How to Dance in Ohio at Wilton Library

Next up in Wilton Library’s New Perspectives Film Series is How to Dance in Ohio, an American documentary that follows teens and young adults on the autism spectrum as they prepare for their first spring formal.

Timed for screening during National Autism Awareness Month, the award-winning film will be shown at the library on April 9 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Laela Kilbourn, director of photography for the project.

Kilbourn told The Bulletin that the idea behind How to Dance in Ohio was born when director Alexandra Shiva, who “wanted to make a film that explores this topic” because she “had a young friend on the spectrum,” was connected with Dr. Emilio Amigo of Amigo Family Counseling in Columbus.

Amigo Family Counseling provides individual and group therapy to teenagers and adults on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

When the filmmakers behind How to Dance in Ohio met with Dr. Amigo, they learned he was planning a new exercise for his socially challenged clients.

“Everybody is daunted by their first formal dance,” Kilbourn said. “For someone on the autism spectrum, it is particularly challenging, and that’s why he chose it.”

Amigo booked a nightclub and began teaching his clients not only how to dance but also how better to read the many verbal and nonverbal social cues associated with formal dancing, which for people on the spectrum can be terrifying and seem impossible to understand.

“We realized his plan was a perfect mechanism for us to tell their stories,” Kilbourn said.

The documentary became a record of Amigo and his clients as they worked together to prepare for the spring formal. Kilbourn said that during shooting there were several unusual challenges she was confronted with in her capacity as cinematographer.

One of them was avoiding over-stimulating her sensitive subjects.

“Many people on the spectrum are sensitive to external stimuli — that includes light — so we had to think about lighting in a way that would still be beautiful and work for us as filmmakers but wouldn’t exacerbate or bother or irritate their senses,” Kilbourn said.

As a workaround, Kilbourn bounced the light she needed off reflective surfaces so her subjects wouldn’t have to stare directly into lighting instruments.

“I hadn’t come up against that before,” Kilbourn said.

How to Dance in Ohio concludes with the much-prepared-for event ending in success.

“It was amazing, seeing everyone really throw themselves into the spirit of it. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would even dance, let alone get dressed up, and primped, and show up and try to have a good time,” Kilbourn said.

“They did,” she continued. “They were dancing, talking to each other, interacting — they all got together and joined in a group dance — it was very encouraging to watch.”


Admission to the screening event at Wilton Library is free. Donations of $5 are suggested. Refreshments will be served.

Registration is highly recommended. To register, visit or call 203-762-3950.

The New Perspectives Film Series is programmed and moderated by filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris.

How to Dance in Ohio premiered on HBO in 2015. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and Nashville film festivals and the Golden Rock Documentary Award at Little Rock Film Festival. The film won the Junior Jury at the Montclair Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.