Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies

Tribute to dancer/choreographer Barry Martin

Simi Linton
President, Disability/Arts
E-mail: simi4@yahoo.com

Barry Martin was a gracious and thoughtful man. He had warm, brown skin and long tapered fingers. He sat squarely in his motorized chair, with the grace that comes from a lifetime of being a dancer.

Barry died on February 6, 2006 in his New York apartment, apparently of heart failure. He was 44 years old.

He held a bachelor's degree in dance and sociology from the State University of New York at Purchase and later went on to earn a master's degree in Arts Organization from New York University and was completing a second master's degree in Disability Performance from the Gallatin Division of New York University.

Barry was in an automobile accident while on tour with the English dance company, Hot Gossip. It was in South Africa and it was 1983. The first ambulance to arrive on the scene was designated "whites only" and they would not pick him up; he then was denied treatment at a hospital and it was in the transfer to the second hospital that his spinal cord was damaged, and he became quadriplegic.

Trained as a modern dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, he turned to choreography and acting after his injury. He then worked with playwright Joe Chaikin on his master's thesis, and started a dance program for children in the New York City Public Schools. According to his friend and fellow dancer Zazel-Chavah O'Garra, "He had no bitterness or anger. What he had was determination to be seen, heard and recognized as an artist, a dancer, and an actor."

Barry had called me a week or so before he died to say that he was about to begin a project with American Ballet Theater, and that his thesis was almost done. There was optimism and enthusiasm in his voice. He was hopeful that he would have the opportunity to use his talents as a choreographer and as an actor. Of his work as an actor, the actress Anita Hollander recalled that "the monologues and characters he created for Joe [Chaikin] liberated and inspired the rest of us to be bolder and go further with our own creations. He was like a light bulb to us all!"

Barry Martin did a great deal to illuminate the disability experience in his work, and he hoped to take his show on the road. He was from the Caribbean island of Montserrat, and wanted to take his project there. He once said: "If you were disabled in the West Indies, you lived with a mask because you were not recognized."

We will miss Barry Martin, and will have to redouble our efforts to continue the project that Barry worked so hard on: to get recognition for disabled artists.

Copyright (c) 2006 Simi Linton

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