Juliet Diener, Founder and CEO of icandance shares their process for developing inclusive dance practice online
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, our dancers were hugely impacted. icandance celebrates difference in disabled children and young people through dance and performance. We offer weekly dance sessions for ages 5 to 25 years old with varying disabilities through a unique approach which integrates tools from Dance, Education and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. All our work is enhanced through touch.
Initially my response to the pandemic was a pause. It seemed unimaginable to translate our approach, which relies on physical interventions, to a diluted online version. However, not doing anything felt just as impossible. Motivated to reassure our community that they were not forgotten we began to rebuild new ways of connecting.
'Approaching difference whether it is dancing online, dancing outside, or working with social distancing in place requires an ability to adapt, reflect and most of all, to believe that reimagining dance is possible.'
Teaching online and through recordings allowed us to delve deeper to understand our approach as we embodied being reflective practitioners who are comfortable with change. Working online would not and cannot be the same as in person and should not be measured as such. It offered us and our community a new way of being together and the results were fascinating. Producing a dynamic cycle of planning, delivering, reflecting, and reshaping allowed us to identify core areas of learning when offering an inclusive online practice. These are:
Identify the needs of the dancer
The dancers’ needs are at the centre of the approach.
Meeting the needs of the dancer
Meeting their needs starts with us and how we adapt our teaching to make dance accessible.
The family as dancing partner
Families danced along supporting their engagement. This required guidance from us.
Home is their theatre
Stories, toys, and props became part of the dance experience which enriched creativity.
Safeguarding is paramount
Physical and emotional safety required new policies, training, and roles in the team.
Use technology creatively
We found creative ways of using zoom to recreate the dance and performance experience and to offer opportunities for dancers to share and l
The response from the dancers and their families was phenomenal. Engagement online was higher than expected and the experience felt rich and rewarding. Whilst we identified many areas of learning the key ingredient was relationship. The relationship we shared with each dancer and the relationship they valued with their peers. They wanted to be seen by each other most of all and to be reminded of a community of which they are part of. The online work allowed us to draw closer and not further apart as well as offering new ways of engaging that we will carry forward beyond the pandemic.
The pandemic highlighted that working inclusively is not just a skill for making dance possible for all but a skill necessary for life. Inclusive practice is the ability to adapt, respond, reshape, and recreate. Vital skills needed for all as we move ahead in a world that is ever changing.
Approaching difference whether it is dancing online, dancing outside, or working with social distancing in place requires an ability to adapt, reflect and most of all, to believe that reimagining dance is possible.