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Animated Edition - Spring 2007
What is cultural dialogue?
2008 is the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, a term now widely used on mainland Europe though less common in the UK. Here Ken Bartlett outlines the Foundation for Community Dance's recent thinking about how to adapt the term to the British context and the world of community dance. It is followed by a series of articles commissioned from artists and organisations already embarked on this work to illustrate what it might mean in action
The Foundation for Community Dance has recognised that one of its major themes in the coming years is to develop a new approach to the diversity of the UK population, and dance in the UK, that does not simply work within constructs of benign indifference or guilty liberalism in its work with dance professionals and participation in dance.

We are seeking to find an organising set of principles that allow us to function effectively within the context of diverse populations/communities and a diverse set of values about the place of the arts in people's lives. We aim to promote values and practices that are genuinely inclusive and, in addition, to open more choices for people in their dance and in their lives.

We are looking for principles that are more widely inclusive of the population of the UK and the dances they engage with: something that offers a process model for developing a greater understanding of the differences of individuals, cultures and communities touched by dance in the UK and internationally, and to increase dialogue and communication between them. So for us the idea of intercultural dialogue more appropriately follows from a set of values that is inclusive of everyone, whatever their individual biography or cultural origin.

When an individual joins in with any dance activity they bring with them a set of cultural identities based on individual biography and family history. These are in turn based on larger groupings relating to class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, language, nationality and so on.

Many community dance artists and organisations genuinely believe that each individual has the capacity to dance with intention and purpose. They also believe that dance can make a difference to everyone's life, for them one of the central issues is how to develop a methodology for access, participation and progression that is not only inclusive of difference, but that can also give voice to those differences within groups. By engaging in dialogue the individual is better able to understand him or herself in a wider context. This leads to better-shared understanding of, and greater respect for each other and the cultural influences that distinguish us.

Implicit in this argument is an approach to difference, diversity and intercultural dialogue. The Foundation for Community Dance seeks to reflect this in its organisation, structure and delivery as well as in its leadership of the community dance sector.

In other words, when in the future we choose to talk about cultural diversity we will embrace differences based on class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, language as well as individual biographies and collective histories. And when we talk about intercultural dialogue we mean how to promote and establish in and through dance in communities real dialogue about our differences. In so doing we will promote greater understanding for the individual within the group, and the group as part of its wider community.

We are currently developing a model for intercultural dialogue that recognises:
  • The diversity of dances available for people to participate in
  • The diversity of reasons why people participate in dance - some of which are about sustaining traditional cultures based on national, racial and other identities; while others are about making new cultures and creating new identities.
And is based on:
  • Respect for individual difference
  • Promoting self definition
  • Encouraging participation across and within a range of communities and dance experiences.
It is therefore not about making assumptions about people's choices or aspirations in the arts based solely on their race, gender, age, disability, sexuality or economic or educational background.

To develop this, it is our intention to:
  • Build partnerships across the dance/arts/sport/health sectors with those who share common values and some of our goals
  • Identify and prioritise key sectors of the population we think are currently underrepresented in community dance as professional leaders and as participants
  • Undertake research into those groups, their needs and aspirations, and do something about increasing their involvement and the dialogue between them, our existing constituencies and ourselves.

If you have any thoughts or initiatives that you think would contribute to this debate or the development of intercultural practice in community dance please get in touch with us:

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Animated: Spring 2007