Here at We Are Epic, we’re keen on reflection. Sometimes, that means asking ourselves and our team uncomfortable questions that are bubbling under the surface. Over the last few years, we’ve been contemplating the term ‘Inclusive Dance’ and what inclusion means to our operations and projects.
As inclusive arts practitioners, we’ve all seen changes in the acceptance of disabled artists, and inclusive arts have moved more into the mainstream.
Diversity, equity and inclusion have become more than just the boardroom buzzwords which they felt like 5 years ago.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s still a lot of work to do!
Just look at the public outcry in Feb 2023 over BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing announcement that a dancer using a wheelchair will star in the 2023 season. Strictly is probably the most widely viewed platform for dance in the UK and is, more often than not, the only time the general public experience dance, outside of their own boogieing at festivals, nightclubs, and weddings, of course. In the last few years, the show has become more inclusive. We Are Epic’s board member, Kathryn Stamp, has been working with colleagues and the BBC to explore this. The backlash against the casting of a dancer using a wheelchair on the TV show has been negative and hurtful. The comments have hit the inclusive dance sector hard and undoubtedly affected disabled people across the UK.
Says Kate Stanforth, an award-winning disabled dancer, model and activist from Northumberland who was part of the We Are Epic, Count Me In Inclusive Talent Search in her reaction piece for Metro UK.
Against this backdrop, we ask ourselves, what does inclusion mean in 2023? And what does Inclusive Dance look like today?
What is inclusive dance?
Conversations like intersectionality and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are becoming more and more integrated into people’s everyday lives. Inclusion is not just a topic on the fringe anymore.
This month, Laura Evans, Programme Lead for ID Dance Co at We Are Epic, led a discussion with ID Dance Co, an artistic talent development project run by We Are Epic. To reflect and open up these questions with Lauren Russell, a disabled dancer who uses a wheelchair and is part of ID Dance Co. and Jasmine, Lead Dance Artist of ID Dance Co. They began by exploring the question, “What is Inclusive dance?”
Inclusive Dance or Inclusion in Dance?
Over the last 60 years since Inclusive Dance was founded, societies have developed. While barriers still exist, we have a more expansive definition and understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion and how barriers impact individuals. To us, it feels like there’s a disconnect between the meaning of inclusion in general society and in inclusive dance.
Has inclusive dance (and how it’s understood) fallen behind our modern-day understanding of inclusion?
Perspectives on Inclusive Dance
The Evolving Understanding of Inclusion
Mainstream dance in the UK is becoming more representational. There’s still a lot to do, particularly around ensuring that inclusion is not only a tick-box activity for contemporary dance companies.
Dancer Lauren sums up a lot of our thoughts well.
Does that mean we are a post-inclusive company?!
We’re not sure. We know that we want to make dance that includes people who want to dance but face barriers getting there.