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  • Shifting stones
Shining a light in the changing tide
Date posted: 07 December 2020
In the face of personal challenges and a world wide pandemic, and whilst staying true to her values, author Jo Cone now feels safe, secure and supported via five navigational points that she shares with us here.
Photo: Jo Cone

Throughout history, we humans have looked for guidance. It is famously written that the three wise men found baby Jesus from the guidance of a star. Stars have guided sailors to find the safety of the shore; stars of the screen guide us to the latest Netflix release. Whether we find it from a god or from the most recent update on, we look to others to lead us forward, mapping our journey around the stones that build our lives.

This year has been an ever-changing series of such stones shifting, tumbling and dissolving into the sea with each new rule and restriction announced. However, the impact of COVID-19 meant there has been little guidance on what to do when things outside of the pandemic create challenges in our own world. When face-to-face or online platforms, which other’s embraced, were not within our reach.

At the beginning of 2020 my average week was a mixture of school runs, home life, dance and campaigning. The work I put in to balance these different roles enabled me to re-grow my work, rebuilding it after having children. In September 2019 I was successfully awarded Arts Council funding to develop the work I delivered under the title of Doodle Dance. It began as a mark making project with reception pupils from a local school and developed into a variety of settings, projects and training. Doodle Dance originated from research and aimed to build children’s confidence and skill in the developmental milestones of drawing and writing. It soon grew into an approach that stressed the importance of all children making their mark, with a growing focus towards protest, campaign and advocacy. Doodle was delivery; wellbeing and kindness at the heart of it all.

The premise of the ACE funding was to help me build a team whilst also enabling artists to remain within the community dance industry during moments of ‘big’ change. I shiver slightly now at how ‘insightful’ this part of the project was, not knowing what ‘big’ changes we were heading towards soon after!

But challenge and change does not just come from world pandemics. In February my husband fell ill. The carefully placed stepping stones of the planned year were thrown skimming across a lake of worry, fear and ‘what ifs’, even before the word ‘COVID-19’ had entered our lives. My response was to reset the balance. I reduced my work, I held my kids, I hugged my husband. And we paused. Just as I was about to restart, the world stopped.

The reality of home schooling and the unpredictable nature of treatment schedules gave no pattern to our weeks. Our situation meant that I would not be returning to teaching – regardless of government guidance – for some time.

I knew that without the connection I gained from my regular delivery, I would need a new platform to generate meaningful artistic interaction. I needed a place to put my ideas, my skills and my passion.

I found this opportunity in not one, but two shining stars (or as we warmly call each other ‘COVID buddies’!). Louise Jaggard invited Claire Pring and myself to create a resource featuring primary school dance lessons that were creative, socially distanced and encouraged connection. The plans aimed to enhance children’s wellbeing through enabling ownership of their movement, whilst supporting the teachers and dance artists actually delivering the content.

Making a Move was the outcome, written over email and Zoom. Co-authoring this book was an amazing experience and we are proud that in its first four months Making a Move has already reached over 100 teachers and artists (and is still on sale now). Although I cannot deliver face to face myself, I am greatly comforted knowing that if each person who bought the book taught one of the plans to just one class of 30 pupils, 3,000 children will have benefited from our work.

After Making a Move was written, and both Louise and Claire returned to face-to-face delivery, our time to connect over Zoom reduced significantly. I needed to build something into my work which would shine a new light when my stars had to go elsewhere and in doing so would allow me to still be ‘Doodle Dance’.

For some time, I have wanted guidance on board; someone by my side who could help me develop Doodle. I reflected during lockdown that having a permanent crew member would actually add extra responsibility and would stop me being able to jump on and off my ship so I could respond to the changing responsibilities of family. Instead I needed to build a structure that would guide me from afar when I was ready to board again.

Five years ago, Associate Artist, Sally Roberts was going to become a permanent crew member, hopping on board Doodle Dance. She has always been a star in my eyes. Not just because Sally is a hugely talented dance artist and arts co-ordinator, but because she also has the ability to embrace my passion and endless ideas and somehow reflect them back to me as tangible organised plans. Sally’s subsequent relocation became another changing tide and my stones shifted again. Instead of being able to make her a permanent member, Sally became an associate artist based in a different and more distant location.

So now despite the distance, we decided to build something useful. Together we are building a lighthouse; a beacon to guide. It started in a two-hour session where she listened. She listened as I spoke of my endless ideas, needs and wants and why I was finding it so hard to schedule each week when I had no timetable of classes to teach. She listened and then reflected back, organising my thoughts into five simple groups. She has given me five navigational points which I can now move between, knowing that I am safe, secure and supported but also staying true to my values and those of Doodle. Each week I Move, Create, Deliver, Connect and Organise.

Sally and I are continuing these sessions for just one hour each month, using the research funding to facilitate the process. We are continually reflecting and intend to create a ‘lighthouse’ response next year to help artists through Doodle’s Artist Support Series.

I am looking forward to the opportunities which this beacon of light now shines towards. And although we are not fully through these dark times, I am excited to see what comes from this new guidance and where it will take me. As Martin Luther King so eloquently put it, ‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars.’

Artists who may be interested in support and the resources Doodle Dance is creating can either join the Primary School Dance Network (which Doodle Dance jointly administrates with the Making a Move team) or connect with Jo Cone via Facebook @doodledanceheadquarters

With thanks to Louise Jaggard and David Musty for editorial support.

The authors are kindly offering the Making a Move book resource at a discounted rate to People Dancing Members. Please login and follow the link below to buy this resource at the discounted rate of £10:

People Dancing Member rate

Not a member? Purchase Making a Move here at the regular price of £20.