The physically integrated dance movement is part of the disability culture movement, which recognizes and celebrates the first-person experience of disability, not as a medical model construct but as a social phenomenon, through artistic, literary, and other creative means.
Adam Benjamin, author of Making an Entrance: Theory and Practice for Disabled and Non-Disabled Dancers (2002), has written about the perhaps unnecessary labelling of a dance performance as "integrated" or "inclusive" dance when advertising it to the public, calling it, "a bit like a roadsign warning the unwary theatre-goer of possible encounters with wheelchairs—it tells us that we can expect to see a disabled person on stage, which can only leave us asking, 'Is that really necessary? Who is it that needs to be warned?'" Part of the reason for this practice may be the breaking of a taboo for some audience members to see bodies in many conditions performing on stage, an event that may create astonishment, among other reactions. Audiences in Western cultures are accustomed to seeing only dancers in peak physical condition when they attend performances at top theatres. Integrated or inclusive dance also must rise to the artistic challenges that face any dance performance.
Modern integrated or inclusive dance was first explored during the late 1960s. Dance instructor Hilde Holger taught dance to her son, who had Down Syndrome, and went on to stage a performance that included intellectually disabled dancers at Sadler's Wells in 1968. Among Holger's students was Wolfgang Stange, who was inspired to found a company to perform integrated dance works, the Amici Dance Theatre Company. Integrated dance gained a higher profile with the mainstream public during the 1980s. In 1986, DV8 Physical Theatre was founded in London, England, and in 1987, the AXIS Dance Company was founded in California. A number of other dance companies around the world now perform with physically or mentally disabled dancers.
There are also companies that are founded or led by people who identify as disabled, and disabled choreographers, many of whom challenge conceptions of 'dance', 'stage,' and 'artistry' in their work. Examples include Kim Manri (Taihen), Gerda Koenig (DIN A 13), Petra Kuppers (The Olimpias), Raimund Hoghe, Claire Cunningham, Neil Marcus, Bill Shannon and Marc Brew.
Some physically integrated dance companies are:
AXIS Dance Company is a professional contemporary dance company and dance education organization based in Oakland, California. It was founded in 1987 and was one of the first contemporary dance companies in the world to consciously develop choreography that integrates dancers with and without physical disabilities. Their work has received seven Isadora Duncan Dance Awards and nine additional nominations for both their artistry and production values.
Candoco Dance Company is a British contemporary dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, founded in 1991 by Celeste Dandeker and Adam Benjamin. Dandeker, who had previously trained with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, suffered a fall whilst dancing on stage. The resulting spinal injury prevented her from dancing until choreographer Darshan Singh Buller persuaded her to dance again, albeit from her wheelchair, for the subsequently award-winning dance film The Fall. From this, Dandeker took inspiration to create Candoco Dance Company, which, since its inception, has been creating an inclusive dance practice.
The Dancing Wheels Company is a professional dance company based in Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in 1980, it was the first in America to stage performances involving dancers with and without disabilities. The company uses its performances to enhance public awareness of disability issues and promote social change.
DV8 Physical Theatre was formed in 1986 by an independent collective of British dancers who, they claim, had become frustrated and disillusioned with the preoccupation and direction of most dance. The company has produced 16 dance pieces, which have toured internationally, and 4 award-winning films for television. They are performing works that break down the barriers between dance, theatre, and personal politics and, above all, communicate ideas and feelings clearly and unpretentiously. Dancers and production staff include people with disabilities, for example in the company's film The Cost of Living.
Indepen-dance is a Scottish inclusive dance organisation founded in 1996 by Karen Anderson. Based in Glasgow the organisation is primarily based around the delivery of weekly classes and a service provider for learning disabled dancers and their carers. The organisation also runs three performing companies – Adult Performance Company, Young1'z and Indepen-dance 4.
Remix Dance Project is a South African contemporary dance company that "brings together performers with physical disabilities and performers without." It concentrates on the contemporary dance genre, with its activities focused on education and the creation of "performances that are intriguing and intelligent".
Restless Dance Theatre is a physically integrated dance company based in Adelaide, Australia. The company has three core areas of activity: a community workshop program for small children with intellectual disability, a core performance group of 15- to 26-year-olds with and without disabilities who work in collaboration with professional artists and a touring company of professional dancers.
The Amici Dance Theatre Company, founded by Wolfgang Stange in 1980 and based in London, UK, includes dancers with physical and also mental disabilities. The approach of Stange has been described as one that directly incorporates each dancer's unique qualities into the dance:
Where others saw limitation, Stange saw potential. Where others saw a medical condition, Stange saw the possibility of a new form of expression. Like Holger, he believed that the key to performance was honesty: the presentation of the authentic self. Everyone could be honest, so everyone had something to offer.