Embodiment and disability. by Sarah Whatley

Our first open public symposium for the project is less than a month away and it will be a fitting time to reflect on what we have discovered so far and what work still lies ahead for our final year. We are bringing together many experts from across the creative and cultural industries to share their experiences and to exchange ideas in response to the questions that are driving the project thus far; What role do dancers with disabilities play in our cultural landscape? What supports or limits the work of disabled dance artists? What difference can/should our project make?

At the root of these questions is a strong desire to see the work by dancers with disabilities feature more prominently within our records of cultural heritage, and to witness audiences develop a greater critical engagement with the work of these artists. We have speakers joining us from professional dance companies and organisations, from memory institutions, as well as producers, scholars (from dance and law) and critics. Dancers are also sharing their work ‘live’ and on film during the day.

The cross-fertilisation of expertise reflects the project as a whole. One of the joys and challenges of our work is talking and writing together as researchers and practitioners in two very different disciplines. We are currently practising this writing together having spent a stimulating day together in late September to share ideas on several themes. One of these themes (and which recurs in many of our conversations) is ‘embodiment’. Thinking about embodiment brings our focus back on the dancing body, the phenomenological body, and the experiencing body. Our project is not attempting to redefine embodiment but we are probing what it means to own one’s (own) body in dance. As disability tends towards a greater focus on the body (partly through invoking the various models of disability; social, medical, affirmative) and the dancer with a disability may be working with pain, discomfort or bodily adjustment, does it mean s/he is more embodied in her dancing because the body is so foregrounded? And what if the body is extended or augmented with a prosthetic that is not ‘owned’ by the dancer? Does that change who owns the dancing body?

comments powered by Disqus