In the spotlight

Kayla Wegley is giving a voice to victims of dating violence and abuse – without saying a single word.

During two performances in the Elizabeth Sherbon Dance Theatre, Wegley and a cast of 35 dancers and 14 choreographers demonstrated the effects of violence through the language of movement.

The event was the culmination of a KU undergraduate research award that Wegley, a senior dance major, received to curate and direct “Alterity,” ten dances about dating violence. Alterity, Wegley says, means “otherness” or “to become separate, even from one’s self,” and many victims feel that isolation and sense of difference.

“Throughout the production, people were coming to me with their personal stories,” she says. “One out of every three women will experience this kind of abuse in her lifetime.” Nine of the dances focused on the effects of violence on women; one was about female-on-male violence.

Because most instances of assault and dating violence occur when people are between the ages of 16 and 24, Wegley felt she needed to address the topic in a college setting. Reviewers at the KU Center for Undergraduate Research agreed, awarding Wegley $1,000 to cover research and production costs involved with the performance.

Initially, Wegley was hesitant to apply for a research award because she assumed most awards were given to students in STEM fields. Her project would be creative, humanities focused, sensitive. She wasn’t sure how it would go over.

“So, opening up that email to get an undergraduate research grant was a validation that this research is real, this topic is real,” Wegley says.

“Real” isn’t always easy to talk about, though, as Wegley has found. In the process of research, she wrestled with a paradox: In the news and on social media, dating violence is reported so often people tune it out; in personal settings, it’s rarely discussed.

“Social media – or any media for that fact – is impersonal and distant. It forces people to listen to a problem but not actually address it,” says Wegley. “But in conversation or in art, the subject becomes raw and uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is really necessary, I think.”

Wegley says she wanted a response from her audience, to stir up “emotions and questions about how to get involved in the cause to end domestic violence and abuse.” She’s realized that to say something direct and powerful, she doesn’t have to say anything at all.

“Dance is all about expression and exposing facets of the human experience,” says Wegley. “It can reach people.”


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