Difference? by Charlotte Waelde and the InVisible Difference team

‘Difference’: this is a word that has come up many times during the first months of our InVisible Difference project. But what does the word mean to us both individually and collectively as it relates to what we are striving to do within and for the disabled dance community, and in respect of the legal structures that surround and support the dancers and their work? We have shared some thoughts and will be having a debate at our team meeting and Intersections Forum on 25 and 26 November.

Our initial thinking has focused on two strands: the first relates to difference and the physicality of the dancers; the second to the difference that we want to make through our project. In relation to the first strand these are some of the responses: ‘Difference is the recognition of something that asks for greater equality, but equality that accommodates difference as a positive part of human experience and which sharpens our perceptions and our articulations of excellence and quality’; ‘Difference can have overtones of there being a normal, from which one might be marginalised and different’; ‘Difference can be a means of othering’; ‘There is a continuum – we are all different and no one ‘difference’ is better than another’; ‘Difference is to be celebrated – who wants to conform to the norm?’

In relation to the second strand – the difference we want to make through our project, we asked this question in three ways: for whom are we trying to make a difference; what sort of difference are we trying to make; what steps do we need to take in order to make that difference? Our ideas range from making a difference for the dancers; for the audiences; and to the way in which society in general thinks about dance made and performed by dancers with disabilities. The sort of difference we are trying to make includes developing audience perception of dance performed by dancers with disabilities; to deepening our understanding the creation process; to identifying gaps in the legal frameworks supporting this genre. Some of the steps that we have identified that we need to take include strengthening networks; developing debate using different media; not being afraid to confront difficult issues head on (not sugar-coating our messages); playing devil’s advocate to bring tough issues to the surface.

Our challenge is to shape thinking around difference in such a way that difference in relation to dancers and their dance becomes one with the difference that we want to make through our project – they become mutually reinforcing. In so doing we need to find a vocabulary that we can use to talk about dance made and performed by disabled dancers that not only does justice to their work and their physicality, but which also enables us to identify and appreciate the virtuosic while having the confidence to speak about what we find mediocre.

We do know that we have to focus our efforts and pick our battles. Developing a plan of engagement is one of the things that we will be doing at our team meeting and Intersections forum. If our readers have any views and ideas, we would love to hear them. There will be an update on our progress on this blog in the New Year.

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