Project experiences. By Abbe Brown

I am looking forward to a trip to Glasgow to observe Claire Cunningham in her residency at The WorkRoom. I’m excited about my first opportunity to observe dance as part of this project - rather a jump for a lawyer with a focus on the interaction of different legal fields in the innovation and creative fields. How relevant really is my existing expertise - the impact of human rights on copyright law, and the practical relevancy of human rights law for dancers and dance makers with disabilities?

It is one thing to give scholarly papers and write articles on the contribution which can be made by these fields and in our publications, one thing to intertwining rights to expression, to reward of the author, and to share in culture and to discuss United Nations documents which interpret these rights; it is also one thing to defend this project against (and dismiss) challenges from colleagues that one should not seek to introduce copyright’s principles of ownership and control into dance; it is one thing to again defend the project against (and dismiss) challenges from colleagues that it is a theoretical exercise which will not lead to any financial value; it is quite another to move into a wholly different discipline.

This putting of oneself (in really such a minor way) in such an uncomfortable situation is timely, given some of the questions which this project seeks to explore: are some dancers with disabilities excluded from opportunities to develop and make dance, and move on to the elite level; what is the place of a lack of facilities, expertise, awareness and leadership? Facing a discipline with different discourse and language – we have had some fascinating internal project team conversations regarding different meanings of “ownership” - and the entry into a space where, though I am often articulate I may struggle to communicate (or I may not, but I am aware of “will I say the wrong thing?”), is a reminder of the lack of a narrative in respect of elite dance by dancers with disabilities. The development of this has formed a key part of the project team’s discussions.

Although this project has deliberately focused on dance rather than on sport, it is interesting to compare dance with sport, particularly given the looming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Events involving athletes with and without disabilities will take place through the programmes, rather than being part of a separate event, as in the Paralympic Games in London 2012. These Games were lauded as heralding new approaches to people with disabilities and even perhaps the introduction of a more mainstream narrative (itself a highly emotive and inappropriate term), or at least a conversation, in respect of disability " e.g., The Last Leg".

More recently, there are increasing discussions about the extent to which the Paralympics have had an ongoing impact on the respect accorded to people with disabilities, e.g. The Paralympic Effect, The Paralympic Legacy, particularly when considered alongside the Government’s plans which increasingly seem to target (deliberately or not) people with disabilities Paralympic Stars Concerns over Disability Allowance, Government ignores Disbabled People, and Government failing to protect carers from spare room cuts

Elite athletes with disability are much more in the public eye and elite dancers with disability. This might reflect wider familiarities with sport than with dance. It is unlikely (surprising though this might seem for the academic human rights lawyer) to be that, as have been explored in our publications, there are some differences in the way culture and sport are treated in international human rights instruments. Exploring this further is part of the project – which is timely; just as my visit back home to Glasgow is timely. I look forward to tweeting some of my experiences, @InVisDiff.

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