Dancer Kelsey Peterson's accident inspired PBS documentary Move Me

Rachael Grealish November 8, 2022
Dancer Kelsey Peterson's accident inspired PBS documentary Move Me

Dancer Kelsey Peterson found her whole identity shattered in an instant when she had a life-changing accident which has now inspired the PBS documentary, Move Me.

Kelsey’s documentary, Move Me, made its TV debut Monday night (November 7) and follows her journey of reinventing herself and adapting to life following a horrific injury that left her paralyzed 10 years ago.

Over the last five years, Kelsey has gone on a journey not only to try and find a way to overcome her injury but to love herself in her new body and find new things that define her.

Kelsey Peterson’s accident

In 2012 the Minnesota-born dancer’s life completely changed when she dove into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. As she jumped in, Kelsey’s head hit the lake’s bottom, and as explained in the documentary, that’s when she heard a hissing sound.

This resulted in her suffering a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the chest down with no sensation or movement.

In an interview with PBS, Kelsey was asked about this experience and what it was like to transition from being a dancer and athlete to then becoming disabled.

She said: “The first few months [there was] a lot of disbelief and thinking maybe this isn’t my reality. “Maybe I will get my body back to the way it was.” And a lot of sadness in slowly realizing that that was not going to happen. [For] the first three years I cried a lot.

“I’d invested so much into my body and it was so much a part of my identity, in more ways than, ‘I’m a dancer, I’m a yoga teacher, I’m an athlete – and I was all of those things, which is a lot of things to have your identity wrapped up in your physicality.”

Kelsey Peterson’s journey to Move Me

Long before the Independent Lens and PBS documentary, Move Me, Kelsey started her journey because she actually wanted to find a cure for her injury, but explained this took her on a different, and unexpected, journey of self-discovery and acceptance, WOUB reports.

She said: “I started out making it because I wanted to find a cure for spinal cord injury. In seeking out answers from the community – scientists and other people with injuries – I unexpectedly developed a deep love for my disability experience and for my body that I did not have when I started making this film.”

Over the five years the documentary took to make, Kelsey went on a journey to learn to love herself again, to disregard any ableist thoughts she previously had, and to remember she is still a dancer even if she’s not physically the same as prior to her accident.

Kelsey Peterson in Move Me trailer. Credit: PBS/Independent Lens/YouTube screengrab

“I still feel like a dancer, but I didn’t know how to be a dancer anymore. I shelved that. ‘Okay, that’s done. I’m never gonna do that again’,” she explained. “That was just my own ingrained ableism and my own grief.”

Things really changed when musician Gabe Rodreick asked for her help with a project and that’s when Kelsey moved onto the dance floor again.

She said: “I think really getting in the way of that abstraction and that shift – and then [musician] Gabe [Rodreick] coming into my life asking me to help him – was this segue away from my ego and my pain and all of the other bull-.

“‘It’s not about me anymore, I’m gonna help my friend’s project’. Then I was able to step back onto the dance floor and explore. And be curious again. Okay, I can be this person and I can change the bar.

“I’m creating this bar in my own head and I’m letting society, or whatever I’ve learned throughout my childhood of what a dancer is, dictate that bar, f- that bar.”

Independent Lens and PBS Move Me

Kelsey hopes Move Me will “serve as a bridge to connect able-bodied people to the disability experience” as she endeavors to show the world life through her lens.

She said: “I think Move Me works to shift a harmful and narrowed narrative about people with disabilities, and if this film—or my experience—can serve as a bridge to connect able-bodied people to the disability experience, in a way that holds more empathy and accountability for making this world more inclusive and accessible, that would be an honor.”

Kelsey Peterson dancing in PBS and Independent Lens documentary, Move Me. Credit: PBS/Independent Lens and YouTube.

Not only does Kelsey star in the doc, but she also co-directed it – alongside Daniel Klein. She felt having a disabled female director sends an “important message”.

“I say this not for my own ego but because, as a female director with a disability, I think it sends an important message to our audience: this was absolutely a partnership, but there’s a reason my name was listed first, and when it came down to it, I was the captain of this ship,” she explained.

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have made this film without [co-director] Daniel [Klein], and wouldn’t have wanted to. His experience and talent speak for themselves.”

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Rachael is the Senior Content Editor at Freshered. She is NCTJ qualified with an MA in journalism. Rachael has almost ten years experience as a journalist in regional, national and international press and is passionate about creating engaging content.