If any average person were to imagine a dancer, the “diva” cliché may come to mind – self-centered, self-interested and self-aggrandizing. Yet, time and time again, dancers and dance organizations defy this stereotype by giving back (locally or toward more widespread charitable efforts). Dance art can be a platform for raising funds, awareness, community and solidarity around a particular issue.
Girls Chronically Rock. Photo by Bill Parsons.
Ballet artists Janelle Gilchrist and Rick Vigo, along with dance photographer Bill Parsons and the dance collective The Dance Complex, offered time and talent in this way toward Girls Chronically Rock (GCR). GCR is a fashion LLC focusing on destigmatizing chronic illness and disability, offering a platform for women with chronic illness or disability to share their stories, and supporting these women in the ways they may need it.
Dance Informa spoke with Keisha Greaves, GCR founder and director, to learn more about her mission and alliances with Boston dance. Greaves started GCR when she was finally ready to speak out about her diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy, as a means to help improve the lives of people like her living with disability or chronic illness.
This past July 1 and 15, Greaves, Parsons and the two ballet dancers shot photos with Girls Chronically Rock shirts. Also modeling were a few friends of Greaves who are wheelchair users. Thus, the photo project embraced models at all levels of mobility and physical ability.
Those participants posted teaser photos on social media with hashtags like “#mydisabilitydoesntdefineme” and “#doesmywheelchairmakemybuttlookbig”.
Such messages are both witty and challenge social conventions of “otherness” around disability.
Girls Chronically Rock. Photo by Bill Parsons.
On July 1, the group shot above a set of railroad tracks (given challenges with getting down stairs to the tracks with the wheelchairs), as well as in Graffiti Alley (a fully-painted alley in Cambridge’s Central Square). On July 15, they shot in a studio at The Dance Complex (also in Central Square). The organization donated space to the effort. Models wore Girls Chronically Rock shirts, all Greaves’s designs. The photos will be released soon on social media as part of a GCR marketing campaign.
Greaves is savvy in general when it comes to social media marketing for her designs, which also include jewelery with positive messages inscribed. She hopes to soon expand her line with more shirts proclaiming positive, inspirational messages around disability and chronic illness. T-shirt designs currently include the phrases “Chronically dope” and “Embrace your dopeness”. “I always tag Target and fashion magazines where I’d love to see my designs sold,” Greaves reveals. She’s also mindful about smart hashtag use.
Dancer Janelle Gilchrist. Photo by Olivia Blaisdell.
Greaves additionally uses Instagram’s “story” function two to three times daily, to keep followers updated on what’s happening with her and GCR. She also makes sure to update links in her bio to include those that are currently most meaningful. These seem to be key social media strategies for dancers and dancemakers as well!
Greaves hopes to continue doing shoots. What might she have learned from these shoots, her first ever for GCR? “I think I can organize and plan out shoots a bit more beforehand,” she says, although explaining that all did go fairly smoothly with these two shoots.
Greaves also hopes to work herself into the podcasting and blogging worlds – of course spreading the word about these offerings through her social media know-how. Another idea she’s excited about is a documentary series about the everyday lives of herself and her friends living with disability and chronic illness.
Keisha Greaves, founder of Girls Chronically Rock. Photo by Bill Parsons.
As another dance world connection, Greaves says she might also someday collaborate with Boston’s Abilities Dance. For Greaves, the company’s Founder and Director Ellice Patterson is a friend and ally in efforts to raise disability/chronic illness awareness and lower the stigma around these conditions. It’s one more example of how dancers, dancemakers and dance entities can be part of efforts to make the world a more inclusive and more just place, one issue and one community at a time.
Follow Girls Chronically Rock on Twitter and on Instagram.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.
Published by girlschronicallyrock
I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My personality is friendly, strong work ethic, and great professional skills that makes her the hustler she is today. I graduated from Framingham State University with Bachelor’s in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a year after I graduated from Cambridge College with a Master’s degree in Business Management. While earning my degree I gained invaluable experience in the business/financial and Fashion Industry with working at different departments at Cambridge Savings Bank and many merchandising companies such as Motherhood Maternity, Tommy John, Spanx, Echo Design and Fossil Group.
While in Framingham State University, I was in the Fashion Club and Black Student Union Club where I was able to meet new people and gain and learn a new experience in both groups with a different diverse of people. I knew I always had a passion for fashion from in middle school and new I wanted to be a Fashion Designer. I looked up to Fashion Designers like Kimora Lee Simmons and Betsey Johnson. I love their unique different styles and just two successful entrepreneurs who are making it in the fashion world and continuing to grow. My dream is to possibly meet both of them one day, even maybe do some business together.
At the present time, I am working as a Merchandise Coordinator for Tommy John inside of Macy’s and Nordstrom within the Boston Area. I also owned my own t-shirt line business called Girls Chronically Rock which was inspired by myself because I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy back in graduate school so I wanted to make something inspirational, motivating for people who may have a chronic illness like myself or may be battling anything in their life, to let them know that they rock no matter what. With the wonderful work experiences over the years, I am really just an easy-going person where sometimes I love to be at home watching lifetime movies or many of my tv shows that I love to watch on a daily basis. I like spending time with family and friends whether its traveling, going out to eat and going to special events.
Through my education and work experience, I have gained the knowledge and skills necessary to excel as a Fashion Designer and Visual Merchandiser. I am both qualified and eager to strive at my business Girls Chronically Rock and continue with dedication, and I know my hard work will pay off and I will reach my goals. I will soon hope to have my t-shirt line sold in department stores such as: local boutique stores, Macy’s, Karmaloop Foot Locker and many more.
Here is a little more in depth detail about how I was diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy:
I have Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (MD); I was diagnosed at the age 24. I was born and raised in Cambridge, MA and went to high school in Cambridge. I received my bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising and then furthered my education in getting my Master’s degree in Business. When I first discovered my symptoms of my MD, it was crazy to me because I started to get symptoms around 2009. While in graduate school I began to repeatedly fall, and my leg would just give out on me without notice. I would fall to the ground and not be able to pick myself back up, I would need assistance from someone to lift me up with all their might, because it was something I just wasn’t capable of doing on my own. I also began notice when I tried to reach for certain things in the kitchen cabinets or try to exercise I was unable to lift my right arm up all the way. I kind of just thought to myself maybe I need to go on a diet and lose weight, but in the back of my mind I knew it something more.
So I went to see an orthopedic, but I was told that this was more of a neuro-muscular issue, so I then went to see a Neurologist. Once I saw the Neurologist, she then tested me and gave me muscle biopsy, MRI, an EMG and every other test you can think of. So after multiple tests, I was finally diagnosed with Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy. Limb-Girdle is a form of MD that affects the limb of the shoulders all the way down to the legs, which progressively over time eventually gets worse.
The first thing I thought was how long am I going to live will I be in a wheelchair soon, and what is my life going to be like from now on. I knew I had to be strong and continue to do what I have to do so I started doing some research on it and read what eating healthy and exercising would help. I joined weight watchers with my cousin and I lost over 36 pounds and I felt great. I’ve able to keep half the weight still off, and I am still determined to lose more.
They have multiple types of Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, and 5 years later my doctor’s are still trying to figure which type I have exactly. The only thing they know at this point is from the types I may have can affect my heart which is why I often have to go get a echo-cardiogram test that tests my heart to make sure everything is ok.
Living with Limb-Girdle Muscular dystrophy is still new to me every day. I wake up every day not knowing how my legs are going to feel or what pain I may have when leaving my house. I try to be very careful when walking because I don’t want to fall, because I won’t be able to pick myself back up. Although I am on my feet a lot for work, after a certain amount of hours, my legs start to weaken. I am currently a visual merchandiser at different locations a very popular clothing store. I enjoy my job because it keeps me and my legs active and I enjoy traveling to the different store locations and doing what I love and my part in the fashion industry.
I have the wonderful support from my family and friends but at the ending of the day, they have NO IDEA what I go through on daily basis or what I’m feeling. I try to explain to them how my legs feel, but it’s just so hard to explain. I still go out and enjoy my life as normal, but sometimes I always have certain things in the back of my mind.
When going out I find myself researching about where I am going first, like does this place have stairs?, does it have an elevator?, do they accommodate handicap people? So all of these things I worry about when I go out and my friends and family have no idea. Living with MD has made me realize how strong I am and knowing I have no choice but to deal with this. I sometimes get stares because people wonder what a young girl like me is doing either walking with a limp, with a cane, or parking in a handicap parking spot. But I don’t mind because they just don’t know me or know what I have. Although my MD has progressed over the years and getting worse, I have learned to except it and make certain changes in to my life such as now walking with a cane in order to keep my balance and helping me not to fall. At this point I am just taking everything day by day and staying strong. But there is one thing I want people to know by reading this quote.
"There’s no “cure” or a pill will “fix it”, but at one point I thought it may help. And I thought the same with therapy and food. But it’s my endless support from family and friend that helps. It is hardest thing that I have ever done, and I found myself much stronger for doing it. Never, ever underestimate the power of your desire. If you want to live badly enough, you can live. The greater question, at least for me was: How do I decide I want to live? That is the question I’m still working on?"
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