Published on 28 January 2022
Disabled-led company Second Hand Dance head to the Southbank Centre shortly, and to Chats Palace in Hackney later this month, to perform ‘We Touch, We Play, We Dance’, a fab interactive show for very small children.
It’s a dance performance focusing on touch, and how, with consent, it’s used as a tool for connection and communication.
To find out more about the show, and about the company and creative force behind it, I spoke to Second Hand Dance’s founder and artistic director Rosie Heafford.
CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from ‘We Touch, We Play, We Dance’? What kind of show is it and what happens?
RH: ‘We Touch, We Play, We Dance’ is a gentle and interactive show that invites everyone to connect through movement and touch. It’s set in the round, so audiences sit in each of the four corners of the dance space, either on floor cushions or benches.
Babies, toddlers and adults are welcome to watch or join in as the four dancers play games, without using words. You can join in with simple things like high fives or get up and boogie – we have a DJ mixing tunes live to get everyone in the mood to move!
CM: The theme of touch seems to be important here – and the fact that it’s intrinsic to child development. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
RH: Caring and nurturing touch is incredibly important to child development, there’s lots of scientific research into how it works and stimulates the brain – particularly between caregiver and child. Young children and infants first experience the world through their senses and touch is possibly one of the most important – it’s also the first sense that develops.
With this show I want to share the playfulness of touch – how it can lead into games and dancing. How touch, with consent, can be a tool for connection and empathy between strangers. Consent is another major theme for us – our dancers are experts at reading body language and allowing acceptance and rejection of their offer to join in.
Our youngest audience members aged up to three year olds have grown up through a pandemic, and we still need to be careful to keep people safe, but it’s also important to start breaking down the taboo of touch and develop an understanding of consent.
CM: What inspired the creation of this show?
RH: Originally it was a desire to create a show that focused on pure movement, the thrill of watching expert dancers move together without a storyline or props.
Touch is essential to dance, and I kept coming back to visions of four dancers using contact improvisation – the exploration of your body in relationship to others – as a starting point and wanting to invite the audience into the joy of moving with another body.
We started the research in 2017, and back then I was hearing of more and more ‘no touch’ policies being written by schools, which I found concerning because of how important this sense is for child development.
This spurred the desire to share a show with audiences that put the playfulness and joy of touch at its heart.
CM: How do you go about creating a show like this for very young children? What did the creative process involve?
RH: It was a really fun way to make a show and a very different process for me. It’s an improvised show, so there is a score that the dancers work from, with different games or movement ideas they can draw on in each section of the show, but they also create spontaneously in the moment so the show is different each time.
Think of it like a musical score – it provides the structure but the chords for a particular section can be played in a variety of ways.
We developed it with children, working in nursery settings every day through rehearsals. This was so important because it gave us time to see what worked and didn’t for different groups of children. The dancers developed a real sensitivity for their audience.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about Second Hand Dance? What prompted you to found this company and what are its aims and ethos?
RH: I started Second Hand Dance in 2013, after creating some shows for unusual spaces, such as libraries, galleries and outdoor spaces. Then in 2014 I got the opportunity to go to see some performances at the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – I was hooked! It inspired me to want to make work for young audiences too.
As the company grew and opportunities to tour, create and present increased, I began to experience chronic pain and fatigue and in 2017, I began to identify as disabled and Second Hand Dance became a disabled-led company, which informs our work both practically and creatively.
We create beautiful, sensory dance experiences – both live and digital – that are accessible and welcoming to all bodies, working locally, nationally and internationally.
CM: What have been the highlights for you, since the company was created?
RH: Performing in a cattle market in Darlington! Hehe, that was definitely a funny memory – it was so cold that one of the dancer’s heads looked like it was steaming and a child shouted out “he’s on fire!” I think working on ‘We Touch, We Play, We Dance’ is also a big highlight – the pleasure of dancing with children daily is just wonderful.
CM: The pandemic hit the creative industries hard – how did you get through it?
RH: It’s been really tough. I had just returned from maternity leave when lockdown first hit – so I was in a process of re-learning how to work and how I could keep creating with a new caring responsibility. In many ways the pandemic gave me a bit of time to figure this out. As a disabled-led company, it strengthened our ethos as I was supported to work and we also put in place ways of supporting our collaborators and artists.
We also started to make digital productions – we think our Grass Films were one of the first pieces of ‘screen dance’ made specifically for young audiences in this period. I’ve loved working on film – it suits the visual way I work.
And it’s been a real opportunity to look at how we can collaborate with children to create access tools – for example, we have recently been working with a group of children to record audio descriptions for other children to listen to while watching our films.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about you, now? How did you come to be working in this industry, was it what you always wanted to do?
RH: I think I first found out what a choreographer was when I was about thirteen or fourteen and my sister said to me ‘you could do that for a job’ – I remember that really clearly and from that point it was what I wanted to do.
When I was eighteen I went to train at Laban, which I actually found really hard – it knocked my confidence. But I’ve always loved watching dance, I saw as many shows as I could through training and then started to look for and create opportunities to make work.
Alongside the desire to create, I’ve also been grappling with my experience and identity of being disabled. It’s raised lots of questions and changed how the company works across the years, but also created a really renewed focus for the company on removing barriers for audiences and staff.
CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
RH: The tour of ‘We Touch, We Play, We Dance’ is going to take up our focus until the summer, and we’ve potentially got more tour dates in the UK and internationally in the autumn.
But we’re also investigating creating a digital version of the work – something that families can join in together with at home. We’ve also just released a new digital project, the Getting Dressed films. You can find out about both the tour and the films on our website.