Time to Dance. By Kate Marsh

This month I have been involved in a number of diverse events. As a dance artist this is not unusual for me. One day a workshop, the next an A-level dance session, followed by an intensive training weekend for professional dancers.

Since embarking on my PhD research I have approached all this work not just as my bread and butter, but also as opportunities for exploration to find out the type of questions I should be asking and also to whom I should be directing them.

With this relatively new hat on I took part in a panel debate at Trinity Laban in October. This was part of an on-going partnership between Trinity Laban and Candoco Dance Company aimed at exploring issues around training and progression for disabled dancers.

The subject matter was not new; the debate around inclusion and access in Higher Education for disabled students is an on-going one. What did feel different however was a collective desire from those present to push discussion on, to move beyond acknowledging the need and make practical suggestions for improved practice and awareness.

The panel included my friend and ex-dancing colleague Jürg Koch, who presented his “Universal Design” framework. Jürg has undertaken extensive research into the question of technique class for inclusive groups of dancers. In my own experience of training and working in dance it is the often ‘formulaic’ structure of technical training that can present problems for the ‘different’ body, how do you plié if you are a wheelchair user, what does a pirouette look like if you only have one leg? Jürg’s framework suggests a model where access is given through an invitation to find individual interpretation of an exercise, which is then ‘performed’ in a shared timeframe with other members of the class.

What interests me here is there is no suggestion of one way for the ‘normative’ bodies and another for the disabled dancers. The disabled dancers are not attempting to fit into a pre-defined structure, rather that all the dancers are finding their own version, whilst maintaining the sense of ‘communal’ dancing associated with technique class.

My instinct tells me that this framework has great potential for improving access into higher education for disabled dancers, but I am left with a nagging doubt, it is clear that training of this kind requires time. Time for development and to make mistakes and time to listen to the needs of all the dancers. I am increasingly aware since beginning my journey into research that time in the context of Higher Education is in short supply, with increased demand on lecturers and management alike, how realistic is it that this time can be found to plan, discuss, implement, correct and re-plan?

In a societal landscape where so much emphasis is placed on production over placement, on end results as opposed to the journey, I wonder if we will forget to take the time to keep listening to the needs of the individual, and in doing so that we could alienate the aspiring dancer who perhaps isn’t the quickest or who does not shout the loudest. It strikes me that even more so in a shifting climate that we must try and capture the voices of these dancers and that this will be central to bringing about real practical changes. It’s not enough just to say we will improve access and opportunity: we have to take the time to do it.

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