Motion blur of dancers in colourful costumes

Performing Empowerment: Disability, Dance & Inclusive Development in Post Conflict Sri Lanka


Arts & Humanities Research Council and Economic & Social Research Council
PaCCS conflict, GCRF theme call

Total value of project


Project team

Dr Lars Waldorf, University of York (PI); Dr Hetty Blades (Co-I)

AHRC logo


VisAbility, Church of the American Ceylon Mission, Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies (Eastern University), University of Peradeniya, Miani Technical Institute (Batticaloa), Nuffield School for the Deaf & Blind (Jaffna)

Duration of project

01/11/2016 - 31/08/2017

Project objectives

This project examined an innovative way of empowering persons with conflict-related disabilities in Sri Lanka through a combination of dance and law that was pioneered and piloted by VisAbility, a Sri Lankan/German association, in mid-2015. It consists of four main activities:

(1) workshops that combine mixed abled dance (where disabled and non-disabled dancers perform together) and legal empowerment;

(2) flash mobs and dance performances in busy, public spaces by workshop participants;

(3) research on how the workshops and performances affect the agency, dignity, welfare, and inclusion of persons with conflict-related disabilities; and

(4) dissemination of research findings to development policymakers and practitioners.

  • This project has helped promote the empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities (consistent with SDG 10.2) in Sri Lanka, which is a Lower Middle Income Country. The workshops run as part of this award have led to direct social and economic impact. Some of the research participants successfully self-advocated for  state social welfare as a direct result of the self-confidence, skills and knowledge gained through the workshops. Furthermore, some audience members at the public performances and workshop participants without disabilities noted changes in their thinking about the potential and role of people with disabilities.

    Since the workshops, some participants have used the skills and information learned through the workshops to create performances addressing social and human rights issues within their communities. The findings have informed the development of a practitioner toolkit, which will be disseminated to arts, human rights and disability practitioners in Sri Lanka and further afield. This toolkit is intended to support further work in the area of mixed-abled dance and human rights education, leading to wider and longer-lasting impact. Changes in opinion were also noted at the roundtable event that the team hosted in Colombo in January 2018.

    Attendees articulated an increased interest in the potential of combining dance and human rights education to develop legal empowerment. As a result of the roundtable, the research team and VisAbility were invited by the British Council to submit two successful bids for further funding. The capacity of VisAbility has increased as a result of the project. They have received further funding and have developed a wider network of policy makers, practitioners and scholars. These opportunities have led the organization to develop another programme of activities in Sri Lanka, focusing on further training participants in delivering workshops in order to make the project more sustainable. The research team has also helped influence the evolution of VisAbility's practice.

  • Blades, H. (2020) ‘Dancing Right(s): Dance, Disability and Legal Empowerment in Post-War Sri Lanka’, Dance Research, 39 (1): 72-88

    Blades, H. (2019) ‘Dance, Disability and Performance in North and East Sri Lanka: Evaluating Audience Responses’ in Vendramin, C., Blades, H., Marsh, K. and Whatley, S. (eds.) Exchanging, Moving, Translating: Thoughts on Dance and Disability. UFRGS: Brazil

    Performing Empowerment website

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023