“Sand in the Oyster”

By Christina A. Samuels — June 03, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Education comes in many forms, and right now ballerina Rossana Peñaloza is providing an education for rapt audiences in Mexico through a one-woman performance she gives in a wheelchair. Prior to her performance, she chose to use a wheelchair for six months.

And You, What?" -- the title of Peñaloza's one-woman show -- grew out of those frustrating days. Her "grito" -- a Spanish word that means emphatic cry -- has turned her into an accidental activist, a buzz-generating and provocative voice. All it took was a ballerina willing not to use her legs. She has earned a following among students at the nearby National Autonomous University of Mexico. One recent evening, scores of them packed an art house theater to watch her, many of them snapping photographs throughout the performance. "This just makes you think a lot," said Gabriella Castro, a photography student attending the show for a second time. "I've never seen anything like it." On stage, Peñaloza transforms her wheelchair from an object that limits her to an object that enhances. She abandons the use of her legs, picking them up and dropping them heavily over the backrest. Then she arches her back, dangling over the edge of the seat and gliding effortlessly.

Peñaloza does not have a physical disability. For all of her efforts to try to inhabit the skin of a person who uses a wheelchair, she can still get up and walk away from it at the end of the night. Still, the attention that she has been able to get through her work is truly impressive, as are the reactions.

I love this statement from Peñaloza: “My work is a grain of sand in an oyster so that all this will change.” It’s a worthy aspiration.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.