CROWD – an international community of engaged practices

by Dr. Victor Fung

As a member of the inaugural edition of CROWD, I was excited by the opportunity to explore what the network ought to represent as a collective. To be amongst fellow dance artists who were interested in working in a community-engaged way was refreshing; when the art world is often preoccupied with selling more tickets and creating larger than ever spectacles, having the courage and the persistence to strive for deep, meaningful connection is not always easy. Rather than stumbling through it alone, CROWD gave me the opportunity to experience and to articulate the value of working with communities amongst a cohort of international artists. Defining and refining the scope of our individual practices through engaging in and interacting with artistic practices of other artists is for me the essence of the CROWD community.

The diversity within community dance practices is both its beauty and its challenge. The nuance differences between community-engaged, community-led, community-driven, community-based, community-participatory, and many more community-related labels highlight how artists often think rather differently about their intentions in dance as well as their role in their work. The different ways in which artists engage in meaningful connection with people are fascinating, but it is also such wide-ranging scope in practice that makes it hard to pinpoint what the term community-engaged practice truly encompasses. Unpacking our own assumptions and having an honest look at our practice and those of others became the departure point from which we embarked on our CROWD journey.

The series of international residencies of CROWD offered an array of exhilarating experiences; from dancing alongside performers of the community-based Theater Babel under the guidance of dance artist Connor Schumacher in Rotterdam, going on the artistic walking tour with local artist Usha Mahenthrialingam in Nottingham, to watching performances and leading community workshops in Cologne. These experiences allowed us to be temporarily immersed in the local communities through the lens of the host organisations and their networks. The activities mentioned here were just some of many in which we participated during our residencies at Dansateliers, Dance4, Tanzfaktur and TaikaBox. The most valuable aspect of CROWD, however, was perhaps the reflections and discussions we had amongst our cohort; how the activities we experienced together through CROWD related to our individual practices and in what ways these experiences sparked new ideas. The sessions facilitated by dramaturg Merel Heering during our Rotterdam residency, for instance, was particularly fruitful when it came to helping us think through experiences we had encountered could inform the development of our work.

Community-engaged practice for me is about dedicating time and care in crafting artistic experiences that empower everyone involved. As an artist, I have always been keen on unravelling hierarchies, recalibrating power, and democratising dance. I long for the day when community-engaged dance practice is regard as highly in artistic merit as theatre-based performances. Community-engaged dance practice is about taking an active stance in broadening for whom and with whom art is created. As the CROWD community continues to grow, it is my hope that more artists and organisation will become part of a network that is invested in creating artistic ecologies where people are at the heart of the art of movement.

Work it- Dance, Community and Capitalism

by Hannah Sampé

One of the things that struck me when looking back at our many questions and insights we shared during the CROWD exchange, is the realisation that as romantic as community- based art making sounds, the role of the conditions of labour and the role of economies around dance projects is not to be underestimated.

What I signed up for as an artistic project very quickly turned out to become something that could have been called “the assessment of the possibility of art and creation of community in the age of late capitalism”. With this I am referring to the countless discussions about the working conditions of free-lance artists with regards to travel, accommodation, interaction and negotiations with institutions, economic security, networking, burn-out, overbooking, double booking, unemployment, isolation from non-artistic communities at home, sustainability of their work:

How can artists authentically provide guidance or offerings to a community? What are the working conditions and access needs for artists to be able to do so? And to do so in a way that leads to meaningful projects, not simply “CV” projects, that sound amazing on paper.

What are the (working) conditions and access needs for members of the community to take part?

What does it mean to facilitate? What does it mean to actively take part in a community? How much time does it take and who pays for this time? Who sees the invisible labour that is entailed in building connection, building relationships of trust? Who pays for trust?

What does it mean to collaborate? How to find a consensus in working structures? How to understand each other access needs when collaborating and deal with each other expectations regarding productivity and progress?

In other words: What is needed as a material base to let the magic happen?

Yet another observation regarding the intertwined nature of community based art making and late capitalism occurred throughout the process: For some reason, the economic histories of places we were visiting and diving into seemed to play a crucial role in the shaping of cultural landscapes we encountered and were extremely prominent in our observations and interactions: Migration and displacement of people, physical ability and protection of certain bodies as opposed to others, absence and presence of people living there or once having lived there, the question of access to certain sites and places, the role and standing of nature.

What was striking is that in most of the places, art seemed to be interwoven into these fields in various ways. First of all, there seemed to be a close link between art and former industrial sites. Be it the deserted island of Varjakka in Finnland or the huge deserted coal mining sites in the Ruhrgebiet in Germany: in both of these places (like in many others) artists seemed to be very welcome guests.

We were very aware of this re-occuring theme when visiting places and also reflecting back on our own practices. What is this interesting relationship between art and post-industrial sites? For sure, it is one factor that sites that lost their economic value often provide what is scare in cities, where many artists work: space.

On the other hand, artist almost seem to appear as being invited to act as the healer of a broken civilization or as the glue to weave nature and culture back together in sites where industry or civilization had a strong impact on nature. Also, the artist almost seems to be used a lens put on a process of decay of buildings or nature to reclaim space, which gains another platform, another form of visibility through the art taking place there.

Looking at this critically, the question arises, whether inviting artists to such spaces is simply another way to re-capitalize those places that lost their economic value and desirability?

The question then remains, how does this dynamic actually cater to the local community of these sites? Who profits from it, who is even involved and in touch with the art that takes place there?

These thoughts and questions remain from our observations and reflections and are what I would like to keep in mind with regards to my own practice and future projects.

Looking back…

CROWD was a unique and fascinating experience. I was offered the opportunity to meet practitioners I may never have come across, as well as ones I might, and visit places I wouldn’t have ever gone for work, as well as ones that were familiar. This is a challenging project that asks you to work in and with established organisations, their communities and environment, through a rapid and rigorous look at the context of their work. With the support of a local guide-come-researcher-come-dramaturg, we were able to discover a perspective of life lived in each location; it’s history and also right now (2021) and what is to come.

I found there were strong threads running through each phase; themes that were manifested in the group’s collective mind in the first residency, quietly nurtured throughout the tour. These threads were industry, pollution/scars, class, race, women’s struggles: mental health, grief, protest, shame. Ghosts, scores/maps, practical stuff: how the arts organisation is run, how to include rest and food and socialising in the work, what travel means to us, the list goes on… I found that, as a young artist working with predominantly local (Nottingham) community groups, I was very excited by the opportunity to cross Europe for this work. However, it did require use of air travel, something I generally try to avoid.

Some personal developments I took from the project:

Our Finnish hosts at Taikabox were extremely accommodating, flexible and warm. I took from them the importance of articulating pride in community practice, living in – in order to understand – a place, and that comfortable domestic environments are vital for artists to create meaningful work.

There was something incredibly respectful about the people we met and the community workshops on Varjakka island lent themselves to rituals and gentle, radical respect, vulnerability and love. For myself I am able to identify a new form of grief work that is movement-lead, ritualistic and collective – informed by community-based practices.

From Nottingham I can take communication skills, as we all advanced in those. We worked hard to find common language and a routine, to listen and respond with generosity.

I also found new international networks, in the city I called home. This was a very useful and exciting part of the project. I met partners from every country involved and felt valued in their conversations about the future iterations of CROWD.

In Germany I learned resilience and resourcefulness when it felt things were at a low ebb. I also developed my ideas about scores, with support from my collaborators. My mark-making practice has since evolved and I’m creating new disseminative, directive scores for dance interpretation and participation.

A much deeper sense of myself as an independent artist with a defined practice; there is nothing like seeing how other people work to get a stronger sense of your own style and identity!

Last of all, journaling! The importance of writing and drawing in order to comprehend experiences as they fly by. CROWD was such a dense, complex piece of work in such a brief period of time. My journals are the echo from that time and I refer to them often.

Overall I found the experience rewarding. I worked in new ways with new people in new places and that taught me a lot about myself.

Was heißt denn hier Community?!

Community, dieses Wort habe ich, vor meiner Residenz, eigentlich immer ziemlich unbedacht benutzt. Im Tanzkontext meinte ich damit Projekte, an denen Nicht-Professionelle Tänzer beteiligt sind, nicht mehr und nicht weniger. Es war mehr wie ein Label für mich, ohne genau auf die Inhaltsstoffe zu schauen. Dies hat sich durch CROWD grundlegend für mich verändert. In meiner ersten Residenz-Phase in Rotterdam wurde mir dies zum ersten Mal bewusst. Im Gespräch mit meinen Kollegen fing ich an das Wort Community mehr zu reflektieren und mich zu fragen, was heißt das eigentlich wirklich für mich?

Meine ich damit wirklich nur, dass an dem Projekt Menschen beteiligt sind, die mit Tanzen nicht ihr Geld verdienen oder bedeutet es doch mehr? Die Antwort auf diese Frage ist wahrscheinlich leicht zu erraten. Natürlich steckte für mich hinter diesem Wort eine tiefere Bedeutung. Nur hatte ich über diese noch nie so intensiv nachgedacht. CROWD gab mir die Möglichkeit dazu. In den verschiedenen Projektphasen konnte ich in immer wieder neuen Kontexten, sowohl örtlich, als auch mit immer wieder anderen Menschen, über das Wort reflektieren.

Schlagwörter, wie Partizipation und Augenhöhe prägten sich dabei besonders stark bei mir ein. Ich merkte schnell, dass Community in meinem Verständnis nicht eine bestimmte Gruppe Menschen aus einem spezifischen Ort oder Bezirk ausschließlich meinte. Das konnte es natürlich auch, war aber nicht für mich das Ausschlaggebende, was eine Community ausmacht. Die Antwort auf die Frage, wie ich Community für mich übersetzen würde, ist so simpel, wie auch für mich einleuchtend. Es geht um Gemeinschaft. Es geht um das gemeinsame Arbeiten, den Austausch auf Augenhöhe, das zu Wort kommen lassen jedes einzelnen und das Wissen, dass künstlerisches Arbeiten nicht von oben herab gelingt, sondern ein gemeinsamer Prozess ist. Ein Weg, den man am besten gemeinsam geht, damit das volle künstlerische Potenzial, dass in jeder Gruppe verborgen liegt, zum Ausdruck kommen kann.

Durch CROWD hat das Wort Community für mich eine all umfassendere Bedeutung bekommen. Community engaged dance practice kann die Einbindung von Menschen aus der Gemeinde oder einem spezifischen Ort sein, es kann aber auch alles sein, wo auf Augenhöhe in der Gemeinschaft gearbeitet wird. Und das sagt viel darüber aus, wie ich selbst künstlerisch arbeiten möchte. Ich möchte keine künstlerischen Prozesse eingehen, in denen alte hierarchische Strukturen reproduziert werden. Ich möchte in kollektiven Prozessen arbeiten, gemeinsam nach Konsens suchen und mich von verschiedenen Ideen inspirieren lassen. Und dies ganz unabhängig davon, wer an einem Projekt beteiligt ist.

Die Residenz hat mir die Möglichkeit gegeben intensiv über das, was mir schon immer wichtig war, nachzudenken und dies in Worte zu fassen. Und genau das hat mich in meiner Arbeit wachsen lassen.

What does community mean here?!

Community, before my residency, I actually always used this word rather carelessly. In the dance context, I meant projects involving non-professional dancers, nothing more and nothing less. It was more like a label for me without looking closely at the ingredients.
CROWD has fundamentally changed this for me. I became aware of this for the first time during my first residency phase in Rotterdam. In conversations with my colleagues, I began to reflect more on the word community and to ask myself, what does that really mean for me?
Do I really just mean that the project involves people who don't make a living from dancing, or does it mean more? The answer to this question is probably easy to guess. Of course, there was a deeper meaning behind this word for me. Only I had never thought about this so intensely. CROWD gave me the opportunity to do this. In the various project phases, I was able to reflect on the word in new contexts, both locally and with different people.
Keywords such as participation and eye level made a particularly strong impression on me. I quickly realized that community, as I understood it, did not exclusively mean a certain group of people from a specific place or district. It could of course do that too, but for me it wasn't the decisive factor that defines a community. The answer to the question of how I would translate community for myself is as simple as it makes sense to me. It's about community. It's about working together, exchange at eye level, letting each individual have their say and the knowledge that artistic work doesn't succeed from above, but is a joint process. A path that is best walked together, so that the full artistic potential that lies hidden in each group can be expressed.
CROWD has given the word community a more comprehensive meaning for me. Community engaged dance practice can involve people from the community or a specific location, but it can also be anything that involves working on an equal footing in the community. And that says a lot about how I would like to work artistically myself. I don't want to enter into artistic processes in which old hierarchical structures are reproduced. I want to work in collective processes, search for consensus together and be inspired by different ideas. And this is completely independent of who is involved in a project.
The residency gave me the opportunity to think intensively about what was always important to me and to put it into words. And that's exactly what made me grow in my work.

Reflection on the 2021 #CROWDdance

by Pontus Linder dance artist from the 2021 edition of #CROWD
This post aims to give future aspirants artists for the project and anyone else interested an insight in my personal experience.

CROWD is a series of residencies that provide an opportunity for community-based dance artists to share their practices and together discover new and exciting work environments. Each residency facilitates an introduction of the space/village/city/nature in which the residency is taking place. With the help of a local mentor of sorts the selected group of artists discover themes that they are interested in. Each residency is unique and offers a variety of possibilities for interesting work for the artists. It can be an interesting place in nature, specific architecture, meeting with local artists or other communities a traditional dance studio etc.

This is an excerpt from my notes one of the days in the village of Varjakka, Finland. Where our first residency took place. Varjakka in close to Oulu in the northern parts of Finland and the residency partly took place partly on the abandoned island with the same name as the village. The working environment is beautiful landscape, water, 100’s of years old buildings, a manually handled ferry all connected to fascinating stories that ties them together.
The notes below are regarding shooting the improvisational video concept listening. The video is available on the CROWD dance blog.

On the last day of our residency we shot this video, with the ambition to try to explore some of the ideas that had resonated with us. The score was built on the idea of listening and responding to the many stories about Varjakka. Especially the giant sawmill, which was one of the biggest ones in Europe about 100 years ago. As part of our research we studied and reflected on different fates of the people living and working on Varjakka island. We reflected and discussed the history from the perspective of a capitalist structure, working class and gender related power dynamics.

This is some of the improvisational scores and tasks we set out to explore, each one of us with a slightly different approach:
Letting things pass through//Negotiating memory with your body//Dancing with the ghosts//Exploring, performing and releasing perceptions, whilst our ideas remain apart//Finding an emotional response

Here you can see the result of the improvisation in a short video:

­­CROWD gave me a lot of new input as a dance artist. The artists selected was from very different backgrounds and countries, the constant influx of new ways of thinking and new ways of working was constant. A great learning experience.
If you want to get to know me a bit more here´s a interview that was done by Taikabox during one of the residencies.


Wednesday 13th October was an important day for the CROWD project. Whilst the six artists were together in the Dance4 studios, the organisers took the opportunity to come together to meet with them to begin planning the potential future development of CROWD.

In a day of workshops facilitated by Dr. Sara Giddens we explored the themes that have underpinned the first iteration of CROWD and opened up discussion about how it might grow.

These plasticine creations represent each of the participants’ personal connection to the CROWD project and why it might have changed their own practice.

A Quiet Start in Notts

A day with two of the six of CROWD.

A gentle, nourishing morning with Usha in the studio exploring Skinner Releasing Technique and hands-on partner graphics.

A relaxing, casual lunch at a local café sharing our backgrounds in movement practices and experiences in previous residencies.

An intriguing, informative visit to the City of Caves discovering the past and present of Nottingham underneath a shopping centre.

Hauntology and feminism during the residency

What has continued to resonate and remain central to my accounts of the residency in Varjakka is the proposition of there being ghosts present. I am not a believer in phantoms in their literal sense but loved the idea of ‘channeling’ the women who’d lost their lives doing dangerous work at the saw mill on the island, as a way of honoring that time. Twenty women and girls were killed in what was described as a ‘big accident’ at the hands of a boat driver, taking them from island to mainland at the end of a long working day. Whilst there I was ruminating on the heavy weight of patriarchy in such a tragic scenario; the driver of the boat was reportedly drunk and he fled the scene to avoid prosecution after he broke the mast of the worker’s boat, leading to it sinking into icy cold waters. I thought about the women and girls perhaps protesting against the sexist, capitalist, oppressive environment in which they worked by seeking revenge in the ‘afterlife’. So I decided to haunt Varjakka on their behalf.

The main house on the island was the best maintained building and where we worked a lot, but it was also the ‘administrative building’, housing the bosses and authoritative figures in the saw mill company. The remaining presence of hierarchy made me less interested in the house, once I was channeling the women. The rooms were designed like sets and I could only picture silent maids and secretaries in the rooms. I was more interested in being in the messy outdoors…

The women had an opportunity to send some messages through me; or at least, that’s how I told the story. Our haunting of the island manifested in several ways. I did a lot of walking alone and being with the wooden wreckage – watching it float, piece by piece, to the horizon. Resting, hiding, skulking, whispering.

And as a group we also discussed the idea of the ‘disposable body’ in a capitalist system designed to exploit (and then discard) workers – see Right to Maim by Jasbir Puar.

When dancing I felt compelled to close my eyes, especially after Hannah introduced a certain task where doing so was a ‘rule’. After that I found new imaginary places and people to channel; characters I invented based on my limited knowledge of the workers in the area at that time.

I spooked myself a few times by forgetting who was moving, me or the women seeking justice through my protest dance. Because of the island being covered in conifers (red wood trees with very limited ecology), it was absolutely silent in the forests – no bird song or activity found in louder woodlands – just the occasional creaking trunk or gust of wind. Hannah and I spoke about the deafening silence affecting our movements in the space(s) and that as women there would have been a cultural expectation of us to be ‘seen and not heard’ a hundred year prior. Together we designed and delivered a small ceremony to remember those lost (pictured).

Despite the names of the designer and the materials being on this memorial, the names of the women and girls who actually died are not here. Hannah and I collected some of the beautiful driftwood left from the mill and placed each piece on the sculpture whilst reciting the names:
Kreeta Stark
Louiisa Kauppila
Naima Kukkonen
Miina Rautio
Maria Kuivala
Maria Karinkanta
Kaisa Ulander
Kaisa Kukkonen
Kreeta Kela
Hanna Tuohino
Jenny Porkolankangas
Johanna Snärd
Anna Kerttunen
Jenny Karvonen
Maria Nauska
Anna Lang
Eriika Kokko
Impi Vikstedt
Hanna Kurtti
Martta Kerttunen

‘The future belongs to ghosts’ – Jacques Derrida

‘The Future is Female’ – Lisa Yaszek