Connoisseurs of roller coasters know that rides feel wilder at night. In the dark, our brains stop receiving the visual cues that help us stay balanced, so movement feels destabilizing enough that most of us teeter like drunkards whenever we simply close our eyes. But wobbling through life felt like defeat to Brenda Mosby, who lost her sight to an autoimmune disease at age 40. At 68, she sought an unlikely cure for her chronic instability: ballet.
Walk into any ballet studio, and you’ll understand that seeing is critical to the way this dance form is taught and learned. Mirrors on the walls help students scrutinize the difference between a perfect glissade and a clumsy imitation. Every millimeter matters in dance’s least forgiving discipline, where there is no “close enough.”
Mosby, however, couldn’t watch her teachers’ movements or make use of the mirrored walls of the Colorado Ballet Academy studios where she attended her first classes. Her right eye has no light perception, and her left eye sees only misty shapes. Unable to read print on a page or computer, Mosby relies on screen readers to translate text into spoken words.
But after struggling through a few group classes, Mosby met Diane Page, a veteran ballet teacher who was intrigued by the challenge of teaching someone who couldn’t learn through traditional means. Page offered to meet Mosby for private lessons at Colorado New Style dance studio in Lincoln Park.
Instead of modeling moves so Mosby could learn visually, Page tried using her hands to move her student’s limbs through space. “That changed the game,” Mosby says. “She’d move my feet so I could know what it feels like to perform a glissade, or she’d use masking tape to get my fingers to do a certain thing,” she continues. Essentially, Page developed methods for teaching ballet via touch.
“When you are blind, you use everything you can to figure things out,” Mosby explains. “I just needed a [ballet] teacher to work with me where I am.” Beyond her blindness, Mosby is also 68 years old and 160 pounds—numbers that don’t typically fit ballerinas’ descriptions. She’s well aware of how her older, bigger body and skin color don’t conform to the discipline’s traditional ideals. “I am an anomaly,” she acknowledges.
Still, Mosby believes that ballet is providing her with a pathway to physical strength and poise. As for her disability, “It hasn’t hindered me. It’s let me be the best person I can be.” With betterment as her goal, ballet is turning out to be so much more than pliés and relevés.
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