Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Blind choreographer's sight set on teaching

Published:Thursday | September 27, 2018 | 12:00 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Derrick McCarthy in 2006.
The Campion College Dance Society in performance. McCarthy worked with the society from 2011-2016.

"My body is intact ... my brain is still working, the only thing that is missing is the ability to see," Derrick McCarthy told The Gleaner.

The former National Dance Theatre Company member, performance arts teacher, dance tutor and choreographer lost his sight to glaucoma five years ago. But McCarthy did not allow that to affect his job, as he continued to teach, and for years after remained an active contributor to popular dance productions such as the Campion College Season of Dance.

Artistic director of Campion College Dance Society, Dwright Wright, notes that McCarthy has always done exceptional work and acted as the chief external choreographer with the society from 2011-2016.

"He has educated the youth of the dance society even through the darkness created by his loss of sight. In fact, the severity of the condition was not understood or better yet, not explained to most of his colleagues - maybe because he was in denial," said Wright.

Speaking to The Gleaner, McCarthy said, "It got rough in 2015, when more individuals in the field started to grasp that I was having problems with my eyes - it could be that the level of work probably deteriorated - even though it is unlikely, or maybe how I was handling it emotionally at the time."


Financial strain


During that time, the 56-year-old dancer not only lost his sight, but was faced with the task of burying his mother the same year he was diagnosed, and his father two years ago. It put a financial strain on him and the dancer started to withdraw from the educational platforms as he feared rejection by the students and the administrative departments of the schools where he was contracted.

"I have a tendency to lock myself away and because of this disability, people are afraid to take the chance, or don't understand how to get me back into the system of performing professionally," he mused.

It is something he still wants to do. "I still want to teach, and believe that there are colleagues in the field that still have confidence in my talent despite my disability."

He said that the condition has forced him to make adjustments in his daily life. "When it comes to preparing or purchasing food, I cannot do that on my own. I get assistance and even go by the National Insurance Scheme office in Spanish Town, where church groups deliver food boxes in the evening on some days. The vision is fuzzy in one eye, and the other is not so strong, so on a day like today, I have not even come out of bed to find anything to eat."

In fact, McCarthy claims that he is home for days without food since he cannot be out on his own. It has even impacted how he navigates his own home and complete simple task like operating his cellular phone, and keeping his house clean.

One of McCarthy's past students started a Go Fund Me page labelled 'Get Mr McCarthy back on his feet,' but the page created in May has so far received only two contributions.

Though McCarthy is appreciative of the page, his goal is to cover his own expenses, though a reliable wage is so difficult to secure. "Dancers have it hard enough," he shared. He revealed that December was the last time he worked professionally.

"I cannot pay my rent, hardly buy food, and I am scared I might be put out because I owe so much rent," he said. "The drugs for my eyes - even the generic drugs are costly. Sometimes I find myself begging, and I ask myself, 'how did I get here'? Things come to my mind and it is disheartening."

Doing choreography in his home is the only thing that helps him to maintain a positive outlook. "I cry a lot when I am unable to share what I love with others, but I keep strong, knowing I still have it in me to move."