People dancing motion blur

Resilience and Inclusion: Dancers as Agents of Change


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
AHRC Follow-on for impact and engagement

Value to Coventry University


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Project team

Professor Sarah WhatleyProfessor Charlotte WaeldeDr Hetty Blades, Dr Kate Marsh


Charlotte Darbyshire, Welly O’Brien, David Toole, Tony Wadham


One Dance UK

Duration of project

01/10/2016 - 31/10/2017

Project overview

Resilience and Inclusion: Dancers as Agents of Change aims to advance knowledge within the professional dance sector and audiences about the working lives of dancers with disabilities. Drawing on the findings from InVisible Difference: Dance, Disability and Law, we are developing an online toolkit, which will combine guidance on intellectual property rights, business modelling, diversity and inclusion in arts practice, and critical analyses. It will provide information about legal frameworks and business models to support the disabled dance community. It also aims to enhance literacy of disabled dance amongst professional producers, programmers and directors, by highlighting the choreographic and aesthetic principles and processes that underpin the artists’ work.

Project objectives

The InVisible Difference: Dance Disability and Law project uniquely brought together the combined expertise of researchers and practitioners in dance and law to address questions concerning the making, status, authorship and ownership of disability dance. The project has generated a great deal of attention from independent disabled dance artists and arts organisations, leading to the recognition that there is a general lack of awareness of the legal frameworks relevant for the sector. The research was undertaken against a background of significant cuts in welfare provision in the UK for disabled people, which has begun to have a negative impact on independent disabled artists including dancers, further reducing participation in the arts and requiring some innovative thought about resilience within the disabled dance community. The recent report by the Warwick Commission (2015) also warned of the impact of welfare cuts meaning that other strategies are needed to enable artists to develop the ingenuity and resources to survive and prosper.

In the context of austerity and cuts to public funding for the arts it is copyright that could underpin new and emergent business models within the dance community. But whilst there was a high level of demand from within the professional dance sector to understand more about the law of copyright within this context, an additional and ongoing barrier to these artists being able to thrive is a lack of critical engagement with the work of disabled artists. In particular, there is a lack of knowledge amongst the general public and those responsible for programming the work of disabled dancers (theatre programmers, producers, directors, curators etc.) about the working lives of dancers with disabilities and how this impacts on the dancers' ability to make, produce and share their work. This is in part because of the entrenched nature of the medical model of disability (prevalent within the health sector), which becomes a lens through which the participants in this sector are often viewed, and the failure of the human rights framework to deliver tangible benefits to the everyday lives of the dancers, despite the promise that it holds.

Our research revealed that audiences tend to focus on binary concepts of bodily difference and deviations from the 'normal' dancing body and theatre professionals often struggle to make informed decisions about artistic quality and how to promote and market the work in its own terms, unleashed from a focus on inclusion and integration. The project will directly address this lack of audience and legal literacy for dance by disabled artists, across the sector, by creating easily accessible resources to generate wider acknowledgement of the contribution that disabled dancers can make to the cultural landscape and to stimulate the development and sustainability of new business models for dance.

By working in conjunction with initiatives led by national dance and arts organisations, including Arts Council England's Creative Case for Diversity 'change makers' scheme and Dance for Change's 'quality framework for inclusive dance' programme, we will create an Online Toolkit to transmit knowledge about the issues at stake. The Toolkit will include film of professional disabled dancers in rehearsal, focusing on their working methods and working conditions, and talking about their work. Designed for two main audiences; the disabled dance community and performance programmers, the Toolkit will be made freely available to change perceptions about disability and to show how the law of copyright can be applied to support the sustainability and impact of dance made and performed by disabled dance artists. The project will conclude with a stakeholder workshop to disseminate the project, the Toolkit and to capture feedback for a set of sector-facing project briefings.

  • The project will create an Online Toolkit that will be made available on publically accessible platforms and via a stakeholder workshop for a wide range of beneficiaries, including the professional disabled dance community, arts professionals, producers, curators, dance organisations, legal entities, audiences and educators. The project will also generate at least one journal article and produce project briefings to highlight the key findings for policy makers and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The outputs will be designed to lead to a number of outcomes; the dance workforce (and particularly the disabled dance community) will be more aware of the legal frameworks that can support the creation and sustainability of their work and they will learn how to engage with audiences and explicate their work to drive new understandings; theatre programmers will learn of legal and ethical requirements and how to market disabled dance; other artists and audiences will learn how to engage with dance by disabled artists without resorting to a deficit model; and policymakers will develop ways in which to engage with disabled arts and copyright and to implement frameworks for inclusion. A further outcome would be more opportunities for disabled dancers to participate in the professional performance arena, on terms that are equal to their non-disabled peers.

    These outcomes will be the subject of conference presentations to ensure effective dissemination of the project; at least one sector-facing and one academic conference will be targeted. An Open Access publication/article will be shared with those at the Stakeholder event and with professional communities. Project publications will also benefit the academic and legal communities. These strategies will ensure that there is impact within the dance professional and academic communities, within funding and policy making bodies that have a responsibility towards the dance workforce, within the National Dance Network, theatre programmers, and dance agencies that support the work of dancers with disabilities, and within the wider dance-attending public. Further impact will be within the IPO and other legal entities. Dance UK will provide support for the project by disseminating the Toolkit to its members and via convening a Dance Managers Network meeting. The British Council and Abid Hussain, Director, Diversity, Arts Council England is also keen to support the development and dissemination of the toolkit. Following Meagre's taxonomy of impact of research (2013), impact will be instrumental (by creating models for artists, tools for audiences and by influencing policy), conceptual (through challenging perceptions, generating debate and encouraging knowledge exchange), impact will build capacity (through up-skilling disabled dancers and professional arts workers, providing intelligence to national dance organisations and networks, and building online resources), will support attitude/cultural change (by promoting collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between academics, artists, professional arts workers and across disciplinary boundaries), and will create enduring connectivity (by building support for communities of practice, sustaining the online toolkit and establishing links with national initiatives and professional organisations for future collaborations).

  • Resilience and Inclusion toolkit:

    Whatley, S. (2019) ‘Revisiting 11 Million Reasons: Tensions and Relations Between Diversity and Normalization in Disability Dance’ in Whatley, S., Blades, H. , Vendramin, C. & Marsh, K. (eds) Exchanging, moving, translating: thoughts on dance and disability. Porto Alegre, Brasil,: Elaborada pela equipe da Biblioteca da ESEFID UFRGSp. 389-400 

    Whatley, S., Blades, H. , Vendramin, C. & Marsh, K. (eds) Exchanging, moving, translating: thoughts on dance and disability. Porto Alegre, Brasil,: Elaborada pela equipe da Biblioteca da ESEFID UFRGSp. 389-400 

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