iDance: supporting innovative inclusive practice in dance education

By David on November 27, 2017

iDance is collaborative partnership co-funded by Erasmus+ which aims to support innovative practices in inclusive dance education that runs until the end of 2018. Project partners include Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens (Greece), Holland Dance Festival (Netherlands), Skånes Dansteater (Sweden) and Stopgap Dance Company (UK). Myrto Lavda, Head of Educational Programmes and Dora Vougiouka, Networking & Outreach Coordinator from co-ordinating partner, Onassis reflects on the project’s progress.

iDance is a strategic partnership co-funded by the European programme Erasmus+ which aims to bolster skills and to facilitate the development, transfer and implementation of innovative practices relating to the opening up of culture through dance.

The project brings together four European partners, the Onassis Cultural Centre Athens (Greece), Holland Dance Festival (Netherlands), Skånes Dansteater (Sweden), and Stopgap Dance Company (UK) aiming to review current practices and barriers in dance training for disabled people and to put forward practical recommendations for overcoming these challenges by proposing a framework for development and training.

iDance lab, trio
Recent iDance workshop. Photo © Andreas Simopoulos / Onassis Cultural Centre

iDance is intended to produce innovative approaches for addressing disabled and non-disabled people and the dance community, by providing more attractive education and training programmes, in line with individual needs and expectations.

The project supports a training-based collaboration between cultural organisations, professional dance schools, dance companies, conservatoires, academics, NGOs, access workers, artists and disabled and non-disabled adults to develop, test and implement innovative course packages, enriching inclusive dance participation focusing on:

i) Disabled and non-disabled people, with and without a prior involvement in dance.

ii) Dance teachers, choreographers and emerging professional dancers, both disabled and non-disabled.

There have been some efforts in inclusive dance practice in Greece over the last few years. Professional choreographers like Giorgos Christakis and his dance group Dagipoli Dance Company, as well as Konstantinos Michos with his dance group Wrong Movement/Lathos Kinisi, have made important work in the field of professional inclusive dance in the last fifteen years or so. Other initiatives have also been made by other more local and community organisations, in the field of inclusive arts in general for disabled and non-disabled people. For example, organizations like Very Special Arts Hellas have a long tradition of participatory arts workshops for disabled people. Newer organisations like Liminal focus on accessible theatrical workshops and access services for the audience of theatrical shows.

Initiatives exist, but they are sporadic and not always integrated into mainstream arts in order for general audiences to see the possibilities of the disabled body. There is a long way to go, especially since professional training in the arts sector does not happen in professional dance and theatre schools. Disabled people are prohibited by law to enter into professional dance/theatre schools and this does not allow them the chance to develop and grow as other dancers do.

Initiatives should be turned more outwards and professional productions by integrated dance can raise awareness. Disabled people need greater opportunities to train, speak and focus on the artistic content, not on disability per se.

Through the iDance project we are trying to give this room for growth to disabled people, by offering inclusive arts workshops on a regular basis and staging integrated performances that we believe have excellent artistic content. We’re also creating online, open and free educational material that people can refer to in their teaching in inclusive settings. Finally, we’re hosting discussions and open dialogues with the theme of access in the arts and inviting disabled people to talk for themselves.

As a starting point for iDance we recognise that traditional ways of gaining access to dance education are often closed for disabled people. As such, the first part of the iDance project has been to develop a set of lesson plans that will empower disabled people to get involved with contemporary dance and enable the participants to lead dance workshops themselves.

Since the very beginning of the project in September 2016, all partners started to work on developing a set of teaching/training materials, tools and approaches focusing on mixed groups of people with different kinds of impairments. During the first year, the project activities focused specifically on the activities of the group leaders and developing accessible ways of teaching dance. A large part of the focus has also been on developing co-leadership between the professional dancers and the disabled workshop leaders. This has been a lengthy process of learning and “un-learning” the artform of dance.

iDance lab, group session
Recent iDance workshop. Photo © Andreas Simopoulos / Onassis Cultural Centre

The first findings were presented at the first transnational learning activity in Athens back in March 2017. 20 disabled and non-disabled participants from Greece, Sweden, Netherlands and the UK tested the methodologies and exchanged best practice and essential feedback.  Participants explored different ways of coming into physical, emotional, intellectual and social contact with each other, focusing on the idea of creating ‘common ground’ and ‘common experience’.

In July 2017, the second transnational learning activity took place in Surrey, UK hosted by Stopgap Dance Company. Participants from partner countries met for five days and had an inclusive and creative experience of the highest quality, led by Stopgap Dance Company. They had the chance to experiment and share various ideas on inclusive creativity with each other, including some of the best disabled dancers working on the international scene. In this lab environment, the participants became fully aware of how far inclusive dance could go in pushing the artform of dance forward, and that a rigorous inclusive education is necessary to achieve this innovation.

At the halfway point of the iDance project, the support from Erasmus+ has provided us with the time and the resources for our dance practitioners to refine and consolidate their expertise and experience of inclusive dance education into tangible and experiential offerings to dance teachers in Europe.

The main challenge of the iDance project is to give adult educators, and therefore adult-learners, access to a proven methodology, which is grounded in experience provided only in few inclusive dance companies. The final deliverables of the project will increase capacities of adult educators to develop community dance programmes for disabled adults and the actual support of disabled and non-disabled professional dancers, by offering them international coaching opportunities and a platform to acquire new skills.

Some of the participants are already able to lead a class, bringing in new ideas and their knowledge to newcomers, whereas others have been motivated to search and find more opportunities in Europe for dance seminars and choreography classes.

On the 3rd of December 2017, the Onassis Cultural Centre is staging a colloquium addressing access to culture, contemporary dance education and professional development opportunities for disabled artists, with speakers from Greece and abroad. The conference aims to bring together artists, researchers, social activists, cultural professionals and the general public from Greece, the US and the UK to discuss experiences, best practice and explore issues on inclusive dance training.

In the next 12 months of the project, a set of community dance workshops with disabled and non-disabled people will be organised in Athens, Malmo, The Hague and Surrey. Two more international labs will be hosted by our partners Holland Dance Festival and Skånes Dansteater, aiming to give access to dance training and professional dance development to more people.

Finally, the invaluable insights gained through the first year of the project will facilitate further training and support for dancers interested in enhancing their skills. We will be bringing dance to other disabled learners, by proposing a set of professional development courses (lesson plans) and aiming to bridge the gap between disability, dance and inclusive dance training. 

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