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.