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Animated Edition - Spring 2008
Excellence, Fineness, Brilliance, Distinction,Merit, Superiority, Class, Eminence, Value, Worth
Scottish Independent dance artist Janice Parker on the importance of placing the art form at the centre of the quality experience
What a shifty concept quality is; subjective, diverse and intangible... but what good things come from it.

As artists, we engage with the concept of quality because we need to achieve it in the work that we do. Achieving quality is a way of being accountable - of knowing why we do what we do in the way that we do it. If we think of quality as a set of properties we can ask the question to whom or to what do these qualities belong.

In my work as a dance artist in the community there are two things of importance to me: art and the potential of people.

Each individual possesses enormous potential and capacity. Developing that capacity is a mark of quality. I am motivated to enable individuals to work towards their potential within the art form. To create the conditions that take each person further into the capacity of their own dancing - to be the best they can be is to work with quality. This sounds idealistic, and it may be an inflated notion to think that we alone might take others there, but my passion is to aim for this level and quality of work.

In both in workshops and performance, there has to be rich source material within the physical body, the technique, the imagination, the performance presence and in the choreography.
Quality approaches to work means this source material keeps evolving and developing. There is nothing worse, nothing more deadening, than the eternal workshop - the endless ground hog day approach to 'classes'. Let us challenge people to do more and to do better because we believe they can! To work with quality is to ask what else there is to do to make it better and to make it more.

If a person has a potential that can be realised, then I see it as my work to develop opportunities for that person. For example, I work with a young man with learning disabilities who has an enormous potential and aspiration for dance. I think that to work only with me would limit this potential. So I have set up a number of opportunities for him, including regular technique classes in a variety of dance forms, and developed a number of performance opportunities for him with professional companies. It has not been easy but it has happened and his capacity and passion for dance has continued to develop. To me, this is working with quality. I judge quality by the distance people have travelled towards their own potential and by the artistry, aesthetic, depth and substance of what they produce.

We also need to serve and trust the art form. By this I mean not aiming for social outcomes first. Good art will result in social outcomes anyway. The quality exists in the implicit form and nature of the art product and in the process of working towards that. Knowing what 'good art' is is in itself contentious. But we do know that 'good art' has a level of skill and integrity that engages both audience and performer. Community dance can do this too. Good art is not something that exists only in 'professional' spheres. Community dance is not necessarily 'second class' dance or a poor imitation of current contemporary dance. There is an underlying aesthetic implicit in the non-traditionally trained body. I think it is my job to find it, to unearth each body's own distinct vocabulary and language, and to create work that aims to maximise that underlying aesthetic and potential.

A few years ago I performed in a dance for camera film with people who have complex learning disabilities. I had been puzzled about how to create the circumstances to enable our movement to be visible and known. Film was the perfect medium to capture these moments of beauty and dance film-maker Katrina Macpherson produced a ten minute film and is true to her own vision as an artist. The film has since been selected and screened at many festivals. It stands on its own merit as a dance film. It is controversial because people find it hard to accept the performance presence of people with complex learning disabilities, but to me that is a mark of quality. It has quality because it raises the bar about the limited and limiting expectations placed on individuals with learning disabilities. It has quality because the performers and their care workers love it and the elevated status the performance gives them. But mostly it has quality because it stands as a piece of art with a distinctive vocabulary, and without that I believe the other qualities would be diminished.

As an artist I constantly aim to develop my practice. I think this aim is also a mark of quality: to know there is more to know, to keep learning, to keep my eyes open, to keep asking questions, to keep resourcing myself - about the art form, the teaching methods, the opportunities, and other ways of doing things. There is always further to go. Quality is about personal integrity and development.

Community dance is a complex and multifaceted practice. The spectrum of our work is diverse. There are many ways to get there and there are many end products. Community dance is not about any one methodology and it is not about one particular form. It is a philosophy that trusts the artform and believes in the potential of people. Within that each artist can work to their own strengths and authentic resonances. It is not about doing everything, rather it is about transferring your own passions, skills and resources as an artist.

Quality means being able to talk about it, knowing what we are aiming for, knowing how we are trying to get there, and quality is questioning everything we do. It is being responsive to the situation and it is being accountable. We can't do it all and we can't actually do all there is to do. It is always a journey. We have to keep asking ourselves how to make our work better. That is quality... and we can get there!

contact parkerjanice@hotmail.com / visit www.janiceparker.co.uk

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Animated: Spring 2008