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Crutchmaster's performance art plays with boundaries

Bill Shannon, the Crutchmaster
Bill Shannon, the Crutchmaster

Bill Shannon, otherwise known as "the Crutchmaster," spoke to members of the MIT community about his evolution as a celebrated hip-hop dancer, performance artist and activist on Thursday, Sept. 21 in Kresge Auditorium.

"I was the Easter Seals poster child -- the boy with the nasty brace and the pretty smile," said the 30-year-old Mr. Shannon." In public, I'm dancing the role of a young man on crutches. I'm also being myself."

Mr. Shannon's subtle yet captivating street performances are videotaped from a distance sufficient to reveal the larger pattern, or choreography, of his actions and others' responses. As he described his adventures in "pushing the boundaries of reasonable accommodation," Mr. Shannon, crutches atop his skateboard, circled the Kresge stage to demonstrate the easy quiet of his technique. "But museum security guards don't like this style at all!"

Mr. Shannon's inventive grace as a dancer does more than challenge the stereotypes held by security guards and theatergoers.

"Twenty-five years ago, crutches were clunky, made of steel and leather. These are better," he said. "But this is MIT! Engineers! I need crutches that can absorb the downward pressure of my weight and the lateral pressure from dancing. Any ideas?"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 2000.

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