Vermont dancer Lida Winfield uses painful memories of growing up dyslexic to make beautiful, raw, transformative art.
“This is a story about the transformative power of art,” Vermont dancer Lida Winfield says as she glides around a stage that is bare, save for a pile of books that she circles and stands on. “This is a story about believing.”
When she graduated from high school, Winfield would not have been able to read those books. That’s because she is dyslexic, and fell behind in a school system that devalued children with learning disabilities. In her signature piece, In Search of Air: Growing up Dyslexic, the Vermont dancer employs modern dance and spoken word (both recorded and her own) to express the anger and frustration that she felt during those years. Music and movement match the content, from quick and sharp to slow and flowing, and finally joyful after she describes how a teacher taught her to learn kinesthetically, using movement to help her understand language.
Wearing a white sleeveless dress and waving a sheet of gauze behind which she sometimes disappears, Winfield mimics jumping rope in the playground and then extends her hands over her head to illustrate her words: the teacher made her wear a dunce cap. A male voice coming over a speaker suggests that this punishment reinforces dyslexics’ belief that if they fail, they see themselves as stupid.
“The goal is to give a window into my experience,” the Bennington resident says, “and to show how important the arts are. It can also be about all who have had struggle and heartache in their life.”
Winfield has performed the piece on and off for the past six years at schools and conferences around the country and on tour in Europe, Mexico, and elsewhere. She also tours other pieces, including Long Gone, in which she and another dancer, Ellen Smith Ahern, explore how the dead live on in memory and imagination. She has performed on rooftops and in fields, woods, streets, beaches, and galleries, and often in other dancers’ projects.
“I was a kid who played outside, in the woods, and more than anything, that’s impacted the way I create,” Winfield says of growing up in a small Vermont town. She started dancing when she was two and acting when she was seven, joining a multi-generational dance/theater company at 14.
Winfield finally learned to read at Landmark College, a Putney, Vermont, school for students with learning disabilities. There, a teacher taught her to learn by doing, such as spelling while doing jumping jacks or reading while moving, with the words written on big sheets on a wall. It wasn’t a straight trajectory, but afterward, Winfield got a bachelor’s degree at Goddard College, followed by a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts. Her thesis topic was a prophetic one: “Using the Expressive Arts as a Healing Tool for Transformation.” Would that she had known that herself when she was a child, in need of her own healing.
You can see Winfield on April 6 in the Faculty Dance Concert at Middlebury College, where she is a visiting lecturer in dance. She is scheduled to perform a duet with Maree ReMalia that is an excerpt of her new work, Imaginary. She will also perform In Search of Air in June at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine, which will be followed by workshops on art, disability, and training for educators.