About Petra

white woman with bald head and yellow glasses, soft velvet clothes, smiles with blue lipstick out at the world
A group of beloved dancers and Petra in her Scootie assemble beneath the stage at Judson Church

Bio, Artist Statement, and Links

Petra Kuppers (she/her) is a disability culture activist, a wheelchair dancer, and a community performance artist. Petra grounds herself in disability culture methods. She uses ecosomatics, performance, and speculative writing to engage audiences toward more socially just and enjoyable futures.

She teaches at the University of Michigan in performance studies and disability culture, in the English and Women's and Gender Studies Departments. She is also an adviser on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College.

She has been engaged in community dance and disability culture production since the late 80s, and she continues to lead workshops internationally, in these forms as well as in disability-culture adapted social somatics.

When her chronic pain does not allow outer movement, she writes. Her third performance poetry collection, Gut Botany, was named one of the top ten US poetry books of 2020 by the New York Public Library, and it won the 2022 Creative Book Award by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. Petra also writes speculative fiction (short story collection Ice Bar 2018), and academic books (latest, 2022: Eco Soma: Joy and Pain in Speculative Performance Encounters).

She was a 2021 Dance Research Fellow at the New York Public Library's dance division, and a fellow at the Black Earth Institute from 2018-2022. She is the Artistic Director of The Olimpias, an international disability culture collective, and co-creates Turtle Disco, a somatic writing studio, with her wife, poet and dancer Stephanie Heit, from their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Three Fires Confederacy Territory.

In 2022/2023, Petra holds the M. Thelma McAndless Distinguished Professor Chair in the Humanities at Eastern Michigan University.

Here be Dragons (Petra's poetry/fiction site)

Olimpias Artist Statement:

The Olimpias is an artists’ collective, founded in 1996 in Wales during work with mental health system survivors, with artistic director Petra Kuppers. Associates come from across the world, with a current US center. We create collaborative, research-focused environments open to people with physical, emotional, sensory and cognitive differences and their co-conspirators. In these environments, we can explore pride and pain, attention and the transformatory power of touch. The Olimpias are disability-led, and non-disabled allies are always welcome. We use presence, slowness, pedestrian movements, a poetics of words and bodies, and the deep affective register of (energetic) touch to share our beauty and our critique. In most Olimpias sharings, we invite audience members to physically (or energetically) engage, shaping participatory performances together.

The Olimpias call for disability culture(s) even while we are aware of the limits of this term, of the disconnects between individual experiences, historical and ongoing oppressions of multiple kinds, and the cultural formations we speak into being.

Performance work, pedagogical labor, activism and critical writing are all part of a continuum. We believe that writing about our art/life practices extends the circle of art’s reach and political vibrancy. Many Olimpias actions result in montaged, multi-voiced essays - part of our audiencing approach.

Other links:

Detroit Performs: a short video about Petra's community dance practice

Goddard College: Petra's Teaching Artist Statement

Older Olimpias Website (static) International Disability Culture Practices: An Archive of 20+ years of community dance and performance

Petra's Academia.edu site: free (with registration) depository of 100+ papers and books chapters, most downloadable as PDFs.

Contact: petra@umich.edu