025 to continue collaboration with the University of the Arts’ Theatre Academy and the Kaaos Dance Company. 

The Fulbright Finland Foundation has worked with the Lois Roth Foundation since 1991 and each year the Roth-Thomson Award is granted to U.S. Fulbright students in Finland focusing on social sciences, humanities, and the arts. The Lois Roth Foundation is based in Washington D.C. and it supports the exchange of people across national and cultural barriers to enhance international communication. https://loisrothfoundation.org

Logo of Lois Roth Foundation

Read the Fulbright Finland News 1/2024!

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