Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities 
Act Through the Incredible Journey of Alumna Kitty Lunn ’95

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities 
Act Through the Incredible Journey of Alumna Kitty Lunn ’95

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities 
Act Through the Incredible Journey of Alumna Kitty Lunn ’95

This year our country celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed on July 26, 1990. As a school focused on exploring issues of justice, we recognize the many ways in which the ADA provides vital protections against discrimination and empowers people with disabilities, as the remarkable journey of alumna Kitty Lunn ’95 beautifully demonstrates.

Lunn, a ballet dancer, disability activist, and founder of Infinity Dance Theater has been dancing since she was eight years old. In 1987, after slipping on a patch of ice, falling down a flight of stairs and breaking her back, Lunn was left a paraplegic. She had been a dancer with The Washington Ballet, studied under some of the great ballet masters, and performed in physically demanding ballets such as Swan Lake, Giselle, and The Nutcracker. Lunn wondered if she’d ever walk again, let alone dance, and spent three years in recovery before fighting for her space at the barre. “When disability happens, life does not end unless you want it to. If you’re being blatantly discriminated against, you have two choices: You can accept it or not,” says Lunn, whose battle for inclusivity paved the way for future dancers with disabilities.

“When disability happens, life does not end unless you want it to.” —Kitty Lunn

Learning a Life Lesson
“Dance has been a passion and a way of life for me since I was eight years old,” says Lunn. “When I was in New Orleans, my teacher identified that I had a talent and she put me on a track that led to a scholarship in Washington.” At the young age of 15, Lunn packed her bags and began training with The Washington Ballet dance company. There she learned a valuable lesson about self-acceptance that would later serve as the foundation for her reentry into the dance world. “The great Agnes de Mille was a guest artist and, after her sessions, we would gather around and sit at her feet. Dancers are obsessed with their bodies because that is their instrument, and I was not a tall person. So, I asked her one day, ‘Do you think it’s a good idea that I should try to get a bone transplant?’ I was desperate to fit in. She took my face in her hands and she said, ‘Kitty, dear, you have to learn to dance in the body you have.’” It was de Mille’s prophetic advice that would propel Lunn forward later in life.

“She took my face in her hands and she said, ‘Kitty, dear, you have to learn to dance in the body you have.’” —Kitty Lunn

Beginning Again
“One snowy day, there was ice on the ground and I slipped and fell and fractured my neck on the marble steps,” recalls Lunn. She was living in New York City and leaving an evening job, eager to go on her third date with Andrew Macmillan—who would turn out to be her future husband. “When I fell, I knew I had hurt myself, but I didn’t know how badly I was hurt. I remember that I spilled my purse and I was frantically trying to collect the items and I happened to give someone Andrew’s answering service phone number.” When Lunn woke up from surgery, Macmillan was there. “Our entire courtship took place in the hospital. He proposed one month later.”

Macmillan remained a staunch supporter and ally during Lunn’s recovery and reentry into ballet. “If you want to dance, what’s stopping you?” he asked her. With limited mobility in her arms and legs, Lunn would have to confront both the ballet industry and her own doubts in order to dance again. “I couldn’t point my toes. I couldn’t hold my stomach in,” says Lunn. “Nevermind that I couldn’t stand up. What was stopping me? The answer to that question was fear. I was stopping myself, and if I wanted to dance, I had to face that fear.”

“What was stopping me? The answer to that question was fear. I was stopping myself, and if I wanted to dance, I had to face that fear.” —Kitty Lunn

Finding a Way Back
After the accident, Lunn could not find an inclusive class to begin dancing again. “No one would let me take a class,” she says. After she worked with her husband to construct a manual wheelchair specifically designed for dancing, she decided to fight for a spot in dance class. Armed with a copy of the ADA and a renewed sense of confidence, Lunn demanded equal treatment at a dance studio. “When I got to the studio, I put my money on the table. Nobody was pleased, but they had to let me enroll in the dance class because it was the law,” says Lunn. “I was told that if anyone complained, I would have to leave. My response was simple. I said, ‘I can promise you that I will not run into anyone, but I cannot promise you that they will not run into me.’ I wheeled through the door and Paloma Herrera and Vladimir Malakhov, two world-class ballet dancers with the American Ballet Theater, made a place for me at the barre.”

“When I got to the studio, I put my money on the table. Nobody was pleased, but they had to let me enroll in the dance class because it was the law.” —Kitty Lunn

Creating Infinity Dance Theater
After attending more dance classes, Lunn’s passion for dance was reignited. “I started transposing the technique of classical ballet. And I use the term ‘transpose’ because if you say adapt or adjust, it sounds less than.” Transposing is a musical term that Lunn, who is also a singer, connected to the act of teaching ballet to dancers with disabilities. “When you transpose music into a different key, you’re not losing any of the notes. I started doing that. I would take a class every day. Then I’d come home and write it all down.” Lunn eventually sought to create choreography and enlisted two dancers through the organization Dancers Over Forty to perform. The performance was featured in the New York Times “Arts and Leisure” section, which gave Lunn credibility, a platform to engage other dancers, and the inspiration to establish a non-traditional dance company.

Lunn (left) performing on stage
Lunn (left) performing on stage

“Infinity Dance Theater was born out of necessity, because I had to keep dancing.” —Kitty Lunn

“Infinity Dance Theater was born out of necessity, because I had to keep dancing," Lunn says. “I chose the name infinity because the infinity symbol is the symbol of never-ending motion.” In 1996, Infinity Dance Theater was selected to perform at the Paralympic gala in Atlanta, Georgia. “We were on our way after that. Infinity Dance Theater reflects the world we live in. I have disabled dancers and non-disabled dancers. I have an inclusive company. We partner with one another.”

Attending John Jay College
At the age of 40, Lunn was invited to become a member of the Council of Actors Equity where, through the actor’s work program, she was given the opportunity to pursue a degree in legal studies at John Jay College. After a tremendous amount of hard work and perseverance, in 1995 Lunn graduated with a 4.0 GPA and received the Leonard E. Reisman Medal, one of the highest honors given to a John Jay student. Thinking about the students following in her footsteps, Lunn offers this practical piece of advice, “Figure out what you want to study. Find the professor you want to study with. Take the course. Learn from it. Be thirsty for knowledge, and never say, ‘this is good enough.’ Mediocrity is not acceptable.”