Mainstream or Marginal? Still on the Edge... by Sarah Whatley

Charlotte’s blog post encouraged me to reflect on a number of recent encounters with discussions about dance and disability; some very stimulating and illuminating, but some acknowledging or even inadvertently reinforcing the status quo; disability is still marginalised in dance.

Challenging the status quo is the recent special issue of Choreographic Practices (Vol. 6.1) – Dis/abilities: The Politics of a Prefix – a fabulous collection of intelligent and probing articles (including one from us!), guest edited by Ann Cooper Albright and Gabriele Brandstetter available here.

In their editorial they say that whilst critical scholarship about dance and disability has expanded, ‘disability remains a marginalised and under-theorized area in dance studies. Many discussions in the dance field remain on the level of single-issue identity politics with the specific goal of improving access to dance for people with disabilities. Whilst we applaud this important focus on inclusion, we also want to acknowledge how physical difference can radically transform the transmission of embodied knowledge as well as the choreographic act’. They offer that the writing in the issue is ‘intended to challenge our thinking not only about who can dance, but also about how to dance’. Their emphasis on how to dance feels important – we are often focused on access, equal opportunities and the right to participate (etc.) but as we have discovered through our work on this project, there is not enough attention on the dancing itself. Attending to the ‘how’ is a timely reminder.

Still on the edge……..Ann Cooper Albright also figures for me as convenor of the recent SDHS/CORD conference in Athens – Cut and Paste: Dance Advocacy in the Age of Austerity. Ann brought her usual energy and generosity to pull together a fantastically nourishing conference. One panel focused on inclusion, with presenters offering some fascinating accounts of teaching initiatives and post-graduate research that focuses on dance and disability. But of all of us attending, representing the worldwide dance research community, disability was nowhere visible. We still have some distance to travel.

Marginal to mainstream……. Alice Fox and Hannah Macpherson recently launched their beautiful new book, Inclusive Arts Practice and Research at Tate Modern. Apart from a celebration of a book that skilfully weaves together theory with the voices/images and reflections of disabled artists, it showed that Inclusive Arts has absolute right to be featured in one of our leading cultural institutions that is primarily concerned with promoting the best in contemporary art.

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