Touch Compass

NZ’s premier integrated dance company combining dancers with and without disability in ground breaking professional performances and events.


Catherine Chappell, founder of Touch Compass, was invited to choreograph for the Healing Through Arts Trust run by Drama Therapist Maxine Axford in 1995 this was her first experience of working with people with disabilities. It was at this encounter that she met founding member and dancer extraordinaire Jesse Johnstone-Steele.

In 1995 Catherine Chappell returned from studying Contact Improvisation in America and took a DanceAbility introductory class by Alito Alessi. Excited by these possibilities she then went on to do an ‘All Wheels’ workshop in New York, where all participants were either in a wheelchair or on rollerblades. As Catherine hadn’t rollerbladed before she felt rather awkward but totally engaged in the process. She returned to NZ all fired up, bought a pair of rollerblades and began teaching mixed ability classes. Initially it was difficult to engage people in the idea, and Catherine offered lecture demonstrations to disability organisations to inform them about the work. From these sessions she gathered enough people to start regular classes.

These classes grew, and after a year Catherine went back to America to do the first International DanceAbility Teachers Training for three weeks in Eugene, Oregon run by Alito Alessi. With more grounding in the work, she was able to develop her own methods and formed a group to present the first Touch Compass season in 1997.

Touch Compass was set up as a Charitable Trust in 1999 with a Board of Trustees providing a structure for the organisation. The Company presents one major season or tour a year depending on funding, and ongoing classes and workshops whenever possible.

From the first performance in 1997 Touch Compass has continued to develop the ‘aerial work’ which sees wheelchairs and dancers suspended and swinging above the stage. The work that has resulted has earned Touch Compass the reputation of a pioneering and ingenious contemporary dance company.

The Trust celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007 with a four centre North Island tour and published an historical book outlining the Company’s achievements over the past decade. Touch Compass has performed eight choreographic seasons touring nationally and featured in numerous television documentaries.