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Meet Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance in Back Bay and Brookline

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ellice Patterson.

Ellice, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The concept of Abilities Dance started eight years ago when I had a spinal operation that left me relearning to dance. It was a grueling process in adjusting to my daily life. I would have never imagined a professional career in dance. I went to Wellesley College and majored in Biology. I received many opportunities to do research, including sailing across the Atlantic with SEA. The experience was life-changing and instilled in me a sense of great adventure. I decided that if I could do that, I could relearn how to dance.

Relearning to dance was a hard process. I swallowed my pride as I started over taking classes with children. With hard work, I quickly gained dance techniques that had been adapted to my physical limitations. Two years later, I felt comfortable dancing within my own physical challenges and teaching students ages two – adult. However, I longed to be a part of a company. I went to open classes, intensives, and auditions. When disclosing my unique abilities, I was often told to adapt as needed without instruction of how to adapt. I have been told that their company is a “professional” company and would not adapt to my needs. I felt like I was stuck in the corner and not taken seriously as an aspiring dancer. I felt that there was no place that would develop and allow me to perform on a professional level. I decided that if there was not an institution accessible to me and run by people like me then I would create it. Abilities Dance – Boston was born.

Since our first show in February 2017, the company has expanded into three main initiatives: professional performing company, community education outreach, and company partnerships. Our professional company welcomes adult dancers of all mental and physical abilities as we perform across the Boston area and beyond. Our community education outreach involves teaching classes and workshops focused on inclusion in dance. For instance, we have an ongoing relationship with Gateway Arts, a visual arts company for artists with disabilities, as a guest artist to teach movement classes. Our partnership initiative involves reaching out to companies with similar missions and promote and create work to raise awareness on disability rights and inclusion.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road to starting Abilities has been bumpier than a country road. The biggest struggle was funding. I started Abilities Dance as a twenty-two year old in business school. I had no money saved after years of working to invest in a startup. I had no friends or family with significant money to invest in. I did not even get grants. The irony was that my grant feedback was that I did not have enough experience, but I couldn’t get the experience as no one would hire me. That said, I refused to wait until either of these happened and picked up a bar job at Loretta’s Last Call and used the tips to fund our first show. From there, I quickly built up a resume in different showcases and festivals in Boston and New York. A few weeks ago, we got our first grant to produce a show in June with guest artists that I have long admired.

Another struggle continues to be not having our own studio home yet. It is hard to find accessible and affordable rehearsal space. While we mainly rehearse out of 140 Clarendon St., a rehearsal space run through the Lyric Stage, it is largely booked with their own shows. We have gotten creative and rehearsed in my living room and outside. We still struggle for space. Regardless, we make good work no matter where we are.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Abilities Dance story. Tell us more about the business.
Abilities Dance is a nonprofit that welcomes dancers of all mental and physical abilities. Our goal is to increase inclusion in dance. We have three main initiatives: professional performing company, community education outreach, and company partnerships. Our professional company welcomes adult dancers of all mental and physical abilities as we perform across the Boston area and beyond. Our community education outreach involves teaching classes and workshops focused on inclusion in dance. For instance, we have an ongoing relationship with Gateway Arts, a visual arts company for artists with disabilities, as a guest artist to teach movement classes. Our partnership initiative involves reaching out to companies with similar missions and promote and create work to raise awareness on disability rights and inclusion.

I run every aspect of the company: marketing (I rely heavily on social media as a free platform to spread our work.); t-shirt making (I have a relative with a printing shop that allows me to make our Abilities shirts for a heavily discounted price.); choreographing (I choreograph a majority of the pieces that we produce for our shows.); grant writing; and collaborating with the chair of the Board of Directors, Nicole Agois, to take the company to new heights.

I am most proud of the artists (dancers in the company, guest dancers, and our director of music Andrew Choe) that contribute so much of themselves to the mission of our company. Each artist has a unique background that has led them where they are to today as humans and artists. I try to utilize many aspects of their journey through the movement and the stories that we tell. I believe that and the mission of our company sets us apart from every other Boston-based dance company. In our shows, we produce pieces that are universal to the human experience, such as struggling with understanding and accepting a higher entity and dealing with all of the complications of a romantic relationship. The idea is that mixed abilities dancers are telling these stories because these experiences are universal to all humans, those with and without disabilities. It’s powerful to tell these stories that show the audience we struggle and celebrate the same things that you do, maybe differently at times, but we are still struggling and celebrating.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
A small bit of luck has played into my life in that I am lucky to have the physical abilities that I have in spite of the limitations. Outside of that, luck has not played in role in my life or business. I try to be the hardest working person out of anyone I know. I had strong examples from the two women that raised me: my mother and my grandmother. They worked hard to give me a better life outside of rural Mississippi. Therefore, I worked hard to make sure their sacrifices were worth it.

Within the company, I also continually strategize short term and long term to ensure that we are on track to reaching new levels.

Pricing:

  • Next Level June 2 & 3 shows student, senior, struggling artist ticket $25
  • Next Level June 2 & 3 shows general admission $30

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Images of women in rainbow colors: Olivia Blaisdell
Image of woman in Michelle Obama dress: Russell Haydn
Image of powdered woman: Tim Avery
Image of myself with walker: Kyle Davi
Image of girl in underwear: Mickey West

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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