The Garage’s Scott “Scooby” Atkins, Victoria Taylor and Danielle Gardner learnt a lot about diversity and themselves at the first DAN.ce AcCEssibility INclusion (DAN.CE IN) conference in Alicante. They shared their experiences as part of Creativity and Wellbeing Week.
Scooby’s journey proved a personal one which has pushed him as a choreographer, a performer and a person. It started with a missing veneer…
“I sneezed and it flew out and shattered. I was instantly hiding my mouth because I was very self-conscious,” he said.
Scooby, The Garage’s Venue Service Coordinator, had already conquered his biggest fear of flying. His second is the dentist.
“Usually I don’t care what I look like. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I felt like everybody was staring at me and participant Lee Baker responded with ‘well, welcome to our life’. That was the reality kick I needed. That bluntness.
I’m on an inclusive dance project, where nothing matters. Why would they care that I had a little nub of a tooth for a couple of days? It was really sweet. One of the Italian ladies came over and I sort of said ‘hi’ but deliberately kept my lip covering my tooth. She just hugged me and said ‘don’t ever lose your smile’.
It was that realisation I’m in the safest place I could be possibly be for this to happen. This is a cosmetic thing I’ll be able to sort out in a few weeks and I need to get over it and I did. I went back the next day and apologised to everyone. They were like ‘it doesn’t matter’ but it could’ve come across as really insensitive that I was stressing about it.”
Scooby, who also teaches some of The Garage’s Street Dance classes, Performing Arts for the Home Educated and Summer Street School; had another “what am I doing” moment during a site specific session led by participant Alice Lambert.
They were on the waterfront, making shapes against the environment that people had to navigate.
“My fear for being there was because I’d questioned my involvement. Contemporary’s not my strong point. I’m not Ballet-trained, I’m not trained whatsoever. Street and Commercial is what I do and I’m quite self-conscious about everything else.
People were travelling from one end to the other. We were being watched by the other group and there was a point where I could’ve crawled on the floor but I didn’t want to get dirty, so took the easiest route possible. One of the blind participants was finding out where everybody else was, crawling up the wall, under people, over them… Come the Italian trip I’ll go in with no fear because she had no fear. She trusted us, even though she couldn’t see us.
For me the whole experience was just this massive personal journey. Now, if I react to something I think ‘why am I doing that?’ That’s translating into how I teach, how I understand participants.
Since being back I’ve worked with Alice a couple of times in the Inclusive Dance group. Same with Liesl Hammer… I’d just had these sessions with her, so Alicante was more of a bonding time. Now we feel like a company because we’ve had this experience and classes have ramped up in intensity – it opened our eyes to our potential… now everything is possible. Liesl even wants me to lift her in her chair.”
Dance doesn’t discriminate when it comes to background, culture and language so why should functional or neuro diversity matter? It’s not what you can’t do, it’s what you can do said Victoria, Education and Outreach Coordinator at The Garage.
She was another of the professional dancers, instructors, social workers and diverse people from Spain, Italy and the UK taking part in the inclusive workshops that encourage equal opportunities through the joy of movement.
That was evident the first afternoon, with a traditional flamenco workshop.
“They didn’t just teach you the moves, it was the feeling, the emotion. The little speech there was, you could tell exactly what she wanted to convey without having it translated. In my 26 years of dancing I’ve never done flamenco,” she laughed.
“Normally the counts are either in threes, sixes or eights. It was in 12s and oh my days, I struggled. It’s ridiculous, I couldn’t count to 12. I was missing the moves, the accents in the moves. It really got into my head.
The workshop was moving so quickly that most of the time you didn’t have time to worry that you’d gone wrong, which was great. You were laughing with others who were also getting it wrong. Getting that bonding out of the way before we started creating work was really good.”
Day one was a contact improvisation workshop. Day two was more of the same with a focus on creating sound that dancers had to respond to using tissue paper, then large sheets of parcel paper.
“You could scrunch it, blow on it, shake it; smooth it out. I tore mine close to my partner’s ear. As a tutor it makes dancers more aware of different senses and different textures within sound.”
Victoria didn’t have any experience of inclusive dance, although her degree was in dance in the community which prepared her to teach most people who walk into one of her outreach classes.
“I don’t see myself as a traditional dance teacher. Although I’m prepared to have a whole group with different needs it raised my awareness. I’ve now joined the Inclusive Dance company as a result, which is amazing. I’ve already used some of those Alicante techniques in my dance classes, asking people not to just listen for the beats they can hear but what’s underneath.
Dance overcomes all barriers; that was very much an overlaying theme I saw throughout our time with the group… to be more open-minded not just with dance and the arts but in general, to ignore stereotypes. In Italy, Scooby and I will be team teaching which is exciting.”
Danielle, a Performing Arts Tutor and Participation Coordinator at The Garage, is also looking forward to continuing to develop relationships with the Spanish and Italian dancers, as well as creating a dance for a festival performance at the end of it all.
She said: “It was really eye-opening working with such lovely people from Spain and Italy and seeing how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Dancing is a very revealing art form in terms of the physical and emotional nature of moving and this was really touched upon over the week which is such a lovely thing to experience as a dance artist.
All the workshops explored a range of different ideas that ensured inclusiveness throughout. Not only was this a brilliant opportunity to get to know the participants of our Inclusive Dance project in preparation for our Turnstyle performance at Norwich Playhouse on Thursday 25 July, but it has made me very excited to continue our work and development in Italy in August when we create a piece there.
Working with both disabled and non-disabled dancers in such an inclusive way was wonderful and has made me very aware of how I can ensure in my own teaching and approach to life I can now be inclusive and supportive to those in need of help or guidance.”
DAN.CE IN is an Erasmus + Plus Programme that’s part of the projects sponsored and funded by the European Agency for Education, Culture and Audiovisual EACEA. It is co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union. It’s supported using public funding by Arts Council England.