University of Illinois at Chicago
ONEILL-THESIS-2021.pdf (4.85 MB)

Becoming Symptom Notation: A Study of Choreography for Mad and Hidden Disability Symptomologies

Download (4.85 MB)
posted on 2021-08-01, 00:00 authored by Katie Lynn O'Neill
As a Mad performance artist working within Chicago’s disability arts and culture scene, I’ve taken notice of an under-representation of disabled artists and dancers who identify as Mad or as having hidden disabilities. The critical recognition of physically integrated dance, which centers people with and without disabilities together, has paved the way for genres of disability dance to consider inclusivity and the aesthetic value of impairments in performance. I imagined how mental and hidden bodily “movements” might be translated into a form of its own, where symptoms from unrecognized disabilities could be projected through the physical body. Dance and music notation practices offer unique capabilities for translation that involve concrete systems of recording, interpretation, and reperformance using sign-oriented languages. In thinking of the possibilities of codifying symptoms, several lines of inquiry emerge: How does drawing from pre-existing systems of notation support the configuration of an arts-based process designed for hidden disabilities? How might notation practices serve people with hidden disabilities in identity formation, self-knowledge, and empowerment? Using auto/ethnographic approaches, this thesis follows the trajectory of Symptom Notation, a participatory, ‘cripped’ system of dance notation that translates symptoms into choreographic gestures through the use of symbols. In contrast to dominant pathologizing practices of “reading” symptoms, Symptom Notation reclaims symptoms as essential sites of self with generative and collaborative potential, arguing that the knowledge produced from symptomatic experiences creatively contribute to identity and community formation. Two performance art projects, Psychosis Journal (2018) and unbecoming hiding place (2019), function as case studies that visualize the motivations, doubts, and experimentations behind Symptom Notation’s becomings, in reflection of its shift from a private to communal method of self-exploration. Symptom Notation aims to address issues specific to hidden disability experiences, such as the concept of “passing”, to effectively bridge the self-uncovering process with the very politics that impose this category. It is through this project that self-becoming (and the subsequent unbecoming of Mad and hidden disability’s “invisibility” factor) is continuously enacted not only in search of a futurity for which people with hidden disabilities thrive, but in a reimagined scope of disability dance.



Sandahl, Carrie


Sandahl, Carrie


Disability and Human Development

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Masters

Degree name

MS, Master of Science

Committee Member

Patsavas, Alyson Moruzzi, Norma

Submitted date

August 2021

Thesis type



  • en

Usage metrics


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager