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!"

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