community dance as curatorial practice

Skills Exchange Day 2

Objects, Stories, People, Dance

Lizz Fort

Lizz headshot.jpg

Lizz Fort is currently a Lecturer in Dance Education at the Royal Academy of Dance and Lecturer at Trinity Laban on the Postgraduate Diploma Community Dance programme.  She is a researcher with an MA in Community Dance (2015) from University of Roehampton and has a practice based research interest in community practice, collaboration, inclusion and dance teacher professional development. She is a performing member of Amici Dance Theatre Company and has previously performed with Ten Over Six Dance (Amy Robinson) and From Here to Maturity (Ann Dickie). Lizz has recently worked as a consultant and collaborator for the Dance Unstuck ballet and disability research project with GDance and Jurg Koch. Her previous freelance portfolio includes projects for Magpie Dance in partnership with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures (2012), and The Transition Team & Disabled Children’s Team for The London Borough of Bromley (2011).


Today, Lizz took us through a practical task to highlight the importance of artistic choices, and how to deliver a session which provides trainee students with a window into the values of community dance, creative practice and artistry. In her own words she shares her thoughts behind the practice:

In my work as a dance teacher educator, as trainee teachers journey from dancer to teacher/facilitator, I feel strongly that they see themselves as artists in their teaching practice before they develop the skills to host creative dance activities with others.  The activity I hosted at the AEP is one way that I start this conversation. In addition, I wanted to open up a discussion with the other artists about my current interest in rethinking community dance as a curatorial practice, an idea I have been formulating for a PhD research proposal. The ‘object-writing-hand phrase activity’ seemed well suited to achieve both of these objectives.`

My artistic intention within this process is for people to generate stories through writing, conversation and gestural movement material. There are also important relational and social intentions to the tasks that are set, with the aim of helping a group get to know each other, develop trust and see how everyone is a unique, creative voice. These social processes are essential for the artistic magic to happen.  

I see my role as an artist-curator who holds the space, hosting the activity, caring for the activity and the people in it, providing a semi-structure and check points in the process.

I am not keen on using the term ‘participants’, so choose to identify those I am working with as artistic collaborators, since it is these people who are creating the material.

Ethics of emotional vulnerability:
Before the task I explain to the group about some ethical considerations around working with their objects.  Sometimes strong emotional reactions can be evoked through the guided imagery and/or the free writing task. This is important so that everyone aware of their responsibility to themselves and to others in the session.

The Task:

The starting point for this activity is an object that each person brings.

  • Layer 1: A seated, eyes closed guided imagery activity that brings attention to the object’s physical features and the memories, people and places attached to the object.
  • Layer 2: Free writing task (10 minutes)
  • Layer 3: Story telling in pairs. Each person tells the story of their object to their partner. They then swap objects, find a new partner and tell the story of the new object in their hand. This process happens 3-4 times.
  • Movement: These creative layers provide the foundations for a simple, solo movement task; the development of a hand phrase that tells their story, someone else’s story, or a mash-up of the stories they have heard/told. When these phrases are shared in a circle, I am always blown away by the care, sensitivity and detail that each person dedicates to their performance. It is moment of significance for the group, and an important celebration of diversity and unity all at once.

At this point as a group we have objects, writing and hand phrases. The creative and choreographic choices from this point are vast. I then set the trainee teachers the task of developing an activity for the next class.

I was interested to find out from the AEP Skills Exchange artists how they would consider presenting the objects, writing, stories and hand phrases to people (audience/visitors/spectators) who had not been involved in the activity. They were asked to consider:

  • how an exhibit/installation/experience of the work might be curated
  • what modes of presentation would best represent the context of our process, the people and the stories
  • how might we best present our work, beyond a ‘performance’?

During this week I have shared with the AEP artists my working ideas around community dance artists having much in common with curators. The word curation is rooted in the Latin ‘to care’; community dance and curatorial practice share in the actions of gathering, selecting, sorting, organising and caring for art, people and spaces.  This includes the interplay between the tangible concept of ‘art as object’, and intangible concept of ‘art as interpersonal exchange’.  For community dance, I think this new way of thinking re-situates it away from the ‘product/object/performance’ that defines much theatrical/professional dance and gives it a fresh identity. I hope the research will enable us to think in an innovative way about community dance practice and its identity, offering an original contribution to knowledge in the fields of community dance, participatory arts and curatorial practice. 

(Words by Lizz Fort)

Bethan and Jo combined their hand phrases and texts into a duet which we filmed as part of Katie’s session on voice and text, delivered on Thursday 21st December.