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.

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.

Launching the Artists' Exchange Programme

Launching the Artists' Exchange Programme

Danielle Teale Dance launches the Artist Exchange Programme (AEP) funded by Arts Council England

Danielle Teale Dance is delighted to announce the launch of the Artists Exchange Programme, an initiative that focuses on artistry in the continuing professional development of artists working in community dance.