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Meeting whose needs?
Animated, Summer 1998. As dance professionals we enjoy a high degree of autonomy in our working practice, often paying little regard to monitoring or evaluating. Diane Amans asks whose needs is community dance meeting?
I was struck recently when interviewing participants and dance practitioners from a project by the different expectations and diverse needs which were apparent amongst those taking part. I began to consider approaches to evaluation - the extent to which the needs and wishes of the participants are at the centre of community dance practice and who decides the aims and objectives of community dance work?
  • The participants?
  • The organisation commissioning the work?
  • The funding bodies?
  • The community dance practitioner, artist or company?

So, whose needs is community dance meeting?
Each member of each of the above groups have their own needs and priorities, some of which are listed here:

Needs of participants

  • Access to dance experience

  • Skills development

  • Social activity

  • Opportunity for creative expression

  • Exercise

  • Make art and or be artists

  • Recreation

  • Sense of achievement

  • New challenges.

Needs of organisation commissioning work

  • Respond to targets

  • Provide access to dance

  • Introduce new activities

  • Be seen to be introducing new activities

  • Fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum.

Needs of funding body

  • Monitor how money is spent

  • Be seen to support 'worthy causes'.

Needs of dance practitioner

  • Paid work and or job security

  • Create work and or choreograph

  • Maintain professional reputation

  • Help others and or feel useful

  • Make art and or be artists

  • Perform

  • Sense of achievement

  • New challenges.

Whilst the above lists are not exhaustive, they raise some interesting questions:

  • Is it possible to satisfy the needs and or wishes of all the interested parties?

  • Who decides which needs have priority?

  • What about participants who can't articulate their needs and or haven't thought about their needs?

How far is it the responsibility of the dance practitioner to promote skills development in order that people are better able to engage with the artform (even when participants have asked for social and or recreative activities). This last question highlights the fact that the needs of the participants as perceived by the practitioner (eg, develop new skills, make art, personal growth) may not be consistent with the wishes of the individuals (eg. self expression through familiar movement, learning set routines). An additional factor is that many community dance workers have close links with an institution which is responsible for managing or funding their project. It is highly likely that the work of the dance practitioner will be influenced by the demands or perceived needs of the institution.

Currently there exists no system for monitoring whose needs are being met by practitioner interventions and as community dance professionals we often enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy in our work. If this autonomy extends to the monitoring and evaluation of community dance practice, how do we ensure that we are not seeing people's needs in terms of what we are offering or in terms of dance projects which meet our needs? (For example, to be seen as artists and or to retain a high profile within the dance world and or to secure future work by meeting the needs of the funding body, etc.) It may be the case that have not really thought about our own needs and, if this is so, we may be allowing these needs to influence our practice without realising it.

I find the Johari Window(1&2) a useful framework within which to look at how much we know about ourselves and the extent to which we share this knowledge with others. We can divide everything there is to know about us in a number of different ways, here represented by four windows (see illustration attached).

This model was devised by the psychologists Joseph Loft and Harry Ingham and is often used to promote self awareness through feedback and self disclosure. The internal boundaries of the window can be moved in any direction as different windows are increased or reduced.

The Arena can be increased by reducing the size of the Blind Spot. As the Blind Spot contains information which is known to others but hidden from self I can increase my awareness by encouraging others to give me feedback. The Arena can also be increased by decreasing the Facade, which includes information I have not disclosed to others - information about them and about me.

The Johari Window is normally used as a model for giving and receiving feedback in groups. Has it got any relevance for community dance practitioners? I think it has. It is useful to reflect on our own needs and try and identify what is contained in our own Blind Spot and Facade. To do this effectively we need to engage in some kind of dialogue with others in order to increase our own self awareness.

Perhaps a mentoring relationship with other community dance professionals would offer a vehicle for evaluating our practice, giving us useful feedback. This would help us to increase our Arena, and become better able to assess which of our needs can be met within the context of our community dance practice and which of our needs might be more appropriately met within other contexts.

Whilst I would not welcome a formalised monitoring system in community dance, I think there needs to be a mechanism for ensuring that practitioners are equipped with the necessary skills to facilitate and evaluate people-centred community dance practice.

Perhaps we should adopt a similar system to the supervisory relationship which exists within the counselling profession.

The Components of Supervision(3)

  • Support and encouragement

  • Teaching and integrating theoretical knowledge and practice

  • Assessment in the maintenance of standards

  • Transmission of professional values and ethics.

A system of mentoring or supervision could help practitioners to evolve a shared vision of what is meant by good practice in community dance. We would then be in a better position to account for our aims and methods of working and to be more proactive in influencing decisions about whose needs community dance actually meet.

Diane Amans, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Creative Skills and Performing Arts. Contact +44 (0) 161 427 5093.

1 Hanson, PC., The Johari Window: A Model for Soliciting and Giving Feedback, The Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, University Associates, San Diego, California, 1973.
2 Thomas, B., Learning How to Fly, animated magazine, The Foundation far Community Dance, Autumn, 1997.
3 Stewart,W, An A-Z of Counselling Theory and Practice, Stanley Thomas, Hampshire, 1977.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001