Simi Linton, a wheelchair-riding social activist, takes us out dancing with the avant-garde of disabled artists and radical thinkers - unstoppable in their quest for “equality, justice, and a place on the dance floor!"


Last night the crowdfunding campaign for INVITATION TO DANCE ended with fireworks and hoorays! Together, we raised $30,700. We are humbled by your generosity, and feel deep gratitude toward each of you. You have given us the means to finish the film. The outpouring of support from such a broad spectrum of people proves that there is a ready audience for the film.

Once the film is finished, we will move on to distribution, film festival entry, and then begin screenings across the country and internationally. We will keep you updated on our progress and will continue to strengthen the community around the film and the many issues it raises.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Christian and Simi

New York Women in Film and Television & INVITATION TO DANCE: A Great Match

New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) has been one of our staunchest supporters.  Check out their website and you will see INVITATION TO DANCE featured there.  Our film twice received NYWIFT’s Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant.

Here are photos of Christian and Simi at the 2009 and 2011 NYWIFT Muse Awards luncheon where the awards were presented.   The 2011 picture is with our friend and ally Loreen Arbus – an extraordinary advocate for disability rights.

Thank you, NYWIFT, for all that you do.
Christian & Simi

Power Conductor/Power Chair

The NY Times Music Critic, Anthony Tommasini, concludes his rave review of James Levine’s return to conducting after a two-year absence on a most peculiar note: “…you have to admire the pluck and determination he has shown in this remarkable comeback.”

Pluck and determination are terms usually reserved for Little Orphan Annie, and not for “one of the greatest living American conductors.”  You have to wonder why. 

Levine has returned to conducting using a motorized wheelchair.  A number of health problems over the past several years have made it increasingly difficult for him to walk.  For the concert, Carnegie Hall provided an elevating podium, with wood paneling designed to match the elegant interior of the room. 

Tommasini commented on these accommodations, and detailed the careful staging of Levine’s entrances, and his pivots to greet the audience. In describing a seeming glitch in his rotation of his chair, Tommasini noted that this is a reminder of “how unusual it is for a conductor to have to work out such mechanical matters.”

“This was Mr. Levine at his best,“ he wrote, and added many particulars about the power of the conducting and of the conductor – who “was actually bouncing around on the chair, smiling at the musicians, sometimes singing the music audibly and looking altogether unrestrained.”  All in all, he gave Levine a strong positive review.
Levine loves his craft, loves his work.  It is, in many respects, unremarkable that he should return to it.  That is not to discount how difficult it must have been to regain the strength and agility he needed, but to acknowledge what was likely Levine’s capacity to see himself doing what he had always done, in a different way.
The boldness of Levine’s imagination is familiar to many disabled people.  In the face of so much evidence that being an actor, or a doctor, or a teacher or a conductor is not the province of people with significant impairments, many plow through and do it.  Tommasini’s reductive “pluck and determination” barely covers that complexity, and his terminology diminishes the potency of an otherwise glowing review of Levine’s conducting triumph.

Icons of the Disability Arts Community: Part 1

A brief moment to witness an instance of cultural connectedness.  This week two of the icons of disability arts celebrated birthdays.  
Lynn Manning, April 30th, is an award winning poet, playwright, actor, and former World Champion of blind judo.  Riva Lehrer, April 25th, is an extraordinary artist, teacher, writer and more.  They have each, in theatre and in painting, worked with disability and brought a new light to it, a new way of seeing it.

Riva’s beautifully rendered portrait of Lynn is below (Lynn Manning: Comet), along with a self-portrait (At 54).   Following that is a photo of Simi, Lynn, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell, taken at a conference on Representing Disability, Haverford College, 2006.   All were speaking or performing at that conference.  Further, Sharon and David are filmmakers (as well as theorists, writers and more), and Riva is the subject of their documentary Self-Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer.

Happy Birthday, Lynn and Riva.  A toast to you and your work.

“Lynn Manning: Comet”
2007 charcoal on paper

(Riva Lehrer drawing of Lynn Manning- tall black man, facing forward, bare chest, holding his white cane with tip in air above his head)

“At 54”
2012 mixed media and dimensional collage on Amate paper

(Riva Lehrer self portrait- white woman, red hair, in pink dress, suspended in midair like a marionette puppet)

Simi, Lynn Manning, Sharon Snyder & David Mitchell outdoors at the 2006 Representing Disability conference, Haverford College 

Our Thanks to AHEAD

As we work to finish the film, the Invitation to Dance team is forging partnerships with a number of prominent organizations.  These new collaborations are pushing our social media and outreach campaigns forward.  We are delighted by the enthusiastic responses, and we will be introducing our partners over the next few weeks.        

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) is one of the first organizations we contacted.  The organization is committed to the full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of college and university life.  With members on campuses across the U.S. and around the world, they are involved in policy development and service provision.  AHEAD champions the rights of disabled students, faculty and staff.  In short – they do wonderful work.

In the recent issue of their newsletter, ALERT*, they published an article about how Invitation to Dance, along with our outreach materials, will be of value to their members. "Disability resource centers can use this package to spearhead events that will stimulate campus-wide conversations, and rally support for your efforts aimed at social integration, enriched curriculum, and equity.  These events are also terrific opportunities to bring campus and community together – engaging people from disability rights groups, veterans organizations, independent living centers, religious institutions etc. " 

Thanks, AHEAD.  It’s going to take a village to finish Invitation to Dance, bring people together and get these conversations going!  

*currently available to members only

A Consecrated Dance Space

Wheelchair dancer Alice Sheppard is one of the central figures in Invitation to Dance.  Alice is an unlikely dancer.  Trained first as a classical musician, she then earned a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at Cornell, leading to a tenured faculty position in the English Department at Penn State. 

In March of 2004, she found herself at an academic conference on disability studies, learning to navigate in a newly acquired wheelchair.  Unfamiliar with both disability studies and rolled mobility, she was a curious and hungry participant in the goings on.  

It was there that Alice and Simi first met.  And it was there that Alice met Homer Avila, an extraordinary dancer, who, in the early part of his career danced on two legs, and then, following cancer surgery and an amputation, on one.  His performance at that conference in Atlanta was his last public performance; he died 6 weeks later.

Photo: Homer arched over a small chair, arm extended above his head

In the following excerpt from Invitation to Dance, Alice describes that first encounter with Homer.  We first see Simi and Alice talking in Central Park, and then Homer coming down a long flight of steps using crutches, and playfully twirling in place.  Video of Homer comes from Karina Epperlein's Phoenix Dance.

Homer’s memorial service, on April 18, 2005, almost a year after he died, was held at the legendary Danspace on the Lower East Side.  Three weeks ago, several people who knew Homer were in the audience at Danspace to see Alice perform in ‘being Here’ by Marjani Forté.  The NY Times’ dance critic Brian Seibert noted that “Alice Sheppard pilots her wheelchair with aggression and melancholic grace.”  

Photo:  Alice in a duet with a standing dancer- New York Times: March 22, 2013

But others noted beauty and power that Homer might have envisioned when he dared Alice to take a dance class. Janet Lyon, an Associate Professor of English, and Alice’s former colleague at Penn State wrote: “… when she made her first crossing of the stage in her wheelchair, from the back to the front of the stage/space, she established the aesthetics of movement against which the rest of the choreography would be contrasted.  Slow, effortless, unimaginably graceful in the ways that she integrated the lower body--which registered as noiselessly flowing wheels, gliding across the floor as if on ice--and the upper body, with arms and shoulders and neck arching into the serpentine flow of the wheels.  A fluid, floating port de bras. It was gorgeous.” 

Edisa Weeks, previously Homer's partner in Avila/Weeks Dance and now Choreographer/Educator with Delirious Dances said: "I enjoyed Alice's duet in Marjani's work. It was exciting to see a duet that wasn't precious, cautious, polite and was about aggressively and physically connecting. Made me think of a conversation with Homer about how some people assumed he was weak and easy to take advantage of because he was perceived as being "handicapped.""

Exactly 8 years ago today we gathered at Danspace to recognize the genius that was Homer Avila.  His legacy (so to speak) lives on in dancers whose lives he touched. Homer’s bold dare to Alice late one night in a hotel bar clearly took root and flourished.  We repurpose that invitation in our film, and extend it to all.


The motto for INVITATION TO DANCE is: Equality, justice and a place on the dance floor!    

While there are no laws that we know of specifically banning disabled people from dancing, we know that the unspoken prohibitions against disabled people shaking their tail feathers in public have a similarly constraining effect.

Edie left, seated, facing us, in white wedding gown, Thea, sitting in
wheelchair, with top hat on and sign saying "Just Married" on
back of chair.

Similar injunctions surely put limits on Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer dancing together in public outside of the “safe” lesbian bars in the West Village.  That was where they first met in the mid 60’s and danced that first night until Windsor wore a hole in her stocking.  Windsor is the central figure in the Supreme Court case that could strike down The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law forbidding federal recognition of gay marriage.  The world watched as Edie told reporters of her 40-year relationship with her partner Thea, and the magic moment in 2007 when they were married in Toronto, two years before Thea died.

In multiple news stories the public heard of their loving relationship, and about how much they loved to dance. To celebrate their fifteenth anniversary, Windsor and Spyer hosted a party for about 100 people. Spyer, diagnosed with MS three years earlier, was on crutches and joined Windsor on the dance floor. Edie, quoted in NY Magazine, said: “Even when she was in a wheelchair, she’d dance from the chair.”

We salute Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer for their marriage, their activism and their dancing.  Let’s all work together to integrate those dance floors, and defy anyone who would put a stop to such gloriousness!
Thea, left, using crutches, with Edie, both
standing near a swimming pool and smiling.


Welcome to the Invitation to Dance Blog – a forum for the exchange of ideas about the people and topics whirling about in our film. We promise to engage you in exciting conversation and meaningful action.

We are the filmmakers Simi Linton and Christian von Tippelskirch, writing to announce that we are in the final stages of post-production on INVITATION TO DANCE. We are very proud of the documentary we will soon present to you. It is both a personal story and a historical narrative - about Simi's life as a disabled woman over the past forty years, and the dramatic growth of the disability rights movement in those decades.

As we work to complete the film, we need you to help us create a robust and enthusiastic INVITATION TO DANCE community. Together, we can gather the resources needed to finish the film, bring it to a broad public, incite conversation, and mobilize a call to action.

Please visit our website, view the trailer, join the ITD community on Facebook and Twitter, and follow us here on the Invitation to Dance Blog.

Sign up, sign on, and shout out!!

Our best and our thanks,
Simi & Christian