Misiconi Dance Company is an integrated dance company based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, who were recently invited to present work at the DanceAble #2 Symposium hosted by Holland Dance in The Hague. Artistic and Managing Director Joop Oonk, reflects on inclusive dance practice in the Netherlands.
The inclusive dance scene in the Netherlands is fascinating and for the last five years I have been completely immersed in it. Since being established in 2013, Misiconi Dance Company are one of the only dance companies that work ‘inclusively’ on a structural basis in the Netherlands. We provide weekly community classes, workshops, talent development as well as professional company work in Rotterdam. Through presentations, writing, doing research and opening up our doors we exchange knowledge. Until recently, we were self-sustained without any funding. This summer (2017) we received our first funding for the Unload to Upload project. This includes the publication of a bookUnload to Upload, handbook for an inclusive dance practice. We are also developing a blended E-learning program for dance teachers, access workers, carers and choreographers. The entire project was possible with the generous support of many kind donors and the Fonds voor Cultuur Participatie (FCP).
The state of play for inclusive dance in the Netherlands
Despite touring internationally, we find that here in the Netherlands we are less recognised and supported. As a result, the young target group can’t develop the skills necessary for a career in dance. Although the government has several benefits for disabled people or those with chronic illnesses, disabled dancers can get ‘trapped’ in the system, making it hard to be independent and earn more than minimum wage. I discuss this in greater detail in the essay I co-authored with Mutsumi Karasaki ‘Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Disabled Dancers Trapped in a Cycle of Dependence’.
More platforms are needed to offer opportunities for social innovation and entrepreneurship for disabled dancers on their own soil. There must be more long-term policies where lines are deployed to achieve sustainability. More weekly classes and projects with follow-up and ongoing activities would enable greater access and accelerate the implementation of inclusive dance practice across the country. The scene undoubtedly needs greater investment and innovation. A new generation needs examples to be inspired. We can do this by exposing different perspectives within education, arts and care institutions, both in the professional as well as the amateur field. Our society is divided into boxes and policy frameworks maintained by education, surroundings and mindsets. We, as citizens, leaders and policy makers, can make change.
Innovation must come from different sides. It’s important that more experts get involved. Teaching and internship programs of colleges and universities should provide more opportunities for collecting and sharing specialist knowledge. Yearly, we have at least three students coming from different schools. Misiconi Dance Company is one of the few places where they can experience inclusive dance and practice it on a professional level. Students have practical internships as dancers and do their thesis with us.
More collaboration between care organizations, academies, dance and art institutions is needed. This could be facilitated by low-threshold platforms, where work can be made and presented, and also places to exchange knowledge in order to build and expand networks.
A space for sharing and exchange
That’s why it’s so important that we have platforms like the DanceAble Symposium, which provides a space for international networking. DanceAble took place at Korzo Theatre, The Hague, on 4 November, bringing together international experts, researchers, professionals, dancers, teachers and students working in the field of inclusive dance. Misiconi Dance Company was invited along with Platform-K by Holland Dance to deliver a short workshop and participate in discussions. During our workshop session we explained our working methods. My dancers presented a taster of our newest collaborative work ‘Space between Space’, and Platform-K had a video of rehearsals of their new work ‘Common Ground’. In the end we got some nice feedback from Adam Benjamin, co-founder of Candoco Dance Company. It was an amazing chance for me to meet such a guru of inclusive dance person. For the dancers, it was a good way to see were the piece was standing and see what outsiders might think of it.
In the mixed doubles at the symposium, young dancers who created duets were given the opportunity to work with established companies and choreographers. The emphasis at DanceAble was on dancers with a physical impairment, while learning-disabled dancers were absent. Perhaps for future iterations it would be interesting to extend the remit to be even more inclusive. These moments where we come together are crucial, because they allow us to basically agree on ‘inclusive dance’ topics and core principles. It surprises me to hear that there are so many people with the same mindset and goal, yet they seldom end up collaborating or exchanging. Doors often stay closed.
I think this is due to old-fashioned and hierarchical systems which are prevalent in the dance and funding world. In order to nurture young disabled talent to professional levels, we need to step up, help each other and be supported by one another. Small companies can help the bigger ones and vice versa. This way the smaller and younger companies can learn and grow and there is less unnecessary competition for funded projects or money. By helping each other stay strong the government, policy makers, programmers and funders are more likely to lend support.
Over the past two years more platforms and projects around ‘inclusive dance’ have been developed. For example, Cultuurmij Oost set up ‘Dance Day Special Education’ offering tools to develop dance in schools and to give it a permanent place in the school programme.
Dance organisations that are important for the field because they offer something more permanent include: Theatre LeBelle, Katja Grässli with Stil Geluid, Dansschool Puur, Platform-K, and Introdans, especially Adriaan Lutein’s Cardiac Output project. We should not forget that some theatre organisations overlap with dance practice and there is more to offer within the field of disability theatre. Besides, there are organisations within policy making, or generating knowledge like Incl-On, Seba Cultuurmanagement, Special Arts Foundation and Disability Studies NL.
For a company like Misiconi, creating and showing work requires support and a place at the table within the wider contemporary dance landscape. With Unload to Upload we are hoping to contribute to the promotion of expertise in order to achieve a more inclusive dance practice. The publication will begin to fill the gap, because there is little to no literature or described method on this subject in Dutch. Due to policy choices, individual preferences or ignorance, possibilities are still limited. Increasing the opportunities to promote expertise requires a change in mindset; the Unload to Upload publication hopes to contribute to this. It seems to me, that the first step towards the realisation of attitudinal change involves collaboration between policy-makers and artistic organisations. More spaces like the DanceAble Symposium, where different stakeholders can come together to share knowledge can help facilitate this. A new generation of creators and teachers must be stimulated to work with mixed groups and show their work. I would urge everyone to think in terms of possibilities. Young people can become drivers of progress and change.