In a State of New Beginnings: A Statement from Rosie Heafford

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In A State of New Beginnings //

September 2020


Hello. It feels like we’ve been quiet here at SHD HQ. There’s been a lot of murky water and changing tides to wade through since March. But the waves are clearing a little I wanted to update you on what we’ve been thinking about.

I am the Artistic Director of Second Hand Dance. Second Hand Dance was born out of me, fresh out of dance-school. But it's bigger than me now.

Second Hand Dance was born out of my love of moving and being in the present moment as a thinking-feeling-body.
It was born out of my love of watching other people move and the joy and connection that dance can create.
It was born out of a desire to create exciting, relevant, gently challenging and thought-provoking experiences.
It was born out of curiosity.
It was born out of determination.
It was born out of endless energy and a lot of late nights working around other work.

Since my first stumble into creating a promenade show for an exhibition by local artists at Bourne Hall Library, we’ve toured to community centres, libraries, outdoor festivals and arts centres. More recently we’ve toured to national theatres and international festivals including Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, Sadlers Wells (London), Tanzmesse (Germany), Dublin Theatre Festival, Think Big! (Munich), IPAY (Philadelphia) and the Lincoln Centre (New York). We’ve created dance for specific locations and specific audiences – from the very young to our eldest and wisest.

We’ve performed nearly 500 times to more than 25,000 people.

I’m really proud of how far we’ve come and the countless moments I can remember of communication, understanding and transformation through dance.

 

Second Hand Dance is growing

It’s been growing for a while, since 2015 when I met Claire Summerfield. A ‘partner in crime’ (as someone recently suggested!), Claire is Second Hand Dance’s Executive Producer who challenges, dreams and creates with me.

In January 2020 we were awarded Elevate funding by Arts Council England – a grant that aims to strengthen the resilience of arts organisations. This is a time for us to sharpen our focus on championing and creating exceptional artistic dance experiences for children and young people and develop a sustainable organisational structure.

So here are a few thoughts….

 

Disabled-Led

I am a disabled, white, female choreographer in my early 30’s. I started exploring the idea of a disabled identity in Autumn 2017, but it has taken until now to speak publicly.

I’ve done a lot of hiding of my disability. A lot of ignoring. It’s a mobility and pain condition that also affects fatigue and mental health. Fatigue is a massive thing for me to manage. Manage, not avoid. As a new mum, tiredness is part of my life. Sometimes I can live through it, and sometimes I can’t.

This creates an ebb and flow to my personal and work-life.

Sometimes I have to stop when it’s inconvenient. Sometimes I push through fatigue because I’m excited, which almost always results in some sort of crash.

In 2017 I was experiencing a growing amount of pain and fatigue that was affecting my ability to work, socialise and generally function. I’d endlessly gone down medical and holistic avenues with the hope of ‘curing’ myself. My understanding of disability was very different then and a perfectionist attitude was halting the acceptance of where I was, in that moment. I was at the point of leaving the dance industry because I felt I didn’t have ‘what it takes’.

Since then I have gone through a lot of highs and lows and received generous support from some brilliant people in re-framing my identity in the social model of disability and understanding the barriers I experience. These barriers can be removed. And I want Second Hand Dance to go further to strive to identify and remove barriers for our staff, collaborators and audiences (to read more on the social model of disability go here).

 

Access and inclusion through more things

I returned to work from maternity leave in March 2020, and then the world stopped. So did we.
The past 5 months and impact of COVID 19 forced a time of reflection/desolation that couldn’t have been self-imposed. We’ve been instinctive, not really sure on why choices felt right, and written countless applications.

But finally we’re finding a way though. A value that is guiding why and how and who we will make work for and with going forward.

It’s about tying together my own lived experience of access with our audience and the people we work with. I want to apply a disability-led approach to the work we do through research, production and performance. And so we’ll be asking the following questions:

  • What do the people we work with need to work their best?
  • How do we create an equitable workplace?
  • What do the people who encounter our work need to be able to experience it?
  • How can we think about access through all of our work and take time to understand barriers we may not have yet identified?

This is going to be a process, we can’t change overnight. And we won’t always get it right for all people all the time, but it will be our mission.

I believe that researching and working with disabled artists and audiences can make all of our lives better. For example, I’m tired when I travel to get to a theatre, I bet you might be too. Let’s create a space to lie down. I might need it for longer, but it’s there for both of us.

 

I value researching alongside audiences

Creating art with children, babies, dads, carers and teachers is really important to me. Gathering feedback verbally can be useful, but seeing an audience and feeling their response is the best way I know if I’m creating something valuable. This has been really tricky recently as we’ve not been able to have face to face contact with audiences.

I love collaboration. I love asking collaborators to support and engage with my artistic vision. And I really value the way a child engages with the world.

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big... because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” Catherine M. Wallace

I don’t believe that UK culture values children or young people enough, but instead sees children as adults ‘in becoming’ or in need of education imposing on them. Often in the theatre sector children are seen as audience development work, as education or charity, as future audiences rather than humans with lived experiences now and deserving of artistic experiences of relevance to them. This devalues a child’s experiences (Purni Morell writes about this here).

Instead I want to learn from/with children. To instigate an artistic interaction that is a meeting on equitable terms, without ‘us’ and ‘them’. I want to make beautiful artistic work that speaks to a young audience, and that speaks to adults as well. It speaks to the adults who are prepared to listen and value a child’s voice and passion in the world. Let’s listen more to children’s voices – and dance in particular is a beautiful way of listening with a whole body and all of our senses.

Children (in fact anyone) who are non-verbal have a lot to say. Dance improvisation has taught me that.

 

Sensory Being

Dance is wonderfully non-linguistic. Being a linguistic being:

“alters how you think about the world. It also alters you physically: acquiring language changes the structure of your brain and the way information is stored within it…Linguistic Beings tend to be linear: placing their words on a line and reading them in order; understanding meaning as sequential; planning and remembering their lives in order.” - Joanna Grace, Sensory Being for Sensory Beings

I love the mindfulness and state of calm that I am in when I dance. The lack of linearity or structure. I am drawn to sensory things. Dance is sensory. But I have up until now prioritised the visual.

Moving forward I am interested in finding multiple ways for people to access an artistic dance experience. I’m no longer sure if this is defined as performance. Maybe it’s a bodily artistic experience. A visceral experience. Something heard. Something felt. Something smelt. An experience of a moving body in space.

Recently I have been researching opening up the worlds of the shows I have already created. Our show 'Grass' has been performed around the world in theatres as a live experience. But I am researching what an artistic audio experience of that world would be; How might it translate to film? What could a sensory experience of this world be? Digital and live, sensory and accessible dance experiences.

 

What’s Next?

Over the next period of Second Hand Dance’s development we’re applying this thinking, process and set of questions to all our activity; from the creation of work to our operational model and staffing structures.

We’d love you to join us on this journey.Rosie's signature

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