DanceAble #2 took place 3-5 November in The Hague, Netherlands. Organised by Holland Dance, a leading Dutch dance organisation, DanceAble #2 brought together international experts, researchers, professionals, dancers, teachers and students working in the field of inclusive dance. Joe Turnbull spoke to the symposium’s Artistic Director, Martine van Dijk about why Holland Dance’s ongoing inclusive and integrated dance programme.

Read a reflection on the inclusive dance scene in the Netherlands by Misiconi Dance Company's Joop Oonk, who was invited to present at DanceAble #2

DanceAble #2

DanceAble #2 Performance. Photograph: Sacha Grootjans Fotografie

Martine van Dijk is Director of Outreach and Education at Holland Dance, one of the Netherland’s leading dance organisations. Holland Dance is best known for hosting the biennial Holland Dance Festival, 3 weeks of performances from internationally renowned dance companies. “Our mission is to make dance accessible for everybody regardless of age, social or cultural background,” van Dijk tells me. “Dance inspires, and that is why we are so passionate about our work. Variety, uniqueness and quality are guiding principles in our programming.”

Perhaps it’s partly this quest for difference that has driven Holland Dance’s sojourns into the world of integrated dance, also fed into by year-round educational and outreach activities. DanceAble is Holland Dance’s programme dedicated to exploring dance and disability. Van Dijk explains the inspiration behind the programme:

“DanceAble is a very important programme for us, and also a good example of how we work, more generally. ‘Dance is for everyone’ is the core message of the organisation. Operating from this starting point, it is very clear integrated or inclusive dance should be part of this. Remarkably, there are only a few emerging inclusive dance activities taking place in the Netherlands at the moment. After having organised a couple of successful pilot projects, we felt the urgency to take this a step further. Our goal is to create awareness, increase knowledge and to make integrated dance more visible in The Netherlands. We choose to work from a broad base, in which participation and education plays an important role. On the other hand, we want to use our platform to show the artistic excellence.”

Whilst DanceAble sits alongside the other work Holland Dance does, van Dijk explains that such a dedicated programme was necessary:

“To give our dance and disability program more visibility we were convinced of the necessity to organise a separate event. And I still think at this stage we need this event. Although at the same time we also make sure we program inclusive work during the Holland Dance Festival as well. During Holland Dance Festival 2020 the DanceAble event #3 will be integrated into the whole program.”

The latest iteration of DanceAble took place between 3-5 November 2017 in The Hague, with the programme including performances, workshops, a teacher training session and a symposium. Van Dijk was pleased with the outcome.

“I think we make important steps forward with every activity we do, sometimes small, but just as important steps. I was really satisfied with the content of the symposium programme and all the contributions of the speakers, panellists and participants. It was good to see more policy makers and influencers being present, meaning more chances to move things forward.”

Inclusive dance practice in Holland has some promising exponents, but the scene is still relatively small, as van Dijk elaborates:

DanceAble #2

DanceAble #2 Performance. Photograph: Sacha Grootjans Fotografie

“At this moment we have a few emerging companies and initiatives in Holland which are very valuable. For instance, Misiconi Dance Company in Rotterdam and 5D and Cardiac Output in Amsterdam. But also Introdans is, as an established dance company, presenting inclusive projects which helps a great deal to address the notion that dance should be accessible for everybody, and to gain visibility for the sector. But the inclusive dance scene in Holland is small and still relatively unknown. In order to be able to grow, artist and audience development are very important at the moment. By presenting excellent work, organising debates, developing teacher training programmes and spreading the word by talking to the right people, Holland Dance can contribute to help building the inclusive dance sector in Holland.”

The international focus of DanceAble is significant, with many speakers coming from overseas. International collaboration has long been important both for van Dijk personally and the organisation.

“Having started this journey back in 2014, I was shortly after invited by the British Council in June 2015 to come to Greece to attend the closing event of the European project, Unlimited Access at the Onassis Cultural Centre. Here I was able to talk to a couple of other international organisations and gain a lot of knowledge about integrated dance. This helped me tremendously, and already then, I felt this network was something I should treasure. The knowledge about the subject within this network is enormous. It is very valuable to share this knowledge but also to be able to raise questions, disagree with each other and find solutions. This simple invitation of the British Council was a kickstarter for me and brought lots of inspiration. We wouldn’t be where we are now without this international network.”

Holland Dance are part of the iDance strategic partnership, which aims to support innovative practices in inclusive dance education. The project grew out of the network started by Unlimited Access, with the other partners being Onassis Cultural Centre (Greece), Skånes Dansteater (Sweden) and Stopgap Dance Company (UK). The UK dance sector has been of particular influence for van Dijk.

“The inclusive dance sector in the UK is a big inspiration for me. Seeing excellent and innovative work is the first thing to mention. And given the fact they have been building the inclusive dance sector for over 30 years, there is so much knowledge within different organisations involved in inclusive work. It is very valuable for me to be able to talk to and work with inspiring persons and companies with so much experience.”

I ask van Dijk what the future holds for the DanceAble programme.

“At this stage it is important to train teachers. In collaboration with Stopgap Dance Company, we developed a teacher training course for Holland called Encompass. Alongside the community classes Holland Dance is teaching, we are aiming with this teacher training course to expand the number of places in the Netherlands where disabled people can learn to dance and explore their talents. By creating awareness, increasing knowledge and making integrated dance visible we hope in the longer term to make our dance scene more diverse and accessible, having equal opportunities for talented disabled artists.”