Experience mixed-abilty improv dance with Body Shift

Close your eyes. Imagine a dance class in the TownLake Group Exercise studio. What music or sounds do you hear? Who are the people in the room? Are they moving in sync or each making it up as they go? What diverse abilities and adaptive equipment are in the room or not?

Every second and fourth Saturday, Body Shift (TownLake Y, 2:30-4:30pm) invites you to experience dance in a new way. I say “new” because even if you’ve attended a Body Shift event before, this one will still undoubtedly be a new experience. Unlike, for example, my choreographed Zumba classes, these mixed-ability dance events are improvisational, so no two are ever quite the same.

“One of the things I appreciate about improvisation is that you can be athletic or not,” writes project coordinator Olivia O’Hare in her blog post, Body Shift: The Element of Energy. “You don’t have to be able to do a pirouette or the splits to be a skilled improviser. Instead an understanding of the fundamental building blocks of movement are emphasized… . We structure class around a theme meant to develop the students’ understanding of the way their bodies can move creatively, beyond habitual movement patterns.

Body Shift is a program of VSA Texas, the State Organization of Arts and Disability, and co-founded by local nonprofit Forklift Danceworks. The group holds its acclaimed mixed-ability improvisational dance classes on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month in the TownLake YMCA Group Exercise studio.

Body Shift seeks to create a welcoming environment that empowers people of all abilities to embrace dancing in their own unique way, building a diverse community of people who find joy in dancing together. This goal aligns deeply with the YMCA’s commitment to being the “Y for all.”

One thing I was surprised to find in reading about Body Shift: music isn’t always involved in the dancing. Olivia O’Hare writes that “movement inspiration comes from the inside out, from sensation, from feeling your body as it moves.”

 “Music can be used to set the mood but is not necessary in this kind of dancing,” she says. “We work with the internal rhythm of our breath and body systems as well as our own desires for moving in ways that feel good to our bodies. The instructor acts as more of a facilitator helping to shape the participants’ experience… . Offering exercises and scores that encourage interpretation rather than imitation makes it possible to have people of all abilities dancing together in an inclusive way.

The YMCA is passionate and committed to mind-body-spirit wellness for all. From hosting Body Shift to building the new accessible playground at the Southwest Family YMCA, from our adaptive sports programs to the upcoming accessible camp at YMCA Camp Moody in Buda, we want our facilities to celebrate and serve people of all abilities.

Please reach out with any questions or suggestions of how we may grow in our mission of being for all. I hope to see you on the dance floor at a Body Shift event soon.

Erin Walter, TownLake YMCA Community Engagement Director



Body Shift mixed-ability movement workshops, second and fourth Saturdays, TownLake Y, 2:30-4:30pm: Adults (age 18 and up) of all abilities are encouraged to attend. Some experience with improvisation is best, and no membership is required. Cost is on a sliding scale of $5-$20.



All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to info@austinymca.org

Contribute to the Y

We believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. As the leading nonprofit committed to helping everyone thrive at each stage of life, we are uniquely positioned to take on new and long-standing challenges more comprehensively than anyone else.

Your support through the YMCA of Austin’s Annual Giving Campaign makes this possible.