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Bringing Ballet to The Blind Audio-Description At The Kentucky Center For The Arts

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from Dance Magazine, June, 2002:

Dancers aren't the only ones warming up before The Nutcracker performances at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville. Out front, a trained audio-description volunteer also prepares for a live performance.

As the flowers waltz, the volunteer, settled into the light booth or some other suitable space, broadcasts an auditory scene for blind patrons who listen from their seats using a receiver and earphone. The center's audio-description program celebrates its tenth anniversary this season and for the first time it's offering the service for modern dance as well as ballet devotees.

KCA is one of a small but increasing number of performing-arts centres that offer audio descriptions for non-sighted dance enthusiasts. Last season 187 patrons took advantage of the KCA's description service, which is available for all types of theatrical performances--from experimental theatre to a recent performance by the Koresh Dance Company, the first modern dance group to be described there.

Just like dancers, the volunteers must audition and train. What makes a good audio describer? "An eye for detail, concentration, vocabulary, and sense of timing," says Stacy Ridgway, access services coordinator for KCA. They must be able to describe the visual elements of the performance as it's happening in a way that will bring it to life for those not familiar with technical dance terms--and it must be done objectively.

"You could never say, 'Cinderella wraps her arms around the Prince and weeps with joy,'" Ridgway says. "'With joy,' is an opinion, and they aren't allowed in the art of audio description."

Alice Baldwin of Louisville has been volunteering for Nutcracker performances for so many years she offers this description of the Snow variation finale from memory:

"The snowflakes, played by the corps, fall into two diagonal lines across the stage," she says. "Each girl has one leg extended before her, the other curled beneath her. Their long arms stretch and wave languidly toward the Snow Queen and Prince. The Prince slowly lowers the Queen from his shoulders and sets her, en pointe, before him."

For patrons with vision problems, such descriptions, coupled with the live music and excitement of sighted audience members around them, bring the ballet to life.

Britt Lincoln, a 13-year-old audio-description user, was certainly enthusiastic. "Sleeping Beauty was audio-narrated, so I was able to catch the action," she wrote in a letter to KCA. "I think if this method of letting blind people 'see' the action was employed more widely, it would be a smashing success."

The KCA audio-description teachers do offer training sessions at other venues. To reach the centre's access services office, call 502/562-0111 or visit: For additional information visit:

Copyright 2002 Dance Magazine, Inc.