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Breaking Ground 93 - Borderless Arts Breaks Ground in Egypt

nine women of various ages leaning against a short wall. In the background you can see Egyptian monuments
In Egypt at the Great pyramids and the Sphynx. L-R: Kathleen Dodd and Grace Dodd in front of her, Lori Kissinger, Sylvia Goodman, Danielle Clement, Caitlin Bernstein, Monique Bernstein, Crystal McKee and Hope Mckee.

Borderless Arts Tennessee, a statewide arts program for individuals with disabilities, was recently invited by the Alwadna International Arts Forum for the Gifted to represent the United States in Egypt. Members of the Borderless “Movement Connection” dance program performed in costumes made by members of the Borderless “Teapot Diplomats” visual arts program, in a piece developed by Borderless Arts last summer. That piece was integrated into the Frist Center for the Visual Arts' Nick Cave exhibit. A member of the Alwadna International Arts Forum committee saw a video of this dance program, and invited the young Tennesseans with disabilities who participated in this Borderless Arts program to visit Egypt and represent the U.S.

Due to funding constraints and restrictions by the Forum, the traveling artists were limited to a small participating party. It was decided that one of the dancers would be one of the Teapot Diplomats that helped make the performance costumes. The dancers from “Movement Connection” included Grace Dodd, Caitlin Bernstein, Danielle Clement and Teapot Diplomat Hope McKee.

The participants arrived in Egypt in the late afternoon of April 26. They were immediately whisked away to a rehearsal that lasted into the night. Early the next morning, the group toured some of the area's sites before heading to an evening opening ceremonies performance that took place in the theater at the University of Cairo. The entire visit was a whirlwind that included a second day of performances at the Civic Education Center in Cairo, as well as sightseeing and then a quick return to the United States.

A trip highlight was meeting other performers from all over the world, who were excited that the United States was able to be present at this event. In all, 31 nations participated, primarily of African and Arabic backgrounds.   

This opportunity was a major step for our organization. Borderless Arts Tennessee is a small organization, but we have big dreams. However, the biggest accomplishment for me was watching our participants grow. They grew by watching and learning about cultures that are very different from what they have experienced in the States.

They also grew by expanding their own abilities. I saw them be flexible with schedules, endure hugs and kisses when some don’t like to be touched out of respect for other cultures, and push past exhaustion to perform at their very best because they knew that they were representing more than just themselves. I sat holding my breath as these travel-worn dancers were about to take the stage, knowing that they waited in the wings for over eight hours. They were venturing out onto a stage with an unexpected light show behind them and a sea of over 4,000 foreign faces in front of them. I had no idea if they would step onto the stage or possibly freeze in place! The announcer said, “And now representing the United States of America…” and my heart skipped a beat. And here they came with smiles on their faces to perform the best performance I have ever seen them give - the show of their lives.

"The best of humanity was shown at this forum through the harmony created by imagination and artistry by all of the countries represented,” said Hope McKee, the Teapot Diplomat representative. “The kinship and goodwill made this trip truly awe-inspiring."

For a few days, countries came together to celebrate abilities and the ties that bring humans together - the need to connect, the need to communicate and the need to create. And it was performers with disabilities that brought us to that place to remind us that what binds us together is far greater than what keeps us apart.

About Borderless Arts Tennessee

Established in 2001, Borderless Arts Tennessee, formerly VSA Tennessee, is a 501c3 organization that works in partnership with and in support of artists, parents/guardians and educators to ensure there are resources, tools and opportunities for arts programming in schools and communities statewide. Borderless Arts Tennessee offers quality dance, music and visual arts programs for people with disabilities. For more information, visit borderlessartstn.org.