Recent Dance Activities and the Inclusion/Exclusion of Disabled Dance. By Karen Wood.

I recently presented at the DanceHE conference at De Montfort University in Leicester. I was fortunate enough to be able to present with a colleague, Frances Clarke from the University of Wolverhampton, on a pedagogical method and enquiry on how we integrate dance science and somatic principles in to how we teach. The main premise we discussed was about giving anatomical information and exploring the body anatomically, to allow the students to gain body knowledge and awareness that is required to meet the demands of the art form. We also discussed the motivational climate that as teachers, we should be creating for the students. We received some good feedback and was pleased to hear that people could see that what we were saying is relevant to all teaching of dance – young, old, disabled and non-disabled. Is this not what the teaching of dance is about?

There was also a very good presentation by Darren Carr from Liverpool John Moores University who presented on his project, JUMpIN, an integrated community dance group. They are doing good work and give current students opportunity to work with the group and gain experience. Jonathan Burrows gave the first keynote presentation which was a positive and upbeat talk about his artistic work and his long relationship with the academy. It was a fruitful day, with a packed agenda, providing plenty of food for thought.

The DanceHE conference preceded the opening night of a huge industry-wide conference delivered by DanceUK. I attended on the Saturday and whilst this conference was hugely ambitious and covered a lot of ground, its main theme being ‘The Future: New Ideas: New Inspirations’, I felt that it excluded disabled dance. Claire Cunningham was giving a talk on the following day, that I was not able to attend, but aside from this, there was little presence from disabled dancers and inclusion of disabled dancers in discussions about the artform.

I bring these two recent events together to highlight my thoughts about inclusion of disabled dance becoming part of mainstream discussions. If we want equality in the industry, we need to be having inclusive discussions. The problem with the discussions happening at the DanceUK event was that they were steered by established choreographers and people in larger, mainstream companies who do not employ dancers with disabilities. This also means that their idea of virtuosity is based on a particular body and identity. There was debate amongst the delegates about how the independent sector was perhaps underrepresented on some of the panel discussions at the DUK event, which happens to be where disabled dancers are positioned. How do we integrate better and raise the profile of disabled artists? How do these ‘top’ industry figures notice and include disabled dancers in their discussions?

I do not have the answers but I think I’ll be pondering this for a while. These events are very important and the fact that they are taking place is a positive step towards changing the perception and future of dance. But disabled dance needs to be present, or it is at risk of being pushed to one side.

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