Joy, play, creativity in the everyday

Skills Exchange Day 3

All the right questions

Tim Casson

The session that Tim Casson led on day 3 of the AEP Skills Exchange focussed on how he engages people with the joy of dance by asking the ‘right questions’. In a joint discussion with Tom Hobden, we considered the different ways we ask questions of our dancers - to develop empathy, to make connections, to find shared interests and to demystify the world of creativity, to enable people in the community to access dance. In his own words, Tim reflects in his blog post below on some of the questions he asks himself and the groups he works with, and offers a few thoughts on his practice as a community artist.


The Session

We began by playing two of my favourite games, both stolen and adapted from theatre; Soundball and the Monster Game.

Questions arising from these games included:

  • If this is a game, is it still dance?
  • What is the minimum number of words I can use to teach these games?
  • Can the games be taught only via the body?
  • How observant can we be of others?
  • How much do we commit to the ideas that are proposed?
  • Will we accept what is proposed by others?
  • Are we having fun yet?
  • How can we play this game ‘better’?
  • How silly can we be?
  • Where are our boundaries?
  • Do we feel safe enough to be silly?
  • How can we feel safe enough to be silly?
  • Should we laugh in a warm up?
  • Should we laugh this much in a warm up?
  • Are we dancing yet?


Playing monsters! Photo by Rachel Cherry

Playing monsters! Photo by Rachel Cherry


We then went on to do a rather expedited version of ‘The Dance WE Made’, my flagship project that invites (often untrained) participants to choreograph on professional dancers, with no experience required.

This began with some training around methods of ‘translation’, as TDWM uses a fundamental principle of ‘conversation into choreography’ to create new movement as quickly and simply as possible - a process we call ‘collection’.

The movements created are then compiled by the performer, and subsequently directed by the participant, crucially putting them in control of the material - we call this the ‘edit’.

The new dance is then performed, usually in the space in which it has been created, and it’s also often recorded and placed online for anyone to see.


Some of the questions I ask around this process are:

  • What questions can I ask that are Choreographically useful?
  • What questions provide responses that offer a variety of interpretations?
  • What questions would avoid negative associations, and aren’t too emotionally loaded?
  • What questions can I ask that ensure the participant doesn’t have to think too much?
  • How can I get the participant to trust me very quickly?
  • How can I acknowledge the weirdness, so that we can just get on with making dances?
  • What does it mean if someone turns me down - do they hate dance/me/themselves?
  • How can I work in a way that expands the participant’s view of what dance can be?
  • How can I make this process simple?
  • How can I make this process speedy?
  • How can I process that much information?
  • How can I make a dance about that?
  • How can we talk about dance without using jargon?
  • Will this experience change how they see themselves/dance/me?
  • And how would I ever know?


My Practice

A lot of my work as a community artist, uses participants (often members of a local community) as the primary source of inspiration; bringing to life their thoughts, ideas, experiences and stories.

On reflection, I think I began working in this way because of a combination of my own fear that I had nothing to say, and being inspired by having worked in various community settings and witnessing the untapped creativity that all humans seem to possess - no matter how many times people protested and told me that they’re “not creative”.

My perception of a lot of community engaged practice that uses the participants’ stories and experiences as source material, is that it is often ‘issue based’ and defaults to a certain heaviness. It’s not difficult to see why; we live in a world of darkness, struggle, and challenge, so these are possibly easier for us to access - particularly when working with participant groups who have been brought together because of their specific challenges.

I suppose, my response to this perceived heaviness was to make sure that my personal practice would be focussed on finding the joy, and ‘The Dance WE Made’ is an example of this.

In creating the project, the first question I asked myself was; ‘I know that dance is joyful, but if the concept of ‘dance’ feels too intimidating for the participant, then what is their ‘way in’?’

At first glance TDWM may seem superficial; we pose everyday questions through 5 minute small-talk filled interactions about breakfast, journeys, birthdays etc.

These topics are chosen for very specific reasons: they are not difficult to form an opinion about, responses can be found within recent memory, and we (mostly) avoid unlocking any sort of emotional angst (In 6 years I’ve not had anyone tell me about a traumatic breakfast they had…). Fundamentally, they provide us with a simple and universal ‘way in’ for the participant; all they need to do is have a chat and the dance will happen.

The second question I asked was one of balance, “Does it always have to be all about the participant? As artists, could we use this to challenge and develop our craft and creativity?

Yes, TDWM is about engaging participants with dance, and ensuring their experience is positive - it’s as much about advocacy as engagement. But it’s also about developing and acknowledging our artistry and choreographic skill.

Whether in a workshop setting, or in public with people on the street, we never know how someone will respond to the questions we ask; so the challenge for artists within TDWM is how we take these ordinary conversations, and make them extraordinary by ‘translating’ them into movement.

In my opinion, dancers are amazingly skilled super-beings! So this process isn’t just about making a dance. TDWM presents the virtuosity of creativity as the performance itself, by channelling the creativity that is within us all - and having the performers push that further, in collaboration with the participant and in real time.

Then it becomes about joy - we see the participants enjoyment in co-creating, seeing their ideas brought to life, and the pride of watching their ideas performed by a highly skilled professional dancer, who has in-turn been creatively challenged.

It’s as much about artist as it is about participant - and I hope this squashes a preconception about community engaged practice. Community work, doesn’t only have to be about the community and their experience, there’s a great deal in it for the artists too. Working with communities is artistic, creative, surprising, human and challenging.

And one of the challenges that I love, is working out the right questions to get engage people with dance in creative, joyful and meaningful ways.


Skills Exchange Day 2

Aesthetic, translation and the detail of intention

Kimberley Harvey


Kimberley Harvey is a dance performer, teacher and choreographer working in contemporary inclusive practice. She is a regular dance artist for CandoCo Dance Company nationally and internationally and co-leads the weekly youth dance sessions for Cando2 at Trinity Laban. She recently toured with all female, inclusive performance company Moxie Brawl, as a dancer and teacher. Kimberley also has her own inclusive contemporary dance company, called Subtle Kraft Co. Their work is fuelled by curiosity. Last year, Subtle Kraft Co developed and toured 'Moments: Revisited' to unconventional performance spaces in the UK


In her own words, Kimberley explains the work she shared this week and the intentions within her practice

Initially, I was a little apprehensive about my decision to use rep from my company’s, Subtle Kraft Co, piece ‘Moments: Revisited' as the basis for my creative session. But then I reminded myself that, actually, learning other dance company's repertory material has always been such a treat for me as a dancer - giving you the chance to ‘live it’ and experience the movement of the dancers in the piece.

Also, when teaching set material, I am very clear that I am not asking the dancers to replicate my movement; rather, I am asking them to translate the essence of each movement for their own body. This means that the embodied versions of movements identical in intention, may vary in terms of aesthetic. Therefore, the learning of this material is also can exercise in translation. 

In ‘Moments: Revisited', this trio material saw us all in different seated positions, but for the AEP workshop, the artists could be sitting/standing in any position they chose (as long as they were stable; with their upper body as free as possible; and all facing front).

Having learnt the material, I then asked the artists to get into trios:

  • Initially, to practice the phrase and help each other with learning and remembering the material.
  • Then to be able to perform the phrase in unison as a trio with as much precision as possible.
  • This involved each trio beginning to examine their own movement and make conscious collective choices on the nuances and specificities within the sequence in order to consolidate their unison. For me, this is when the question of ‘what is unison?’ appears... particularly in the inclusive setting, with multiple translations of the same movement intention, it is interesting to consider where we set our 'unison boundaries'.
  • Then I asked each trio to find their group’s maximum speed for performing the unison phrase.
  • At this point, I asked the dancers to ‘disrupt the other two people in your group (from doing the phrase) by being naughty’.

Allowing time for initial exploration of what it meant to be naughty and cheeky with each other felt really important. Thus, providing the opportunity for play and genuinely being able to surprise each other; finding moments of honest initiation and reaction in movement and body.

Then came the devising with the eventual aim of setting the material. The trio had to include several elements:

  1. They had to start in a horizontal line - close together - all facing the same direction.
  2. The group had to perform their fast version of the unison phrase once before beginning their ‘naughty, disruptive material'.
  3. Someone must always be doing part of the unison phrase. You can cut and paste material but you must be constantly moving.

Three of the most important elements of this ‘Moments: Revisited’ trio that I kept reinforcing to my fellow AEP Artists whilst they were making and setting were:

  • Listening to each other, staying open. You can smile at each other if you want to! (i.e. not counting yourselves in; eye contact; seamlessly moving between the unison phrase and their ‘choreographed chaos’)
  • Clarity of intention (cause and effect)
  • Be genuinely naughty/cheeky and allow yourself to enjoy it!

It was a pleasure to hear such laughter whilst the groups were choreographing their naughtiness!

In the spirit of ‘Moments: Revisited', when sharing their material with each other the performing group would silently and instinctively choose whereabouts in the studio they wanted to be; and in response, the audience would choose where they wanted to experience it from and how close they wanted to be.

Thank you for playing everyone!

the role of the artist

Skills Exchange Day 1

Holding the space

Danielle Teale

Danielle Teale is the initiator of the Artists' Exchange Programme.

To begin the Skills' Exchange, I delivered a workshop which illuminated some of the concepts and thoughts that have led to this week. Most importantly, to highlight the different roles that are held by the artist in a creative situation, and how and why these roles are important.

By taking away the leadership figure, I set up a workshop environment in which boundaryless play could evolve, and the dancers were free to interpret their environment as they choose. The resources, the space, the music, the text based instructions and the other bodys in the space were available as markers to hold the space and provide inspiration but fundamentally the creative interpretation of the dancers was unstructured and unguided.


The workshop generated conversations with the following threads:

  • The impact of the resources we draw on - the sense of choice and freedom with lots of options, versus the feeling of being lost in endless possibility and the overstimulation of choice leading to an obsession with finding order
  • The use of the voice or lack of voice, the tone of voice and sound, as well as the actual language we use, all have an impact on the way instruction is received
  • How we set up the space - not just setting up the tasks and content of the session, but the work that goes on before we enter the room, and the positioning of ourselves in the space, determines how we represent ourselves in the process and our position of power as a leader
  • The value of unstructured play as a way to overcome the need for outcome focused work
  • The value of structure as a way to consolidate learning 

The closing thoughts of the group were centred around the notion of holding the space. 'Letting the party happen' involves us as artists 'hosting' the space, reading what is happening, making choices based on what is working, and choosing where to go next. This involves a combination of structured safety and unstructured freedom which can be easily interchangeable.


listening, trusting, playing

Skills Exchange Day 1

Today we began the AEP Skills Exchange featuring Danielle Teale, Tim Casson, Clare Reynolds, Tom Hobden, Sarah Lewis, Katie Green, Rachel Fullegar, Lizz Fort, Jo Rhodes, Beth Peters, Hannah Robertshaw and Laura Street. 

Play, connection, trust and listening

Hannah Robertshaw and Tim Casson

Tim headshot.jpeg

Tim is a Performer, Choreographer and Dance Educator. He has performed internationally and taught extensively for Jasmin Vardimon Company, creating their JV2 postgraduate programme, and has also performed for Nigel Charnock and Ben Wright. Tim regularly leads educational projects for a wide range of dance organisations, such as Sadler’s Wells, where he has worked extensively with the National Youth Dance Company. Tim has previously held Associate Artist positions at Pavilion Dance South West and dancedigital (UK), created the World Record Breaking online performance project, ‘The Dance WE Made’ and directs his company ‘Casson & Friends’, creating accessible work with a focus on collaboration, interaction and joy.


Hannah Robertshaw - Sep 2014 (13) - crop.JPG

Hannah trained as a dancer and worked between 2002 and 2013 as a Dance Artist and latterly as Artistic Producer for Ludus Dance in the North West of England. She has led community dance projects nationally and internationally working with partners such as The British Council, The Greek Council for Refugees and Big Dance. Hannah is now Programmes Director for Yorkshire Dance, supporting independent artists and partnership projects across the Yorkshire Region. Alongside her strategic development work, Hannah is a practicing dance artist with a specialism in movement play and community building through dance. Hannah has led movement play workshops for clients such as Common Purpose, Bradford University International Peace Studies, Arup Engineering and the law firm Irwin Mitchell. 


Hannah and Tim took us through a warm-up to put us in the shoes of the dancers we work with. We considered:

  • Being together and being alert - how do we communicate the need to stay connected with the process to our dancers through interactive tasks
  • Opening the space for contribution, accumulating movement and being responsive to people's movements offers
  • Simplicity of instructions - setting clear rules and seeing how easy it is to develop relationships and movement material out of very simple gestures such as walk, sit down, stand still
  • Conversational movement - listening to and respecting each other
  • Exploring our ability to trust and let go of control by giving another person the role of the driver - how do we as artists step into the passive role
  • Working as a team, lead and follow and democratic leadership