How Do We Gather Experiences?

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

How do you develop a community practice without being in/ with a community?

What can be shared between practitioners that helps a practice grow, without over theorising it?

How do we stay in the body and share what we know?

The following snapshots were gathered in conversation with community dance practitioners in the attempt to grow a bank of experiences which could be referenced as a way to share tools in the specific context they were used, or reflections on the circumstances that generated them.

In conversation, there became a strong desire to recognise that shifting tools from one context to another without being clear about how these contexts differ can lead to a lack of depth in the work being undertaken, and that all of our skills – although transferrable – need to be malleable because each community we work with is unique and that the circumstances we are working in could shift on a weekly, daily or hourly basis.

It also became clear that the overtherorisation of our work can be frustrating, and that the industry many of us are now working in demands use of language that can feel removed from the work, reducing the communities we work with to case studies instead of people.

Our felt and collective resistance to this, led to series of questions about who we are using this language for – is it to justify our work? And if so, what does this act of justification do to our practice? Do we feel removed from the work because of this second language we must speak?
Why can the industry, stakeholders and employers not just trust the process?

The desire to remain rooted in real life experience is strong.
The building of an experience bank was just one approach to meeting this desire.

However, the simplicity of the question was often met with a broad and theoretical answer.  Zooming in to specific moments, tools and experiences appeared to be less instinctive than talking conceptually and about broad, often ethical, themes.  Perhaps this is because the broad and theoretical is more exciting? Perhaps this is because talking broadly feels more valuable? Perhaps this is because this is how the industry has asked us to discuss our work for so long?

It somehow feels curious to imagine a catalogue of experiences and tools built from the tiny details and focused on the minutia. Yet, when we examine how various dance techniques are learned we spend hours focused on tiny details – the shape of a hand, the rotating of a hip, the groove in the body – so maybe this is a fundamental element to our practice that is being overlooked because of the demands placed on how our work is discussed.

Who is placing these demands? Are they something we imagine is helpful – a story that we tell ourselves will lead to more security or success? Or, is there something structural that undervalues the seemingly small? When many community dance practitioners have to live in a space of justifying or clarifying the work they do – to participants who thought they were coming to a formal dance class with steps and counts; to managers who want a visible outcome, measured with the same ‘quality’ lens a performance company is observed through; or, to people who don’t embrace the investment of public money in the arts – is this expansive language something we have been cultured into as a survival tactic? Or, is the impact of academia on our work leading us to talk in certain ways?

In many ways, none of these questions matter to the person who just wants to get on and have a depth of practice – the bigger question is how do we ensure that this depth of detail is given the value it deserves.

CROWD offers space for this (we hope) but where is the daily space to drill down and refine and re-refine each tool for each community in the same way a dancer with a rep company undertakes company class each day and then uses what was trained on stages each evening? What would it mean for our community dance practitioners to have this space each morning to warm up, connect and rediscover tools before working with and in communities each evening? If we believe that the quality of repertory work relies on this structure, then is it a reflection of our commitment to community dance that these spaces don’t exist, and that fees don’t cover this level of consistent practice and preparation?

I don’t believe so – I just think those who support and work in community dance don’t have time to think about this – but I do believe that there is space to think deeper about the infrastructure of community dance practice and for community dance artists, reflecting on other structures which have been invested in for years and demanding that our community practices deserve equal support.

Only then, perhaps, will there be space for everyone to consider the minutia of the tools that shape their work.

The river is larger than its waterway

As part of CROWD 2022, I took part in residencies by Taikabox in Varjakka and Dance Limerick in Limerick with my dear artist pair Rita Marcalo. For me, these two residencies together formed a view on community engagement that has specific ties to locality and place. I think one of the nicest things in this residency programme was to witness how the local dancemakers and arthouses work as part of their own communities, with their own local methodologies, while in parallel developing my own thinking around, and my own artistic practice in terms of social engagement.

The following text is written a few days after my second residency in Limerick, with more than a month since the ending of my first residency in Varjakka. The text includes journal notes from Limerick.

On the first day in Limerick, we drove with Jenny, the director of Dance Limerick, from the train station to the house where Rita and I will be staying for the next two weeks. When crossing the river, it was mentioned that it is called Shannon, and I thought it’s an especially beautiful name for a river. The house where we stay is owned by Deirdre. She recommends the walk of the three bridges, which are the bridges that cross the river in Limerick area. The walk is apparently especially beautiful in the evenings when the river is lit up. Deirdre leaves. I find a book about the River Shannon on her bookshelf.

-Limerick, August 2022

In my and Rita’s first residency in Varjakka, our facilitator Julian welcomed us by noting that by being in a place we are also participating in moving and altering that place – that we are not just hovering through space as isolated bodies. In Limerick, the River Shannon became an anchor in emphasising this form of thinking for me – the river is present in a very tangible form, making curves through Ireland and through the city of Limerick. Rita and I had landed in a material somewhere, instead of any abstracted nowhere.

As a starting point in both Varjakka and Limerick, I was drawn to the landscape and maps of the places in order to clarify visually and through form the place where I had arrived. It was the first step in grounding myself in the reality, that I had arrived in a place, and that this place was now the material context for the artistic process ahead and the meetings with people.

Landmark – an object on land that marks a locality.

Upon arrival I was quickly drawn to the River Shannon, only to notice that so was, what felt like, “everyone” else around me in Limerick – there was a sense of urgency. I told Philippa, our facilitator, that I would like to get to know Limerick through the river. She quickly turned around to Gearoid, the technical manager at Dance Limerick, to ask, “what do you know about the river”, a perfect example of how Philippa finds her way into communities by being interested and asking for advice. Gearoid’s father had spent all his life working with boats and recommended a boat club for us to go visit. Alice and Molly, two young dancemakers, were currently working on a dance performance in reference to River Shannon. Not to any major surprise, many activities and communities are built around the river. It seems, that the river marks a locality for every individual in a different way.

-Limerick, August 2022

I have been most touched and inspired in both residencies by coming across dance and artmaking practices by local organisations and artists, that ground themselves deeply in the context of the place where they appear from. I have named it for myself, for instance as dancing, that literally appears from somewhere, not out of thin air. In Limerick local dancemakers are working on performances for instance about the river and about boat-making. In Varjakka many artistic responses have been made on the island of Varjakka. Social engagement has for me, through these examples, appeared interwoven with locality and place, as an approach that does not overlook or underestimate its own context but firmly rests itself in it.

Aoife told us that “the river is larger than its waterway”.

Philippa drove me around Limerick and its close regions meeting people with knowledge and insight on the river. On a sunny Sunday we met Aoife on her organic farm in Clare, with seventeen satin black Kerry cows. We sat inside her house as she was talking about the ecology of the river, a field where she is more than an expert – she uses her words like a poet. Aoife told us about how the river includes its riverbanks, that sit next to the river, and how whatever goes onto the land, even far away from the river, ends up in the river. In Varjakka, Julian spoke about community as accumulation of knowledge by many, which is what the river, larger than its waterways, started representing for me. Julian mentioned how also those who just hang around the artmaking are an important part of it, like the riverbanks are “hanging around” the river. And the land far away from the river – a visualisation of a periphery landing slowly onto the large and speedy waterway.

The river is larger than its waterway – the river is also the communities and individuals around it.

-Limerick, August 2022

There was a lot of talking with people, both in Varjakka and in Limerick, as well as listening. The prominence of orality, and accumulation of knowledge through it in the field of dance, is something I have heard Chrysa Parkinsson, professor in Choreography in Stockholm University of the Arts, talking about multiple times. I amounted talking to dancing during these residencies, as a kind of preface or prelude to movement with bodies.

The difficulty with a two-week residency is that in comparison to the durational work that the dance houses and local artists do, two weeks is a blink of an eye. The brain and the body need rest, in order to unpack what has accumulated in the form of information and experience. Most of what wants to come out of the process has no time to come out there and then.

The pleasurable thing is, that I felt in both residencies an interesting view on “artists at work”, which is both thanks to the frame of the residency and the facilitators. The open-ended frame for research and artistic investigation in the residencies has complemented my view on artistry as a durational practice, rather than one mainly occupied by, and built around, isolated projects or immediate outcomes. The residencies have taken a form of learning experience and research – the insight I have gained here, will gain tangible fruit in future endeavours.

On my last day in Limerick me and Philippa were taken on the river by Pat, an older gentleman, who has spent his entire life living and working around the River Shannon. We spent almost three hours investigating different nooks and corners of the river and speeding through soft, glittery waves. Philippa described what she had experienced earlier in the residency with Andrew at the boat club, as “handing out generations”. It was something similar that was happening with Pat as he was describing us the tiniest details of markings on stones under the bridges and the events that led to those markings. The morning after our trip on the river, I crossed the bridge over the Shannon at 5.30 am on my way to the train. My view on the river had changed drastically from the first time we drove across it with Jenny, and it was “simply” a river with a beautiful name – now it was wider. The tide was very low that early in the morning, and there was one single swan, swimming still, carefully navigating the soft stream of the river.

-Limerick, September 2022

I come out of the residencies with admiration toward both Taikabox and Dance Limerick, who are doing embracive, durational work as part of the places and communities where they operate.

Special thank you to everyone met on the way, including, but not only: Rita, Tanja, John, Impi, Mummu, Lölä, Jussi, Eija, Janne, Niko, Tapio, Julian, Jenny, Philippa, Gearoid, Alice, Molly, Katy, Fiona, Siobhan, Andrew, Eugene, Tom, Pat, Aoife, Ciaran, and Sophie.

Warmly, Silja Tuovinen

Questions Arising

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

This blog post is list of all the questions that arose during the residency period in Scotland. Loosely categorised but in no particular order. Captured quickly, without context and at times with clumsy language.

What might you want to try out?
What might you like to discuss?
What might you need to do?
What might you like to know more about?
What might you need people to know about you?
What rhythm do you need to do your best work?!
What mode of conversation do you need to talk about [insert topic of interest]
– Soap Box?
– Over Dinner?
– Walking Together?
– Ted Talk?
– In the Smokers Area?

How do you feel about your ‘bag of knowledge’ today?
Will it open easily? Is it heavy? Does it feel heavy?
What does integrity look like to you?
How do you handle the feeling of ‘I don’t know what to do’?
From who?
How do you measure the impact of small interventions on your day?
How quickly can you shift between headspaces?
What do you need to focus?
How often do you discuss your plans and hopes?
If you must share your practice, what is the best form for you to do this in?
How do you work with silence?
How confidently can you say no?
Does this change depending on who you are saying it to?
How do you protect your time?
How can you speak honestly about the way events impact your energy and time?
If you listed your failures alongside your successes, would your confidence in your practice shift?
What is the budget of your whole career?
Have you considered yourself in these terms before?
How does whiteness show up in your practice?
How does it show up in tangible ways that you can adapt starting today?
Who holds you accountable?
Is it the dance community that interested you or other types of community?
Does the dance community exist or is it just a friendly way to say sector?
How do you spend and fill your time?
What does this tell you about your practice?
When do you prioritise yourself?
What work is outward facing and what is inward facing?
If you were able to work without and precarity or risk, what kind of work would you choose?
What are your boundaries around your own life situation?
Is the easiest way to maintain these to initiate your own projects?
Where is your joy? Where is your pleasure?
What would your dream community of practice look like?
How do you feel valid as a community dance artist?
What practices do you have for making others feel valid? Valued?
Do you seek long term relevance?
Do you seek short term validation?
When are you saying what people want to hear?
When is this helpful?
How do you feel about engaging with the requirements of the industry?
What practices do you have for navigating the industry?
How do you avoid stress in an adrenaline driven industry?
What practices do you have that can reshape and shift high paced expectations?
What daily rituals do you desire?
What generally makes you feel inspired and empowered?
What tools do you have for remaining inspired?
What tools do you have for leaving your comfort zone?
What support do you have for leaving your comfort zone?
How uncomfortable do you want to be today?

How do practice and research overlap?
Could you develop a community practice with only the artists here?
How do you create the necessary interruptions required to disrupt your thinking?
How do you create the necessary interventions to keep you questioning your work?
Is it important to keep asking question about the projects you have been or are in?
How are our tools integrated and embodied meaningfully?
How do we know when we have become detached from them?
Is your dance practice with you when you eat in a restaurant?
Do you want it to be?
What emergency tools do you have for when things don’t go to plan?
What emergency tools might you need for when things don’t go to plan?
What tools do you avoid developing? Why?
What tools do you have for liberating your own movement?
Are these the same tools that you use with communities?
Could you draw your practice as a physical score?
How might this be interpreted?
What interpretations would you hope for?
What kind of experiences would you like to have?
How might you make them happen?
What does developing a practice means to you?
How do you develop a community practice without people?
What do you really need from this time together?
What assumptions do you have of ‘development’? Who is it for? Is it personal?
Is development about celebrating a practice or fixing a practice?
What pressure do you feel in the idea of developing your practice?
How do you know how to develop a practice?
Who might you ask?
Who might know?
If you set your intention for moving, what happens next?
What are the edges of your practice?
In what ways have you tried someone else’s methods without adopting the depth of their practice?
What was the impact of this?
How do you stay true to your own development?
What tools do you rely on?
What tools do you aspire to use?
What tools do you have that bore you?
What is urgent? Useful? Interesting?
What might you want to let go of?
What do you have an awareness of?
An active use of?
Use as a form?
What are you inspired by?
What shows up passively in your practice?
What circumstances are you thrown in to?
How does your practice show up?
Wandering Conversation: how does it feel to have space to just listen?
What happens when you continue to speak past that which you are comfortable talking about?
How can the rhythm of your feet support your brain to process?
Is practice different from knowledge?
What tools do you have for being present in the moment?
What tools do you use for appearing present in the moment?
When are you absent in the moment?
What are the expectations of your attention?
What are your tools for drawing presence back to the space?
What would an archive of experiences look like?
What tools do you rely on?
What tools are you asked to replicate, that you are no longer interested in?
What kinds of practice(s) might you like to try that scare you a little?
What questions do you have about your own practice?
Do you need to understand how something is impacting your practice?
Do you always need an intention to develop your practice or is ‘doing’ enough?
How is the practice done through moving and not thinking?
How do I and should I keep my practice open to all? How do I work through the tensions of identity?’
Are practical practices practical?
Can You Teach Community Art?
How do we make floorwork meaningful for people who don’t find comfort in the floor?
What tools do we have for meeting our communities in the middle and deconstructing hierarchy in the room?
What does a quality practice look like?
Coherent? Live? Aware? Encouraging? Questioning? Humble? Collaborative? Streamlined?
What are you aware of in your practice?
What are you active in with your practice?
What form does your practice need to take?
What is your practice inspired by?
What appears passively in your practice?
What elements of your practice are thrust up you by circumstance?
What emergency tools do you need to develop that would make you more confident?
What tools do you need to free you up?
What tools do you have for translating – Movement? Language? Ideas?
What tools do you have for thinking?
Is development about celebrating what you do or fixing it?
What are the edges of your practice?
What happens when you use someone else’s practice as a method?
If you were to draw your practice as a score, what might it look like?
Where would the gaps be?
Where might it be busy?
Where might it be beautiful?
Practice: Using art as a way of being?
Practice: Loving the art in you?
What would a glossary of special tasks look like for those who wish to self-exclude?
What are your gentle practices? Essential practices? Procrastination practices?
Are you making on or making with people?
How much of your community practice is establishing relationships? Maintaining relationships?
How do we develop practice after such a time of crisis?
What tools do you need to face the daily challenge to stay open?

What tools do you have that are sacred?

Are there any tools that you don’t value because they are familiar to you?
Are they still important to you? Helpful?
What might you do to rediscover their value?

How do our words become tangible action?
What strategies do you have for this?
Are you a socially engaged dance artist or a socially engaged artist who happens to dance?Can you build total flexibility into your practice?
Would you want to?
A dancing conversation: how do you find the sensation of what you are discussing?
What can you share only through the body?
How is the landscape shaping your conversation?

How do you create a loop when working with a community, so that the end of the project links to the beginning and creates space for something else?
If co-creation is a buzz word, why are we buzzing about it?
What new ideas do you have that interest you?
What feels urgent to you?
What is classed as a community practice in each country? 
What is our cultural, social understanding beyond dance and how do they relate?
What remains after the community project or event? Is it important to consider this?
Community work: whose culture is being shared? Theirs, yours, or both? For whom? 
Who gets to demand who is in the space? Just because you identify with a group, does it mean you can expect members of that group to show up?
What do you assume or imagine about those who make decisions?
What do you assume or imagine about the communities that you work with?
Why is this work relevant to the community you believe you serve?
Who sets the pace in collaboration?
When do you need to plan? Over plan?
How does planning impact your confidence and your flow?
Are you a maker looking for a cast of non-makers to work on?
Is community performance just work where some people don’t get paid? Cheaper?
What are the circumstances under which projects you are involved in are initiated?
How would you like the projects you are involved in to be initiated?
Are we meeting as bodies in space together?
Is it just a British thing that we expect our bodies to carry our clever heads around?
How do you know what you have to offer?
How do we transition from exclusive communities, dominated by the status quo to integrated communities which celebrate diversity?
What is quality in community dance practice?
Coherence? Liveness? Awareness? Curiosity? People feeling valued (including you)? Understanding? Collaboration? Connection? Streamlined Practices?
How do you step out of being the ‘step-giver’?
Space? Time? Resources? Thought? Care?
How can you work in a way where the end of a projects loops back to the beginning, offering space for new beginnings?
Are you interested in aesthetics, sensation or both when creating with communities?
What are they interested in?
If it differs, can you meet both agendas?
How much information do we believe we should have access to from those who have joined us?
If it is free does that mean it has value?
If it is free, does that overcome socio-economic barriers?
How might you work without a facilitator is the space?
Without taking the role of facilitator in the space?

Who is your sounding board?How do you cope with the nervousness that may arise from not knowing how a project will end?
Do you assume other dance artists will find their own practice more interesting than your own?
Where and with whom can you feel vulnerable about your practice?
Have you ever told anyone that you feel like you haven’t done a great job?!
Do you assume other dance artists would find their practice more interesting than your own?
Does your own practice interest you?
Do you have a nervousness around you peers? If so, why do you feel this is?
Are you peers essential to your work?
Does your community of practice have to be dance people?
Who else is crucial to the ecosystem that keeps you going?
What tools can you develop so that sharing early ideas or seeds of practice does not feel vulnerable?
What does it mean to share something that you have barely started?
How do other people achieve their aims?
What aims do you have? Soft aims? Quiet aims? Loud aims? Sharp aims? Urgent Aims?
Which conversations quickly become abstracted?
How do they stay based in reality, and experience?

What do we mean by Community – a knowledge of each other? A rotation of membership? An open door? Connecting through doing something together?
Are we building or growing Community?
Can community be closed?
Community is not friendship, but friendship can happen?
What do we mean by participation?
The term community offers less intimacy than other words, it feels more functional and necessary`
Community Work: A genre of work where some people are not getting paid?!
Do you have a community dance practice or do you have a socially engaged practice and just happen to be a dancer?
Can someone be kicked out of a community, or is this simple a redefinition of community boundaries?
What community boundaries does you practice seek to cross?
If you trace the timeline/ history of a community’s development with them, does this create space to dream better futures?
What do we do when a community member leaves? How do we know we have done our job well?
How big is a crowd?
What is the difference between a community and a creative community?
What communities exist within communities?
Is community sacred or is it just people doing things together?
Is it okay to leave a community?
What community do you have around your practice?
Who are you in community with?
What would it look like to show someone the communities that you are part of?
How do you stay with community and become more embedded in it as a way to develop practice, instead of coming out of it?
How do non-human elements impact and integrate into communities?

Does the idea of dance training idea get in the way of allowing the social to bring a whole other idea of being a dancer?
What balance of aesthetic form and physical sensation do you wish the people you work with to have?
Can you share a project you have dreamed up and why you think it is important?
Does wanting to do it make important enough to pursue? For whom?

Do we need definitions to help position ourselves?
Whose job is recruitment (and why is this a military term)? Is gathering different from recruitment?
Should gathering be an intrinsic part of the project design?
What do you think might impress people about your work? Your peers? Employers? Gatekeepers? The Communities You Engage With?
What impresses you?
Is having a media presence simply a game to play or is it part of your practice?
How do you transfer your practice to share on mediums that don’t reflect your values? Instagram? Tik Tok? Twitter? Facebook?
Do you have to have a media presence to be able to pursue the work you would like to?
Do the communities you are with desire you to have a media presence?
How do you talk about your career when you are not initiating the projects you are involved with?
How do you let people know how you would like to work?
How do you share your work if you do not want quotable words online?
How do you share your work if you do not desire an online profile?

How do we step out of the dance machine and the idea that we are there as a ‘movement giver’?
Space? Time? Resources? Thought? Care?
What parts of the work are you doing because you must?
What parts of the job do you choose?
What parts of the job would you like to do more?
Where would you be if you were not here?
What do you think you would be missing?
How do artists have agency within perceived structures of hierarchy?
Who is steering the artists development? Why?
When are you practicing and when are you fixing the limitations you have been offered?
What would working without any limitations looks like?
What does it mean to feel between organisations and communities?
How do you balance multiple ideas, agendas, and ideologies?
What tools do you require for this?
How do systems of power impact your work?
How much of your role is advocacy?
What is the budget of my whole career?
Where is the value?
What value do I add?
Where is the invisible labour?
How do you protect your time from other people’s agendas?
Applications – who are you writing these words for?
Do you say yes to any paid work?
What do you need to be able to say a confident no?
How do you balance your freelance practice with your creative practice?
How does community work relate to the current distribution of cultural capital?
How can it shift the distribution of cultural capital?
Are all community dance practitioners dealing with the same issues?
Should all ideas be realized?
Whose responsibility is it to make good ideas happen?
What about the good ideas that you are not the right person to deliver?
What do you do with them?
Is it possible to have a secure career without initiating your own projects?
What tools do you have for balancing necessity, survival, values, and practice?
Is it important to build an archive as a community dance artist?
Who is an archive for?

How do you make space to let things emerge?
How do you create enough structure that you are not anticipating outcomes?                                  
What does integrity feel like? In your body, in the space and for those you work with?
When does hierarchy help a situation?
Is shared responsibility always what everyone wants?
What strategies do we have for short term community building?
Are temporary communities as relevant as long-term communities?
How can a facilitator support the creation of a safe space?
How can someone facilitate autonomy of community or artistic work?
How can facilitation be soft, reflective, and fluid?
Is it important to facilitate social relations or simply the work being done?
Time? Pace? Trust?
How do you know that a participant is experiencing enough?
How do you judge what it relevant to them?
Is intention enough if movement isn’t a familiar language?
How do we make the most of the space that we are in?
What does it mean to take an abstract form such as contemporary dance into a community who are not familiar with it and say that it matters?
How do you balance meaningful exchange with various interests?
How do you make space to not know what will happen?
Are you comfortable with not knowing how things will turn out?
What do you do when you are not explaining clearly enough?
Where is the space for the ideas of the community to grow and change?
Is there space for self-exclusion in the spaces you hold?
How can you use mindful exclusion as a tool for inclusion?
Who does this well?
Who can you learn from? What is this exchange?
What do we mean by a safe space?
What tools do we need to check if it is still safe?
What tools do we need for redefining our expectations of each other?
Who gets to set the social code in the space?
What social codes have been inherited?
What tools are needed to detangle ourselves from them?
How do we make the most of the space we are in?
What tools do you have for feeling clear when responding to the space?
How do you gather experiences in a consensual way?
How do you know a participant is experiencing enough?
How helpful are circles as a facilitation tool?
How do you cover the details you cannot see?
How can distribution of bodies make the space welcoming and balanced?
How do you make space to really listen as a facilitator?
How do you know when to push the people you are working with?
How do you know when to push yourself?

Does your own practice (still) interest you?
What doesn’t exist in any of the conversations or questions so far?
Input, input, input. Output, output, output. Time to process?
Where are your opportunities to witness spaces of richness?  
How do you bank your learning when it is verbal and requires nuance?

What were your hopes when you applied?
What were your hopes as you travelled here?
What are your hopes now that you have arrived?
What is at risk for you?
What do you need to feel safe?
What might you like to try out?
What might you like to discuss?
What might you need to do?
What would you like to know more about?
What is there that is not easily categorised?
Where might you be if you weren’t here now?
How do you decide which things to share?
What about the things you don’t notice?
What parts of each other do you feel you need to know? Is it about place and the communities in place?
Is it about the dance sector?
Is it about the artists developing their practice?
What are the public expectations of this?
What are the expectations we are pre-empting?
What if the artists just want to sleep for a month?

A Practice or Practices?

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

Scottish Culture is steeped in class politics. Being connected with the United Kingdom, this is unavoidable. Social class dictates safety, wellbeing, and opportunity. There are streams of articles defining and redefining the various strata of society, there are endless think pieces about the lack of genuine working-class representation in the media and there are now programmes that specifically look to address class as a barrier to working in the arts.

The arts also have distinct class barriers – those rich enough can do what they like, take risks and have access to networks that support career advancement. Those growing up in working-class areas, until recently, have often been discussed more so as those communities that will be targeted by outreach opportunities than as artists in their own right.

But what does this mean on a daily basis and for the working-class artists who have chosen to pursue community dance? How does class impact our behaviours and the work we do?

Do we simply define class by those who are struggling with money, because this could be many artists – right?  And what language do we use to discuss the nuances of the impact of growing up in a working-class family when, by definition, being ‘an artist’ could lead to the argument that you are no longer part of the working class as it was originally defined by Labour movements.

I don’t agree with this definition of class – it feels too simple – but I do engage with this thinking from family and friends, and can understand why they feel this way. It has taken me years of hard work to unpick my own internalised guilt around being fortunate enough to be able to work in the arts.

I know that my folks think that being an artist makes me bougee – I don’t feel bougee often, but sometimes I do. Mostly when involved in ‘industry’ events where the drinks are free or when having to discuss ‘my practice’.

Alex, Stefanie and I spoke about the confidence it takes to state that you have a practice.
How it can feel too established, too confident, and too luxurious.

This can be wrapped up in many things for working-class artists.

  • Generations internalising the idea that to be confident or entitled to luxury (a job that feels luxurious) is not for me ‘Don’t get ahead of yourself.’ A statement shared regularly by the people I love who always have one eye on what happens if the shit hits the fan.
  • The ongoing fear of not being good enough and being disregarded by ‘the industry’. When you have spent years adjusting to social codes this feeling of not belonging has a large impact. By underselling yourself, you lessen the likelihood of missing the expectation and being ousted. This also drives pay gaps.
  • Being endlessly distracted by survival. Much of our work hinges on outcomes and having to commit to many things in case one thing falls through.  This can lead to juggling too much because the fear of not having enough work is huge. It’s scarcity in its simplest form but it is more than that – it is the productivity trap that maintains the status quo. We are only valued for what can be measured, and for those of us applying for funds to initiate our own projects, we must define this before we begin. There is no space for practice, evolution, and fallibility in neo-liberal structures.
  • Time spent defining your practice in wanky arts statements to be taken seriously and secure work – meaning that the practice somehow loses its meaning or is reduced beyond all nuance. I often wonder if this is heightened with a dance practice, our work is about closing the gap between words and actions so perhaps we have a lower tolerance for statements that feel like arty meaninglessness.
  • And lastly, the little time there is to focus or reflect on having a practice when often the work itself is so exhausting and fast paced, the true success is in getting through the day – because of course those who are precarious face additional barriers of living further from central areas where activity takes place, having to consider cheaper forms of transportation, having to prepare food for the day to save money.

And now almost every organisation in Scotland (and beyond) offers opportunities to ‘develop your practice’.
But what is meant by this?

For those who are distracted by survival it is the dream circumstance to be given this space but can also be seriously intimidating. If I spend four weeks developing a new way to describe working safely through your knees – will it be enough? What will I say in the industry sharing’s? Will the outcome of this process dictate the potential for new work?

Almost all these concerns are hypothetical. Yet they are very honestly based in a scarcity approach to creative work that is perpetuated by the structures that artists must navigate. And once that bubbling anxiety is felt in the body, it is difficult to ignore.

Alex, Stefanie and I agreed that often you write the application that you believe will get you in the room, then you deal with the practicalities of getting there and then – then what?

As we discussed the discomfort with the grand overarching idea of a practice – which sometimes feels detached from our reality and the way in which we would like to discuss our experiences – we found comfort in thinking about our practices.

Developing practices is simpler. Practices are small things, that can be refined, re-defined and evolved softly. They are not quite so grand but simply a thing that you do – possibly regularly that can add up to a way of being. It’s not about being epic or innovative but just doing stuff – curiously and with the intention of doing it better. It is easy to prove – I do this; therefore, this is a practice that I can talk about.

Alex and Stefanie spent some time creating a small catalogue of practices. We found that this is not simple as often we overlook the intuitive things we do and have come to rely upon. They often appear in conversation, or when planning together with others and we suddenly realise that some of our approaches are not obvious to everyone.

And, at times articulating these practices can devalue them – as if taking something bodily and putting it into words hollows out the nuance. So, we must question why we are articulating them. In an industry where the performance of doing things and eloquent description of doing them creates the kind of cultural capital that can ensure your survival – both economic and in terms of career longevity – it can be tricky for someone for whom the feeling of scarcity is fundamental to their entire life experience to believe what they are saying.

My experience of being working-class is having people call bullshit when you are exaggerating… is this felt sense of over articulation of our work the same as exaggerating? Are we dressing up the basics for the sake of looking special?  It can feel like it! And ultimately, this discomfort impacts the body and therefore impacts the work, so how we articulate the work and are asked to articulate the work needs to be addressed. Or, the time spent developing practices could be undone.

So, not only is there a question of who has the time to consider their practice but who has the ingrained confidence to refer to themselves in terms of ‘a practice’.

There is also the question of who is practicing and when they are practicing?
Where is the boundary of your life and work, and where does this blur? Alex and Stefanie both discussed wanting to draw a clear distinction between their life and their work where possible.  Of course, they carry values of inclusion into their life, for example, but they don’t wish to over focus on elements of their practice during everyday activities.  Whereas, as a facilitator, I consider myself to have a listening practice and so consider this often when with family, friends or even on the bus!

Therefore, as a facilitator I had to be cautious when considering offers for developing a practice.  If reading is developing the practice, it must take place in the space, not through taking a book home to a rest space. If conversation is the practice – when does it end?

We often worked into the night over dinner and resumed over breakfast – despite offers to eat alone or discuss other things. This is because we are all curious about the work, and each other, with conversations quickly looping back to questions we have remembered or sharing things we forgot to mention. Or, we were often joined by other artists and practitioners for meals – are these things work or are they not? It is blurry, but also clear.

This is work related to developing the practice – and so perhaps we all needed to be more active in seeking rest. However, it feels somewhat luxurious to be eating good meals with good people so, for someone who has been cultured to believe work should be hard, it can be tricky to establish these boundaries.  What are the edges of our practice(s)?

There is also the question of how our practice(s) are interpreted by others.

In my practice(s) as a facilitator, I thrive on arranging the space, washing the cups and making meals. These activities quieten my busy mind, help me think more clearly and offer me perspective by using my body in a different way. I am neurodivergent, I need the rhythm of these practicalities to feel grounded.

Yet, these practices are frequently questioned?
Is this my role?
What expectation am I setting for others?

Ultimately, I see my role to be creating the space for others to breathe, explore and feel safe being provoked. It is my opinion that safety cannot be explored without a full belly and an organised space! I don’t think this reflects on the practice(s) of anyone else but there is still a layer of – should you be doing this when people see me sweeping up. Or worse, a layer of guilt from those who are used to doing the sweeping!

It’s funny how practice(s) are measured. Often, I laugh to myself because I think part of my practice is critical thinking (which is exactly what I am doing whilst I do the seemingly mundane jobs listed above) but then I think ‘who do I think I am I, expecting to be paid to be some kind of philosopher?’.

And this brings me back to class and practice.
Critical thinking is a defined and eloquent practice.
Washing the dishes is one of the practices that I know I can do.

Washing the dished is more embodied, more tangible and, although it repeats regularly, it has a natural end point. Reducing the big thing to something smaller removes the judgment I have about using a language I did not grow up around. I do not feel equipped to measure and I am not interested in measuring my effectiveness as a critical thinker, but I can share some thoughts I had when I was washing the dishes and seek clearer thoughts the next time I’m washing up!

This approach is more than applicable to community dance practice(s). What is the simple thing we do that enables something more? How can we focus more on the simple when the bullshit alarm starts to ring or when the scale of things becomes overwhelming? And, how can it be articulated by those who run development programmes that this simple thing is more than enough, recognising that the luxury of having a ‘practice’ is not a language familiar or comfortable to all.

CROWD Residency 2022 at TanzFaktur

A blog post from Nina Patricia Hänel who was the Facilitator working with dance artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck at Tanzfaktur, Cologne.

From 16th – 26th August Alex McCabe, based in Glasgow, and Stefanie Schwimmbeck, based in Cologne, continue their residency at Tanzfaktur Cologne. While the first week was focusing on networking, visiting performances of the festival tanz.tausch, getting to know each other and designing a frame for research and practice, the second week focuses on “diggin’ deeper” into both of their practices. Between movement researches, different feedback-formats, performative settings as a frames for self-reflection and negotiating one’s own question, while being witnessed, Alex and Stefanie elaborated and practiced co-facilitation with different groups and at different locations. At the core of that 2nd-part-residency is the wish to look into areas of your own practice, where one meets unknown territories and/or undiscovered ideas.

But what will they do?!

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

Space to develop a practice is crucial, both to the quality of our work as community dance artists and to our collective sanity as an industry.  Having no time to reflect, refine and refuel is a sure route to burn out, and with burn out often comes the departure of those who have developed their craft over years – many have often done this quietly as they foreground the communities they work with and exist between – from the sector.
However, the practicalities of these spaces for reflection are far easier to define than the process of developing a practice.  In preparation for CROWD, I asked several friends who work in artist development what they might expect to happen over four weeks dedicated to ‘developing a practice’ – none of them could answer clearly or simply.  
All were clear that the artists had to drive this (phew!) but in some ways they all also anticipated that all artists would have an ordered, reflective praxis for understanding what they need. This unnerved me a little – in my experience as an artist the time to develop a practice is reserved for a few (I discuss this more in another blog) which is why these spaces are so crucial but also why they might be overwhelming.
 We are working most of the time.
 We see the opportunity to develop and feel a pull towards it.
 We apply with language that we think might entice a panel.
 We are surprised when successful.
 We are working all the time and don’t have time to mull it over.
 We are grateful so will meet the expectations set.
 We take care of the practicalities.
 We arrive – and what next?
How can the work of development be truly responsive and emergent, particularly in the context of community dance practice? Because how is it possible to develop a community dance practice without being in and with community?
It is easy to imagine that we know what we need before we arrive somewhere, and therefore that we can commit to opportunities as a frame for our time. Yet, when you often make things work on less time that is required, how do you know what you need from time without boundaries?
The empty schedule can look like a chasm, and as we plot our desires (and the desires of others) into it, it can quickly become full. So full that we return to the rhythm of not having enough time or not feeling spaciousness in the time that we have made.
And then before we know it, these desires we voiced when we didn’t have time have created an agenda for the week. What do we do if this is not the agenda that best serves us? And when in negotiation with another – a new collaborator whom we haven’t met – how do we renegotiate the time, so it offers the meaningful experience that we now desire, dreamt up together?

Is it ethical to organise at the last minute with communities?
Is it ethical to schedule a workshop without the full context of those artists who are developing together?

There doesn’t feel like there is an easy answer to this.
If anything, we simply have to make a choice and hope we can learn from them.
The beauty of Crowd is in that the choices of the first fortnight can be balanced with the choices of the second fortnight. The process has time to swing between extremes – if that is what is needed – and then find an equilibrium. We can hope that this process is beneficial for the artists participating, so next time (hopefully there is a next time) they can articulate what they need with more clarity and assuredness.

However, there are considerations that can be made as these schedules emerge in advance of the residency beginning.  Some questions that arose in Scotland are:

  • Even if the artists have agreed the schedule, did they have meaningful time to reflect on what this would mean in terms of their time?
  • How much space is required to land together, know each other, and develop complimentary intentions?
  • How much contingency time is required for arrival and how do we create permission around this?
  • How do we know what pace we wish to work at in advance of meeting each other?
  • What pressures on our time result in a feeling of pace that the artists are trying to avoid?
  • Is the pressure of a deadline helpful to nudge the practice along? What kind of nudging do the artists want? Do the artists have agency to change this as the process unfolds?
  • What is the time and energy cost of the scheduled events? Will the artists feel pressure to prepare, or feel comfortable opening the space to visitors as it is?
  • How much time do seemingly small interventions take up (a quick hello perhaps)? How do they impact the focus and energy of the artists working?
  • How much space is required for things to emerge?
  • Where is the space for pause and rest, as it is required?
  • What do people consider a waste of time? Is there judgement in this and how can a long process be facilitated to relax any judgement that exists?
  • Do the artists prefer to work with structured time or flexible time? If the latter, how can events respond to this instead of feeling like an interruption to the flow?
  • How can time commitments be optional? What does a schedule of invitations look like, without ever having to accept any of them? How could you be able to change your mind last minute?
  • What kind of time nourishes the artists participating? If there are multiple events taking place, would they be better scheduled in one chaotic day, or spread through the week? Which option offers the most freedom for the artists who are developing their practice?
  • What events become an energy drain for those involved, therefore taking up more time that they appear to on paper?
  • What events are nourishing and create the illusion of more time?
  • What other requirements do people have on their time and have they communicated them clearly during the planning stages? Does this include commitments beyond work? What do people need to feel fully satisfied as people, not just artists?
  • What is the contingency for when time has been misjudged? Can visitors stay longer when the conversation is nourishing? What might be needed to enable this? More tea and biscuits?
  • How can our relationship with time stay calm, fluid and responsive?

On some days, time felt spacious and generous – surprising as it passed at the pace we needed it to.  On other days it ran away – as time does. And in amongst all of this, there was both space to develop and feel agency, and moments of feeling that this agency was not available.

I would argue that the process is not dissimilar to the process of facilitating community projects. The deadlines and outcomes (with a pre-set agenda being a form of outcome) don’t always leave space to respond. And this is not a bad thing, necessarily, but a complicated question that Alex and Stefanie discussed at length. Where is the space to begin, respond and then decide what feels right? Where the time is best spent?

Even in a project as spacious as Crowd the patterns of behaviour that dictate the sector can creep into the room. There is no judgement in this, it simply is true that everything is a microcosm of the world we live in, unless we shape it otherwise. It is for all stakeholders (artists, facilitators, funders and any community members interested in artists development!) to discuss if this is what Crowd is hoping for and negotiate different ways of working to see what difference they make.

Aarhus: A Conversation at the End…

Elsabet Yonas and Maya Dalinsky ask each other a few questions to wrap up their two weeks in Aarhus, Denmark, hosted by Bora Bora.

Maya: What was something unexpected for you from the last two weeks?

Elsa: The first thing that comes to mind is the ease of our relationship both in the studio and outside of the studio. My experience has been that building that kind of relationship with a collaborator or fellow creative, especially when it comes to moving together–and just collaborating creatively and working together too, in terms of processes–is that it takes time and consistency. I felt that it was almost instant with us and there was an ease throughout. That was unexpected for me because it’s not something that I experience very often.

Elsa: Did you experience feeling in community? When/how?

Maya: I didn’t really have any very strong feeling of being in community. Which isn’t a bad thing. I also know from the past–and I guess this has kind of reaffirmed it for me–that I’m someone who enjoys having time to themselves but also having time just one-on-one or in very small groups. That said, even if I’m with just one other person, there is kind of a feeling of being in community that’s possible… So on an abstract level, yes, because spending time with Elsa was also a way of spending time with someone with whom I feel I share a lot of values. 

But I wouldn’t say that this one-to-one relationship is like a community. I don’t know… I would say for the most part no, however, when I am in a certain situation or with certain people, I am reminded of times I have felt in community. And that’s a very nice feeling. Remembering that is feeling in community. Even if it’s not the current reality. So maybe feeling in community is something you can have even when you’re not directly involved with a community, not physically present in that space or with the people, or in that task or action or activity. Seeing my friend Titanne who came in from Brussels was also a way that I felt, or that I remembered the feeling of being in community. And that was really pleasant. So yes! And no. 

From left to right: Maya, Maja, Elsa, Jakob and Sofia after a workshop with Elsabet at Bora Bora, Aarhus.

Maya: What was a moment that stands out for you?

Elsa: A moment that stands out for me was filming together outdoors against that beautiful backdrop and slanted, slopey flooring in Godsbanen. Dancing together, the sun blazing, being completely drenched in sweat… Just creating a really fun memory of the joy of the dance and, I guess since it also happened at the end of the residency, it felt like a really pinnacle moment that was a celebration of the process and of our relationship on and off the dance floor.

Elsa: What’s one thing you’ll take away and incorporate into your practice/daily life?

Maya: One thing that I’ll take away is definitely to not be shy about music. So, integrating music and dancing to music, and that being okay. And one thing I’ll incorporate into my daily life is the popping exercise: keeping tension in the arms and releasing… I’d also be interested in integrating something that Elsa brought into her workshop, which was the piece of paper at the beginning where you ask everyone to write down something that they hope for, a fear that they have, and their intention.

Maya: What would you happily do again?

Elsa: The entire residency! But more specifically, I would happily reuse this mindset and approach toward creative process that allows room for the social aspects that feed into the creative exploration. This approach that allows for a balance and including activities and experiences that are not conventionally considered “working”. I would happily approach a residency in creative process with this kind of Danish mindset again because I think it produced really fruitful results.

Elsa: What risks could you take next time that you didn’t this time round?

Maya: I learned a lot being a participant in Elsa’s workshop and also just through discussions and being around her. One risk I’d definitely take is to not shy away from leading things more confidently, for instance my own workshop. I don’t have to hide behind goofiness or self-deprecating humour in order to make room or space. I have a responsibility to the people that come into my practice to lead them confidently, and guiding this does not mean that I am not giving them time and space for their experience. On a very concrete level that means just keeping things rolling along. Risking interrupting people, taking risks that are really about staying on task, while also being attentive to people’s need for rest or time to process things. Gaining more experience with that. This would also mean formatting my practice into smaller periods of time, or allowing it to deviate from how I imagine it should be transmitted. And therefore opening it up to other kinds of workshop formats or spaces.

Videowalking outside at Bora Bora, Aarhus. Left: Workshop participant Karin. Right: Workshop facilitator Maya.

Possible definitions for the elements of a creative practice

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

Designed to support the artist in breaking down what they do and finding areas for development to focus on. A tool for overcoming the overwhelm that can arise with having time to ‘develop your practice’ and not wanting to waste it!

Values – The fundamental things you believe and aspire to.

Practice – The things you do daily, weekly or monthly to achieve your values and aspirations.

Methods – The exercises, approaches or tools that you use when working.

Questions – The things that you are curious about.

Aspirations – The experiences you would like to have or shape for others.

Jobs – The things you have to do to keep being paid to do this work!

What’s the story, Limerick?

Rita and I have had a lovely reunion in Limerick starting Monday the 22nd of August. Just like in our first residency in Varjakka with Taikabox in July, many of the most meaningful conversations are had in the kitchen while one of us is cooking at the end of the day. The one big difference between the residencies is that while Varjakka was a rural place, we are this time in an urban setting here in Limerick. 

We have been warmly welcomed by Jenny, Philippa, Fiona, Alice and Gearoid from Dance Limerick, and already within a couple of days we have a rather comprehensive understanding of the city and of Dance Limerick. Philippa, who is our facilitator in this residency, has proven to be quite the networker, and it is a joy to follow how she connects us with people and communities in the area. 

Rita and I find ourselves working from a beautiful old church on John’s square. The church has been repurposed for dance and it is where Dance Limerick hosts most of its activities. It must be the most impressive dance studio I’ve ever worked in. Next to the church in the graveyard you can find many fascinating graves with touching memorials written on them. Just like in Varjakka, past has a ghostly presence here. We keep the church as a centre point while we visit people and places elsewhere in Limerick.  

Rita is continuing her research on food activism and visits local markets in the Limerick area. I on the other hand continue an approach of looking into the geography and landscape of the place that I enter as a way of connecting with the community. I have gotten interested in the river Shannon, which is the longest river in Ireland, and runs softly through Limerick. The river is meaningful to many different communities in the area, and also some art projects are already built around it. Most people seem to have something to say about it. 

Yesterday Philippa and I visited historical Curraghgour Boat Club and got an extensive introduction on the history of boats on Shannon from one of the boat club members Andrew. We also ended up chatting with two other members of the club Eugene and Tom. We must have spent more than an hour on our spontaneous visit, and left the site impressed and fascinated. 

On our sofa in the house that we are staying in with Rita is a pillow with a gaelic sentence Cad é an scéal?. The sentence translates into what’s the story? and according to Philippa “is a very Dublin expression – meaning ‘ howse it going?’ how are you doing?”. It seems to me that stories and oral history come quite naturally to the locals. This question works as a nice guide for meeting the locals: a lot could arise simply from asking “what’s the story?”. Actually, most times one does not even need to ask, and the story is already coming your way.  

We are very much looking forward to the days to come. Tomorrow Friday there’s a Big Dance Night at the church where we get to meet many locals.

Until later. -Warmly, Silja Tuovinen