Dance Democracy; Why, What, Who?

On the 3rd November, I attended a dance conference in Liverpool organised by Dr Sarah Black (Liverpool Hope University) & Karen Gallagher (Merseyside Dance Initiative) to begin the 2018 LEAP dance festival. A little introduction to what the conference was about.

Artists and academics have long been pioneers in contributing and disseminating the critical discourse of our society. For many years, they have borne witness to political events, social customs and the agenda of the day. They have pondered, questioned and revealed us back to ourselves. Whether they are always aware of it or not, the artist and academic in society are political. The interrogation of a socially engaged practice to confront the topic of democracy and civic responsibility through the arts and academia is for everyone. This event sets to explore the question of what it means to be democratic in 21st Century and in an ever-changing world, for both artists, academics and the wider community. This conference supports the theme of LEAP Dance Festival 2018 which celebrates female artists and the power for transformation in contributing to dance practice and its engagement in communities.

Using the commemoration of 100 years since some women won the right to vote in the UK as a starting point, we want to consider the impact of how creating equity beyond equality can enable us to explore our place in the world. As we all face the fallout from Brexit, it is ever more important that we remain connected through culture, and consider how what we do together can have a positive impact for our people and our global society.

Picture 1. Dr Sarah Black, Rosemary Lee, Karen Gallagher

Why did I go?

My mission for Dance Inspire UK is to engage people from ALL sectors to gain a wider reach through connections and opportunities, to help grow careers and create a bigger impact in our UK dance industry. My aim for attending this event was to find out more information on how our academics influence our dance. What is their impact, purpose and future? Also to connect and communicate my findings to help Dance Inspire UK users.

What did I find?

I can’t emphasise enough that EVERYONE is striving for the same goal. To make an impact on people through dance! I was delighted with what I was listening to and seeing. So I want to assure or reconfirm to dancers, creatives, entrepreneurs and anyone that are reading this, using the website or listening to the podcasts. You are them, they are you and we are ONE in providing a service in dance. A wonderful confirmation of what you may take for granted is your true values and morals within your teachings between the learner and provider. We explored many levels to address the ‘complete person’ which my special guest on episode 7 of Dance Inspire podcast Toby Gorniak, explains beautifully also. An episode not to be missed Listen on iTunes or YouTube

My experience of the day

I was instantly put at ease by my dance peers from across the globe. I was blown away with the opening group of young woman from the Young Everyman Playhouse Amarite Ladies who devised an acoustic contemporary choir piece that hit hard on women’s rights past and present – Wow what an opener and what a pleasure to see such passion and authenticity from every single girl. – Excellent! (I am hoping to get the audio recording to share with you for episode 8 of Dance Inspire podcast which will be broadcast 15th November so please subscribe so you don't miss any uploads).

Picture 2. Everyman Youth project

First speaker was Dr Fiona Bannon who gave a wonderful philosophical exploration for the role of aesthetics, ethics and art between us. Her book Considering Ethics in Dance, Theatre and Performance is available here. Thanks to Sonia Rafferty, Erica Stanton & David Waring we were stimulated with thought provoking themes on how we can improve our engagement in relationships between teacher, learner and their peers. Questions asked of whose class is it and what is it for ended by forming collectively a fabulous manifesto on our impact in engagement with another. Loved it!

The morning finished with a fabulously refreshing project that will be piloted within the NHS using creative engagement to address depression. This is the devised project of Professor Vicky Karkou & Dr Scott Thurston on behalf of Edge Hill University. The fact that ‘alternative’ methods were once accessed through NHS many years ago and now through government change and politics have been cut! Ironic.. I think they call it the ‘circle of life’… in a constant recycling of nonsense - but hey ho. As citizens with a voice we, it is ourselves that patch it back together which is what Professor Vicky Karkou is doing with passion.

This project is a collaboration with psychology therapists and creative artists (not just dance). I loved hearing this as for me working in a sport therapy environment at times there are so many people that have to pay privately to get their needs attended to. Those that can’t pay are left to fend for themselves with no help or support - I see this too often, so I was delighted to hear this is already in a pilot stage in Manchester and will be introduced. Next step is making it sustainable so users know they are supported long term.

‘This new model aims to be of potential benefit to people with mental health problems who have limited access to or cannot engage with verbal psychotherapy. This new intervention is currently getting tried out in psychological services (IAPT) in the NHS Manchester.’

The afternoon was just as fabulous and thought provoking with a wonderful presentation by the legendary Rosemary Lee – Choreographer, artist & film maker (See picture 1). Listening to her grounded point of view of who she is and what she does 'stuff for people' was refreshing and insightful. I found my inner turmoil being set free from labels as I watched her various pieces and listened to her thought process in the making of them. I didn’t realise that I have so many issues arise every time someone asked “what do I do”? for example, for a stranger seeing me but not knowing what I do or my background I try to explain but seem to lose brain connectivity for describing dance, theatre, film, sport therapy, analysis and experimentation. How can I explain that I help people through 1 to 1 sport therapy. I teach and mentor dancers and business owners to reach their potential, I podcast celebrating dance in the UK. I co produce film documentaries. I direct for film and theatre projects. I dance & teach in cultural and traditional dance genres and techniques… I just love creating ‘stuff’.

This presentation I think was my favourite. It inspired me to think differently about my work - Watch this space...

I loved the PHD papers that were delivered, one particularly paper stood out to me as I loved the concept – Dancing in the Dark by Ellen Jeffery: dismantling dichotomies through noctographic practice.

The questions, issues and development were very interesting. Is dancing in the dark still seen as dance even though it is not seen? The issues of a young girl being out at night on her own and that the ‘cloak of darkness’ hides morals in our society. Why are day and night values different? The definition of space and dark being a Matter that is danced with. Yes, I loved the concept, the depth and analysis and it inspired an idea.

Devising and dance project for the blind.

1 day, set outside in woods where nature and steps become their music to dance. Movement and sound is created from the participants. Project is filmed. Would they find their trust and movement motion quickly? Would they enjoy the experience? Would their senses and movement become one? Would their final filmed piece be appreciated by others (blind or not). What impact would this have on them? What impact on their environment, onlookers and spectators? Just a few questions here but so many can be asked.

Choreographers, students or film makers are welcome to pick-up thus idea and engage with their communities. (Fab for your showreel / profile) remember that Lottery funded projects, organisations and their building facilities are free for artists to use if you engage with their users. Also you can get paid for delivering sessions. It’s up to you to negotiate.

Conclusion of the day – Why, What, Who

So all-in-all… I think you can guess… I LOVED IT!

The Why of dance democracy- It was very evident that we ALL make an impact using dance. Be it on the issues raised within the piece devised. Be it on the learner or the participant. It is also about your relationship with others being authentic in your beliefs, values and morals. You are not a service but a provider. To be a provider is to share nourishment on many levels so using your creative voice, body or materials you can build 'power' to make a change.

What is it? Tell me the specifics?... The question should be what are you capable of? ANYTHING! Yes, you are capable of anything and sharing the passion of possibility is your role. Every project that is created, every class that is taught and every connection you have with another person. You have the opportunity to make a difference through your ethics, knowledge, help and support. Never underestimate yourself and your capabilities. It is only by taking actions we can make a change. You are the influencer, use it wisely. (The roles of influencers are outlined in my October blog if you fancy checking it out)

Who is it that makes the changes? Society. Yes, creative arts, dance and culture is in every part of our society ... because we put it there! It is your job to get out connecting, engaging and creating work to empower others. The who is YOU!

This day definitely enriched my soul and mind. I want dancers, choreographers and dance teachers to reach out to their local universities to help with ideas, connections, input and statistics. They can help you with input, knowledge, creativity, experimentation, delivery and extended reach and possible funding. Universities please use and acknowledge dance teachers in your studies or projects as it is them that provide you with talented students. Use them as a community as you both can benefit.

This conference was a pleasure to attend as meeting new dance educators, hearing the various projects, experimenting and discussing ideas... A definite date for my diary next year and I would love you all to join me Xx

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©2017 -  2020. Gillian Beattie .



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