Where it started...

As I excitedly prepare for the first day of the AEP Skills Exchange beginning tomorrow, I thought I would kick off by sharing the journey that I have been which led me to develop this programme.

Starting with my practice as a community dance artist and continuing with my academic research in community practice, I've always been interested in how we discover and foster equality and co-ownership in dance settings. Through an inquiry drawing on evidence from multiple community dance contexts from integrated projects to older people dancing, to youth dance and dance in hospitals, I summarised that it is in an artistic setting rather than a pedagogic one; in a relationship of artists and dancers, rather than participants and teachers; that co-ownership of dancing experience is possible.

However, this theory was only the start of my continued interest in co-ownership as I finished my MA but continually found myself considering the notion of artists and dancers, and how it is that some dance artists situate themselves in the role of artist, and others find it difficult to envisage themselves with that title. If so many dance artists working in community dance have not had the opportunity to position themselves in their own minds as artists, and instead are working with pedagogic frameworks and principles but without a creative vision or message, the experience for the dancers they work with is less likely to reach a place of equality and co-ownership, which are concepts at the heart of community dance.

And so, the Artists' Exchange Programme began informally with Artists' Conversations. I spoke one-to-one with a handful of dance artists whose practice sits in the valley between two mountains - community and choreography. Two things that are indistinguishable in my opinion, but which seem to be becoming further and further removed. These artists believe that their work emerges from a close connection with the community dancers they engage with, but firmly delivers an artistic vision or intention that is their own. I was keen to discover what the artists shared, what they had in common - whether it be their values, practices or challenges - and what I found was that it was all three. These artists had a common belief in people, play, joy and communication; they had all considered the multi-faceted roles they hold as directors, choreographers, mentors and teachers; they were all feeling the challenge of building resilience, expressing their value as individuals, and positioning their work in an industry with existing hierarchic structures that they all aspire to break down...

What I began to understand was that the things that all these artists shared were vital to the success of their work. Their ability to create true co-ownership and foster equality in their work, stemmed from their artistic vision, their ability to communicate it, and their belief that all people could access it. The AEP Skills' Exchange this week brings together artists with this vision, experience and with something to say, so that they can share in the values, beliefs and ambitions of one another, and understand the power of the collective when you have a message to deliver. As part of the week's exploration, they will contribute to a body of knowledge that Danielle Teale Dance will take forward to develop the AEP Professional Development workshops, enabling further community dance artists to access peer learning and tailored support to develop their artistic practice. This further development of the AEP workshops is supported by Yorkshire Dance, DanceEast and Theatre Bristol, in order to bring tailored professional development to regional artists.

Please follow the content on the Artists' Conversations Blog to find out what we are sharing, discussing and exploring throughout this week.