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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
Whose language is it anyway?
Adam Holloway, Business Director, Cheshire Dance
As a sector, community dance has been on a 30 year or more journey in this country. Latest figures suggest that there are 4,500 of us developing and delivering community dance up and down the country. Between us we embrace diversity and context like virtually no other profession. And our task is to stimulate movement curiosity. We develop ownership of artistic and creative processes and we do so as much amongst ourselves, colleagues and peers as we do participants, partners and professionals from other sectors.

I remember conducting research back in 2002 as Cheshire Dance was preparing the ground for its professional development programme, bloom. I recall many in depth interviews with artists across the country who articulated both a 'collective consciousness' and a myriad of subtle variations, specialisms and applications surrounding good practice.

I remember dreaming... 'If we could gather all 4,500 people, not to mention a similar number of professionals from other sectors like youth work, health, social science and the policy makers, current and future purchasers and funders of dance into the same place for three weeks, maybe we could make good practice more visible...'. OK, it would take much longer and anyway, is that the best way?

So why not come up with a way, a process, a research model... a framework to do exactly that. Something that will do us all justice. And even better, go to peoples... workplace and conduct the research in context.

Back in our workplace, as we interact with participants, people from dance and other sectors, so we choose our language, depending on who we're communicating with, what we're trying to convey and in any given situation. We refine our communication through experience, hone a set of principles or descriptors that increase in clarity whilst deepening in complexity. Importantly we do not aim to keep it simple, our task is more about finding ways to reveal the depth.

'Think of a dressmaker draping cloth around the body of the wearer and pinning and cutting to their body until the shape arrives. It still has the designer's distinct authorship but is made for and with the wearer and their unique body rather than a finished garment put on the wearer.' Rosemary Lee, The Possibilities are Endless, Animated Spring 2004

Let's not forget though, in writing and talking, dance artists may be using their 2nd language. One of the strongest reasons why people dance is that movement is a preferred form of communication. Have you ever delivered a workshop in silence? Maybe! Attended a meeting where no-one spoke? We wish!

So maybe we can develop and use a framework that can communicate movement and participation through spoken and written language, allowing the form to reach further to help us, help our interaction with others as well as act on our behalf.

Imagine putting out there into society, a whole new language, our language! Yes, we each do it all the time but what if we do it together at the same time? What if we bundle it all up and set it off by itself to do our good work while we go back to our studios and our desks.
As a deliverer of community dance in a wide range of contexts, as an employer, as a training provider and as a group of practitioners both staff and freelance, Cheshire Dance has long recognised that it cannot specialise in all fields of practice. In fact the more we investigate any one area the more we recognise the need to explore to yet deeper levels. We pull on broader and broader networks of expertise. As a self-confessed learning organisation, and as we continue our explorations and begin new journeys we look forward to both contributing to and benefiting from such a framework by:
  • Continuing to develop our ownership, and that of others, of artistic and creative processes
  • Gaining in certainty and confidence in our journey both collectively and individually
  • Recognising and representing to others the vast array of skills, knowledge and experience that we, as professionals, possess
  • Reflecting on our practice and assessing our needs as individuals and a whole organisation on an entirely bespoke basis, by using a backdrop of understanding gathered from the whole sector
  • Evidencing individual and organisational progress
  • Understanding the transferability and limits of our experience as we move from one context or group to another
  • Linking up with and complementing our training provision with other providers and collectively enabling practitioners to more effectively meet their needs
  • Becoming better employers and partners and by advocating better employment and partnership practices.
It's why we developed bloom and for the same reasons its why I think the Framework could be very useful. It complements what we do and as part of our contribution, we aim to ensure that it:
  • Is and remains 'open', non-linear and flexible, offering ways in and routes through that are respectful of the diversity of our backgrounds and ambitions and is accessible to our communication and learning needs
  • Combats isolation by demystifying a learning process, adding clarity rather than complicating
  • Saves time in terms of communicating and learning
  • Advocates for a common language when we need one
  • Affirms what we know as well as help us focus our learning
  • Helps others talk our language and help us talk theirs
  • Engenders respect outside the profession as to what an artist does
  • Generates employment opportunities as people's (non dance people's) awareness is raised
  • Protects the sector from external validation
  • Never claims to be the 'holy grail'
  • Grows and continually refines to reflect changing realities.
Finally I'll pull out one word from the above, for more specific consideration. 'Validation'. It is a term used in the framework strategy document and it's a tricky one. Do we use the framework to validate our practice or do we use our practice validate the framework?
You know what, you can choose, either or both!


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Animated: Autumn 2006