About 12 years ago now, I spoke at a conference on Access to the Arts and asked what people were doing to engage disabled people in dance stating that this was not just a disability issue, it was for everyone – it was everyone’s responsibility to effect change. I can remember asking each member of the audience to take a moment – what were they going to do? When they left this auditorium, what concrete action were they going to take to become part of the solution, and not remain part of the problem.
Eight years later Janet Smith, then Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT), employed four disabled dancers within the main company for a season for a piece called Angels of Incidence – marking the first time a ‘mainstream’ contemporary dance company had done so. This was her response, her action.
It had taken eight years to emerge because change takes time – curiosity, thought, questioning, planning, convincing, piloting, testing…
This was the start of an incredible journey of discovery building on that first public step – embedding a new role within the company – ‘Dance Agent for Change’, a new work for the main company co-choreographed and danced by disabled dancers, a symposium on Pathways to the Profession in partnership with Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and much more. I really recommend you watch the short duet The Long and the Short of It (3 mins 46 seconds) with SDT’s Caroline Bowditch and Tom Pritchard to get an idea about the impact of the work.
I’ve been able to reflect on and write on this journey at a number of points; you can read an article on Arts Council England’s Creative Case site, the impact report I wrote for SDT on the Agent for Change role, or a review of the symposium at Disability Arts Online.
Being able to travel alongside has been fascinating for me – and a chance to see exactly how little ideas can spread into action that can truly change the way that hundreds of people perceive things.
Janet Smith has just left SDT. Does that mean the journey is over? No way. New journeys are just beginning – for SDT and for Janet’s new home – as principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
Will I be following along? You bet.