8.16.18 | Photo Credit: Eric Mann
Elizabeth Whitaker is a woman from Little Rock, Arkansas who has been blind since birth. Lauren McCarty is a professional dance teacher who began training Elizabeth in ballet almost two years ago. Their story of dancing together is the focus of the documentary Without A Mirror, which captures the true essence of the human spirit and what it means to not let obstacles stand in the way. The documentary uncovers what is at the core of our deepest selves and what it takes to overcome perceived impediments.
Without A Mirror is directed by Arkansas native Eric Mann and will be debuted August 20th, 2018 at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Read on for our interview with Elizabeth and Lauren…
ELIZABETH, PLEASE SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY WITH TAKING A “SITUATION” LIKE YOURS AND FOLLOWING A DESIRE FOR A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF EXPERIENCING LIFE DESPITE OUTSIDE OPINIONS OF WHAT’S CONSIDERED BEST FOR YOU. WHAT DO YOU FEEL WAS THE GAME CHANGER FOR YOU?
Being blind is all I’ve ever known; I have nothing to compare it to, no concept of comparing what it’s like to see. I just experience life as it happens and figure it out along the way. I credit my parents for always encouraging me to do what I believed I could do, they gave me no limits. My best friend since early childhood is sighted, and she always involved me in the neighborhood play. I was never made to feel different in the world I grew up in.
LAUREN, AS A TRAINED DANCER, HOW DID YOU FIND YOURSELF WORKING ONE ON ONE WITH SUCH AN INSPIRING CLIENT AS ELIZABETH? SHARE WITH US A BIG TAKE AWAY YOU’VE EXPERIENCED SINCE WORKING WITH ELIZABETH.
It all happened very coincidentally but quite synchronistically, to be honest. Elizabeth had been working with a friend of mine who is also a dancer, and my friend was moving away so she reached out and asked if I’d be interested in taking over. She of course mentioned that Elizabeth is a blind woman but that she is more determined than most students she’s worked with. It came at such a perfect time in my own life.
The biggest takeaway for me is that this experience has made me such a better teacher. I’m much more descriptive verbally when teaching than I was before, working with someone who can’t see her reflection in the mirror.
ELIZABETH, WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE ON BALLET? IT’S SO SPECIFIC AND CHALLENGING, WHAT DREW YOU TO IT?
I’ve always been an athlete. I ran track, did gymnastics and was a cheerleader during my youth. I’m also a musician and I play keyboard and piano in a band. I wanted to increase my stage presence while playing and I struggle with spatial awareness while on stage, and I wanted to increase that awareness to feel more graceful over all. I knew that ballet would help my core, body placement and body alignment, and would teach me to feel my surroundings rather than to rely on others to guide me. I wanted to have more free movement and to not feel so silly when I’m on stage.
BALLET IS AN ART FORM THAT ALLOWS US TO SEEM TO GLIMPSE INTO A DANCER’S SOUL. ELIZABETH, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT AS YOU LOSE YOURSELF IN MOVEMENT?
I tend to focus on the more technical side of it so my first thought is typically, “I hope I’m doing this correctly!” But I’ve found that when I move across the floor during pirouettes or jumps, I’m able to allow myself to just flow in the movement and the moment. It feels freeing. It is sort of like getting lost in yourself. You release judgement for yourself.
THE DOCUMENTARY WITHOUT A MIRROR IS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL STORY OF THE TWO OF YOU. WHAT MESSAGE ARE YOU BOTH HOPING TO SPREAD WITH THIS FILM?
Elizabeth: My message is to do whatever it is that you want to do in life. Just go do it. Get out of your head and stop overthinking it, stop focusing on outside opinions. Don’t let that get in your way. It’s only when you get out and do something that you realize what you’re capable of doing.
Lauren: My message is that we can be the biggest obstacles for ourselves. Get out of your own way; the worst thing that can happen in dance is that you might fall down. And we all fall down. Just keep dancing.
ELIZABETH, WHAT DOES WITHOUT A MIRROR MEAN TO YOU?
For me, I’m blind. I know that, but not everyone is around a person who is blind. So maybe there is someone that can be inspired to help others understand that we really aren’t different. We are just as capable as anyone else.
ELIZABETH, YOU ARE SO FULL OF POSITIVE ENERGY THAT SHINES THROUGH IN THE DOCUMENTARY. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WITH A NEGATIVE PERSPECTIVE ON THEIR SPECIFIC SITUATION, OR JUST ON LIFE IN GENERAL?
It’s simple…life and your situation is what you make of it. It’s up to you, you have a choice.
ELIZABETH, BESIDES BALLET, WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS YOU NOURISH YOUR MIND, BODY AND SOUL?
I love to read. I’m an avid reader, and I also love to write. I enjoy spending time with friends, exercising and stretching is very important to me. I stretch my body every morning and every night.
WHAT’S ONE OF THE MOST INSPIRING BOOKS YOU’VE READ?
Elizabeth: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. In summary, this book is about the fact that one small thing that you do can affect so many other lives.
Lauren: I really love autobiographies, I love reading other people’s stories. Two of my favorites are Life In Motion by Misty Copeland and Dancing On My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland.