dance it, dance it; artistic approaches to access & inclusive leadership

Left to right: Jo Bannon, photo Paul Samuel White. Performers Ihsaan de Banya, Joel Brown, Olivia Edginton in Last Shelter by Jeanine Durning for Candoco Dance Company, photo Camilla Greenwell

This year Independent Dance launches dance it, dance it, a programme foregrounding leadership among disabled, d/Deaf, neurodivergent dance artists via a year-long focus on artistic approaches to access and inclusion. Through this we intend to hold spaces in which radically inclusive artistic practices can be shared widely – among artists, organisations, practitioners and audiences – in a range of frames/modes to include labs, talks, performances and mentoring.

We are conscious that expertise in the area has been built over several decades. With this strand of work, we aim to hold space for learning and exchange among a wide group of practitioners and audiences, to further embed inclusive practices in ID’s programming and approach, and to hopefully influence creative approaches to access more widely through facilitating the dissemination of artists’ expertise. 

As an organisation which supports the development of dance through radical enquiry, learning, community-building and audience engagement, we want to put access centre stage – not only this year, but this year and beyond. We acknowledge that this will require learning on our part (when we say ‘our’ we mean us, the people in the organisational team), resource-building, and extensive collaboration with artists with lived experience of many different disabilities, neurodivergencies and long term health conditions. 

Thanks to ACE project grant funding, this programme began in early 2023 with a weekend lab led by Jo Bannon, Holly Thomas and Katherine Hall. Seeing, Saying, Sensing was oriented towards artists, dancers and makers who see differently or are interested in the creative potential of seeing differently. Inspired by the strategies, movement techniques and knowledge of many of the Blind, Visually Impaired and disabled artists the facilitators have worked with, the lab shared different modes of understanding and communicating including touch, language, periphery, unison, audio description and deception. By exploring these different sensory languages they investigated different ways to perceive our own movement and bodies, and the environment around us, and how this then could inform choreographic creations. An accompanying talk, by Jo Bannon and Charlotte Darbyshire, was hosted at Sadler’s Wells. 

Through the prism of Jo Bannon’s current performance project Blind Magic, this talk spliced together sensory awareness practices, the tactile sleight of hand techniques used within magic and illusionist acts, and the overt and covert strategies (or crip expertise) implemented by visually disabled people navigating the world through senses other than sight.

dance it, dance it continued in June with a series of morning classes led by Candoco Dance Company dancers, and a midsummer performance event – a Fête de la Fête – featuring an indoor sharing of Last Shelter created by New York choreographer Jeanine Durning for and with Candoco, before we move outside to the park for a resting dream score by Linzi Nakorn and Raquel Meseguer and a series of interventions by Kat Hawkins.

In September we welcomed Annie Hanauer and Susanna Recchia to guest curate a week-long lab springing from their desire to create space for artists to breathe, meet each other and exchange knowledge by moving together. Sessions will be led by artists invited by Annie and Susanna including Alexandrina Hemsley, Claire Cunningham, Maiya Leeke, Anna Seymour, and Laura Jones and Chris Pavia, with Kate Marsh documenting the week through writing, and leading a talk.

A more private aspect of the programme is the continuation of our FLOURISH mentoring scheme, which is now supporting two further pairings of artists through paid mentoring. In parallel, ID’s staff team will be having training and mentoring to support their own learning throughout the year. 

dance it dance it culminates – but doesn’t end! – with a public talk ReWorking Rhythms co-hosted and co-curated with Dance Umbrella and Team London Bridge on 13 October. This is a discussion about access and inclusion when making, performing or producing performance. Drawing on their own experiences as artists, the panellists Raquel Meseguer Zafe, Sho Shibata and Xan Dye, facilitated by Tarik Elmoutawakil,will examine what is given time in the creative process and how those decisions affect or limit what is made, seen and valued. Using the idea of rhythm as a lens, we will focus on how working practices in the arts can and should better reflect the sometimes-conflicting needs of society.

dance it, dance it is a year-long Independent Dance programme conceived by Heni Hale and Nikki Tomlinson which aims to foreground disabled, neurodivergent and d/Deaf artists as leaders and widen the dissemination of anti-ableist dance practices. Partner organisations on different strands of the programme include Candoco Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells, The Work Room, Dance Umbrella and Team London Bridge.  This programme is supported through public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and with subsidized space at Siobhan Davies Studios.