On inclusivity… or being afraid we’ll get it wrong.
…or on not being inclusive cos’ we’re afraid that we don’t know enough or that we’ll cause offence.
I came across a video the other day on facebook called ‘Remarkable’. It was by Dr Kelsie Acton, who is a neurodivergent dancer, researcher and inclusive practice advisor for Battersea Arts Centre. In it she references a quote from an article ‘Considering Disability’ by Carrie Sandhal, Associate Professor on Disability & Human Development at the University of Illinois.
In her paper, the thing Sandahl finds most remarkable about the disability community is “the intention and effort to include all of the people to the fullest extent possible, not just all of the people when it’s convenient.” Acton confirms this, reflecting “sometimes that’s a little awkward and imperfect but we make it work and we learn from this.”
This statement led me to thinking; surely its better to have more folks trying to have an inclusive practice/studio and doing it imperfectly but learning along the way, rather than just a couple of folks out there doing it perfectly?
In my first experiences of working with D/deaf & disabled artists with Amici Dance Theatre (in 1993) and also on the 2012 Paralympic Games training programme (in 2012), I felt woefully under prepared in both cases. I didn’t have any specific training but just had to dive in, stay open, acknowledge that I really didn’t know what I didn’t know, and to ask questions. As well as keeping in mind that we’re all experts of our own bodies, but not anyone else’s! And it was a beginning and those things remain true.
For myself, I have a desire to keep researching good role models for accessibility and inclusion. I want to look at who’s doing things well and learn from them. I also want to reference outside of the art form to keep building on my understanding of how to apply inclusive and accessible principles. By creating more opportunities and pathways for D/deaf and disabled aerialists, we enrich our existing aerial community as well as growing our own imaginations and aspirations.
As a starting place for 2021, below are 4 highly respected UK-based inclusive companies and 3 independent artists utilising aerial in their work, each with exceptional inclusive and adaptive practice that we think y’all should know about, including links to toolkits and examples of their gorgeous work to whet your imaginations. We’ll continue to spotlight our accessibility role models via social media, so if you know of anyone else we should be shouting about, please do let us know.
Author: Lindsey Butcher
UK-based inclusive and adaptive performance companies
Extraordinary Bodies is the UK’s leading, professional, integrated circus company. They create bold, radical and joyous large-scale performance. Their leading artistic practice increases national awareness of the integration of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled artists working equally together.
“We make work with, for and about our communities; work that represents the diverse makeup of our society – onstage, offstage and in the audience.”
Extraordinary Bodies is formed from a strong partnership between leading showmakers Cirque Bijou and leading arts and diversity practitioners Diverse City. Both their partnership and the work they make breaks boundaries.
The Extraordinary Bodies panel of experts provide inclusivity training for circus trainers so that more youth circuses have capacity and skill needed to become inclusive. They have developed a toolkit so that training in inclusive practice is available for unaffiliated circus teachers/trainers – download the free Extraordinary Bodies’ inclusive circus practice toolkit.
Graeae is a force for change in world-class theatre, breaking down barriers, challenging preconceptions, championing diversity across the sector and boldly placing D/deaf and disabled artists centre stage.
Graeae have also created many productions where aerial work is integral to the piece and narrative. Artistic Director, Jenny Sealey (winner of the Liberty Human Rights Arts Award) co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Games opening and closing ceremonies which trained so many D/deaf and disabled artists.
Lindsey first met Jenny when asked to run an audition for performers on sway pole for a collaboration between Strange Fruit & Graeae and was supported by the company to run the Paralympic Aerial Legacy Intensives (in 2013 and 2014).
Graeae also commissioned a fantastic series of new writing ‘Crips Without Constraints’. To keep yourself entertained through continuing lockdowns, you can watch and listen to the first 11 weeks of plays, podcasts and pictures right now and Part 2 starts Tue 19 Jan 2021 (released in the same place).
Extant was formed in 1997 and Extant – the opposite of Extinct – was the name chosen by a group of professional visually impaired artists for the the emergence of a new, dynamic space, intended to redress their invisibility as artists and explore new creative territories.
Extant’s work pushes boundaries and pioneered theatre practice with the express inclusion of visually impaired performers and audiences, touring both nationally and internationally, additionally producing UK tours for international visually impaired artists.
They lead arts consultancies, seminars and research in access and technology have delivered training in education, business and the arts.
Bare Toed Dance Company
Weaving together their wide knowledge and experience they offer creative movement opportunities and aerial dance, including performance for children, families, educators and other practitioners.
“Our work is supported by a wealth of knowledge and research into child development and is strong as an inclusive practice. What we do has grown from the company member’s combined experience and influences and, of course, the deep wisdom of our moving bodies. We are lucky to have wonderful community of artists and practitioners around us here in the North East and in networks beyond.”
The company have made 2 aerial dance for family audiences – Downside Up and Above and Beyond. Their R&D teams for both works included children and young people with autism. Both pieces involved residencies in Thomas Bewick School in Newcastle exploring movement, cocoons and harness flight.
Individual artists – makers & teachers
Milton Lopes is a theatre and screen actor, aerialist, musician, writer and director. He is a multidisciplinary performing artist, who was born in Cape Verde Islands, and grew up in Portugal where he appeared in several TV programmes, feature films and theatre shows.
Able to speak fluent French, Spanish, English and Portuguese, Milton has worked as a performer in France, Angola, Brazil, Mexico, the UK and Portugal. He has been based in London, England since 2007. From 2009 he has studied and performed in various aerial circus disciplines such as aerial hoop, Chinese pole, sway pole and aerial harness and is a self taught electric and acoustic guitarist and a singer.
Milton’s short film from 2019 Elephant is from a work in progress and features new writing, circus and live music. They had aimed to go into full production in 2020 but are currently on hold due to the pandemic.
Amelia Cavallo is a blind, USA born theatre practitioner, academic and workshop facilitator. They work as a multi-disciplinary performer, musical director, lecturer and consultant on access and audio description. Currently, they are a Phd candidate at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama studying intersections of gender, disability and sexuality. They have also performed with disability led theatre companies such as Extant, Graeae and Birds of Paradise Theatre as well as with regional theatres such as the New Wolsey, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
Rick Rodgers has been practising and performing partner acrobatics for over a decade as a wheelchair user and was performing circus arts and acrobatics long before he became disabled. He was International Cheer Union World Champion in 2011, 2017 and 2018.
He is the founder of ParaCheer International, who are a global charity promoting and supporting inclusive cheerleading, integrating disabled and non-disabled athletes into teams. They work with the International Cheer Union, National Federations and local All Star teams to grow and develop the disability inclusive divisions within cheerleading and offer resources, training and advice to federations, teams, coaches and athletes looking to either start a team or get involved in one.