Cath Wilkins looks to the future for inclusive dance
Last year, as we were all white water rafting through the rapids of local and national cuts, Helen Crocker, a GDance Manager, with sectoral development expertise, and Louise Katerega, veteran of inclusive dance and Director of Foot in Hand, were finding ‘reasons to be cheerful’.* This online conversation, like Ian Drury’s song, lists numerous reasons to get out of bed, and to hang on in there as an arts professional passionate about inclusion.
Emerging artist, and GDance Associate, Frank McDaniels has his own reasons to be cheerful thanks to long-term investment both in Frank himself and in the organisations and infrastructure around him. That infrastructure may have taken a hit as funders’ priorities were re-jigged but a whistle-stop tour through Frank’s story may motivate us to regroup now we’re on slightly calmer waters. Frank lives with muscular tension and speech difficulties and is reliant on carers. Inspired by GDance workshops whilst studying a Performing Arts Btec at the (disability specialist) National Star College, he subsequently joined the GDance managed company, Velcro. His practice developed working with exceptional inclusive choreographers including Marie-Louise Flexen and Marc Brew; through appearances at events such as the Youth Sport England conference; and as Associate on Candoco Dance Company’s national ‘Moving Bodies’ project.
Following GDance’s ‘Ignite’ course for disabled artists and Blue Eyed Soul’s ‘Dance Transformations’ programme, with support from producer Louise Brown, his first piece of choreography ‘These are the Moves I Make’ was premiered at the refreshingly risk-taking rural venue Prema Arts, near Stroud. Now working on his second piece, resident at the Star College, and guesting for GDance’s youth companies and inclusive choreography module (at the University of Gloucestershire), Frank continues to inspire the next generation.
Frank’s unconventional vocational path into and through the sector (heavily reliant on informal, localised support) is not untypical of the relatively small cohort of disabled choreographers UK-wide now producing work. Several organisations are currently working on initiatives to address pathways, one example being Trinity Laban and Dance4’s research into access for young disabled dancers. GDance has been able to develop a robust local model thanks primarily to substantial Big Lottery Fund investment. The formula requires a tight network of local organisations (across arts, community, local authority and education), and collegiate working with national dance partners, to sustain a ladder of activity from sessions in special schools through to production and distribution of inspiring professional work by disabled artists. We are now starting to consult with partners in other areas of the UK to explore how this model may translate.
Since we started this initiative, there has been a welcome proliferation of inclusive youth groups and other activity across the UK. Recent Arts Council England support for disabled artists, including Unlimited commissions, has been a further boost. However, the perennial challenges of financing affordable, accessible routes into and through the sector at a local level persist. Not only are the support costs of running an inclusive group high, but recruitment requires sustained subsidy of services for special schools and community organisations, and incentivised training and development for mainstream dance teachers and artists.
So, as resources get tighter, how can we keep fighting the access battle? Delegates at GDance’s ‘Ignite’ even** in June 2011 voted for their top priorities: addressing dance training routes, ensuring leadership qualifications are inclusive, recognising the need for bespoke training, and supporting the most promising emerging disabled artists (who thereby inspire the next generation). Ignite was one in a series of events,*** which include Candoco’s ‘Turning 20’ series, the ‘Embrace Create Connect’ arts conference and Scottish Dance Theatre’s ‘Pathways to the Profession’ symposium. Inspired by this wealth of activity, as well as her experience in circus over a 25-year period, Helen Crocker is convinced a ‘state of critical mass’ has been reached, at which point developments can take place very quickly. She notes: “As people put their heads above their individual or organisational parapets and start to look outwards, cooperation rather than competition (real or perceived) emerges and, as networking and formal and informal partnerships evolve, the need for an infrastructure emerges.”
GDance believes that as local authority commissioners’ priorities shift to ‘the most vulnerable’, it is vital that we invest in the network of expert creative producers and mentors who can best support emerging disabled artists. We need to carry on archiving, articulating and advocating for disabled leadership, including more writing of all kinds, from many voices: a cohesive and shared strategic vision and a tighter infrastructure can accelerate growth.