By Joseph Gonzales
(857 words, five-minute read)
This is the book to own or read if you are in any way invested, connected and working with children as well as people with special needs. It is exactly as the title says: an effort to be inclusive, empowering and celebrate all people.
The book is divided into five sections: Inclusive dance pedagogy; Equality, advocacy and policy; Changing practice for dance education; Community dance initiatives; Professional integrated collaborations. Each of these sections is further divided into chapters and case narratives. The chapters are more substantive studies that are approached academically while the case narratives are written from an on-the-ground, practitioner’s point of view. This makes for informative and inspiring reading of experiences from 46 contributors from across the globe who have great reputations and extensive experience. It is truly a comprehensive document of the work being done in the area of dance with the disabled, differently abled, those with special needs, or inclusive dance, whichever the terminology that one might be familiar with.
Dancers have most often been seen as human beings that have “the perfect body”, enabling them to execute challenging technique, weaved into sets of sequences that are presented to audiences. Even children’s dance experiences have generally presumed a degree of physical dexterity, coordination, musicality and performance quality. These preconceived notions have permeated mindsets all over the world, especially in urban cities where professional dance has taken deep root and has greater exposure. While the aspirations and achievements of dancers in this specific trajectory and the presentations of renowned dance companies cannot be belittled, the stories in this book go a long way in the effort to debunk the myth of “perfection” as a prerequisite or benchmark. The book documents and reflects on initiatives across the globe that work towards inclusion and participation. The chapters provide strategies to enable profound experiences to take place. Most of these experiences are narrated in a most sincere first-person manner that will encourage everyone who has an interest in this field, and wishes to be more informed and involved.
The thread of discussion and presentation in the book follows a clear and practical progression that takes the reader from one aspect of the diverse field to another. However, the reader may zero in on a specific area that is of immediate interest as well, without losing any contextual understanding, making it reader-friendly. The first three papers on inclusive pedagogy challenges the availability of dance training at higher education and addresses the present barriers that are in place that prevents access to the differently-abled. This is a necessary dialogue which is potentially combustive. It is a clash of ideologies between those who come from conservatoire and conservative models of teaching to those who are predominantly working within institutions.
Even within institutions, there needs to be a rethinking and designing of methods of delivery, training of faculty, and modes of assessment that will reflect the learning and individual journeys. The twice disenfranchised and complexities of identity between the changing socio-political framework in Denmark and Europe with the South African experience are eloquently discussed in “The Ugly Duckling” by Gerard. M. Samuel. It provides a fascinating insight into transnational work and the negotiations that accompany it. “Supporting Change” by Imogen Aujla, Emma Redding and Veronica Robbins is possibly the most comprehensive study on strategies and policies that have been put into practice in the UK. The rigorous research, its outcomes as well as implementation will serve as a most powerful template that could be adopted by others.
The section on community dance initiatives is profound. “Dance and affect” by Urmimalar Sarkar Munsi on the work of Kolkata Sanved, “Digital Stories” by Sue Cheesman and Elaine Bliss as well as “Community initiatives for special needs dancers” by Stephanie Burridge are particularly powerful. Kolkata Sanved attempts to heal the traumatic experiences of women in enslaved environments using touch in Kolkata, India. The second case study employs digital video as a springboard to creativity and identity, while Burridge writes about new initiatives in Singapore. David Mead’s “Freefalling with ballet” is a case study of challenging the idea that inclusive dance is contemporary and communal nature, implying a lowering of expectations of the aesthetics. Mead documents the work of the Freefall Dance Company, which is a collaboration between Birmingham Royal Ballet and Fox Hollies Performing Arts College, that works with pupils between eleven and nineteen with severe learning difficulties through the genre of ballet, and celebrates their artistic output. Although there is much more to be done, these inroads are vital and cannot be trivialised.
This book can be summed as being about the work that art or dance does, as opposed to the work that art is. The efficacy and the power that dance has to change people’s lives is perhaps the most noble of its functions in life. For educators, parents and practitioners, this is a priceless addition to your library and resource material. The book serves its purpose to enlighten and empower, as well as being a timely reminder of why dance has been an integral part of the community, and how everyone can participate in its joy and benefits.
Dance, Access and Inclusion: Perspectives on Dance, Young People and Change, edited by Stephanie Burridge and Charlotte Svendler Nielsen, was published by Routledge in 2017.
Guest Contributor Joseph Gonzales is a Professor at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts since 2016, and served as Dean of Dance at National Academy of Arts in Malaysia (1999-2015). He has performed/choreographed professionally in multiple genres of dance, theatre and music since 1981. He has written several books on contemporary dance in Malaysia, and presents on various topics at international conferences. He currently reviews dance for the Hong Kong Dance Journal. He is also a choreographer, curator of international festivals, Co-Chairman of Asian Dance Committee, South Korea (since 2011), and Founder of ASK Dance Company, a full-time professional dance company in Malaysia.