Choreographer Meghan Flanigan spent the last five years in Bogota, Colombia, where she helped shape the dance community. During her stay, she helped form the dance company Con Cuerpos, which brings together professional dancers and Bogota's disabled homeless to create enlightened performances. We introduce you to her in this week's making a difference series.
Jorge is a dancer with Con Cuerpos. He was born with polio and grew up in extreme poverty in the Colombian city of Cali, which is known as a center for Salsa dancing. When he was offered the opportunity to learn movement and dance with the non-profit group Con Cuerpos in Bogota, Jorge was skeptical.
Meghan Flanigan helped found the organization, which engages Bogota's disabled through dance and performance. She says that despite his disability, Jorge quickly adapted.
"After the first day, all of a sudden he just re-entered his body and was an artist. [It] was incredibly poetic physically; [it] was one of those people who can just fly through the air, [it] is just so expressive," she said.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Flanigan grew up learning ballet. In college, she pursued modern dance, which led her to study at Laban - a modern dance conservatory in the United Kingdom. There, Flanigan met two dancers from Colombia who urged her to return with them to their homeland and teach.
She ended up staying for four years, during which time she helped form Con Cuerpos, which means "With Bodies" in Spanish. Inspired by the movements of Bogota's homeless people, Flanigan challenged the stereotypes of the disabled with striking choreography.
"When I saw someone really struggling and I saw that people weren't looking because they would say that's ugly, oh that's feo, es feo, and I would really look and I'd say no actually that's a person, that's a really beautiful person," she says, "So I started to make a work that was about that."
Flanigan says that one of the main obstacles for physically challenged dancers is becoming comfortable within their own bodies and making physical contact with other dancers.
"It was so close to people's hearts that it just kept coming up - 'My body is a territory of peace.' And [it was] creating a new relationship to their bodies and new relationship to other people through [their] bodies, really building up trust and building up physical communication," Flanigan states.
Meghan Flanigan lives in Baltimore, but remains active in Con Cuerpos. Her company not only has afforded disabled people in Bogota the opportunity to perform, but it also has led some dancers to study their art in the United States and Europe.