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Community Dance & Power -- an essay addressing consideration of power roles in community dance s

As a core component of my Postgraduate Diploma in Community Dance (PDCD) at Laban, I was enrolled in a two-term class exploring the diversity of perspectives in the field of community dance. The course was led by the esteemed community dance practitioner and scholar, and head of the PDCD course, Sue Akroyd.

I learned a great deal about the history of community dance, and its roots in the UK, while also uncovering and crafting my own ethos around the practice. I was offered the opportunity to design my own assessment question at the end of the class.

Below you will find the question that I chose to investigate and an excerpt of my findings:

A Consideration of the Role that Relationships of Power between Facilitator and Participant Play in Supporting Community Dance Values


Does the practice of community dance take into consideration the role of power relationships between artist/facilitator and group/participants in a way that supports the values of community dance?

This essay will attempt to synthesize the aims of community dance and investigate the role of power between facilitator and participant in relationship to those aims. Acknowledging that people who deliver community dance practices can work in a range of contexts and identify by a variety of titles – artist, choreographer, practitioner – and that participants can be equally diverse, for the sake of simplicity in this essay these two groups will be referred to as facilitator and participant. This essay will examine the ways in which the relationship between facilitator and participant may or may not support the values of the practice as defined by practitioners and advocates in the field. Exploring practices of different community dance facilitators, this essay will propose a method of developing community dance practices that better serve the objectives of the sector.


Amans (2008, p. 4) describes the common content of community dance as being aimed at breaking stereotypes and structures of elitism. Jill Green, an American dance and somatic scholar, traces this emphasis on issues of social justice and social inequities back to the UK community dance movement of the 1970s. “…Community dance has often been linked with disenfranchised populations such as the elderly, inner city, those with special needs and physical disabilities, those with health needs and ‘at risk’ children” (Green, 2000, p. 54). According to Green’s summary of the works of Butterworth, Donaly, Fensham and Thompson (2000, p. 54) a common theme within the practice of community dance can be uncovered, – “Community dance practitioners often attempt to ‘empower’ ‘non-dancers’ through artistic expression and provide a social advocacy role in their communities”.


The central concern in considering community dance through a social lens is that “We may be imposing our own perspective of the world, as we impose a dance technique based on our own worlds” (Green, 2000, p. 63). Even if not in the technique offered in a dance class, in the structure of a dance class, a worldview can be prescribed that has the potential to perpetuate the very social structures that a practice aims to deconstruct. “If we refuse to look at how we envision ourselves in the project we are bound to replicate offensive and patronizing ways of presenting ourselves to the community” (Green, 2000, p. 63).


Returning to Chris Thomson’s model of a radical practice may present solutions for many of the questions that have been posed by the practitioners already considering power relationships within their practices. To review, radical practice foregrounds the participants’ empowerment and opportunity to confront and overcome oppression. (Amans, 2008, p. 12; Thomson, 1990, p.79). When Thomson introduced the model in his 1990 master’s thesis at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, then Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, he cited Ludus Dancing as a community dance nearing a radical practice. Then director, Louise Glynn described “dance as entirely secondary to the needs of the client groups”. While community dance facilitators will want to maintain a clarity in their artistic foundation, not confusing their work as practitioners with that of social workers, taking a socially rooted professional stance has the potential to shift the field towards greater social relevance. By specifically stating the value of social conscience in one’s practice, as Glynn does, a space for a community dance project to take actions that directly examine social orders is created, in turn, building the potential for experiences of empowerment for participants. Thomson offered the community dance practitioners of the 1990s a means to categorize and understand their practices; now his work offers contemporary community dance practitioners the opportunity to ground and scrutinize their practices, inspiring a greater social impact. Radical practice directly invites an opportunity to address and redress power dynamics, and to use the community dance space to interrogate the common social structures in which the community dance practice is taking place.

Bartlett states (1996, p. 16) “If… we look closely at the values of community dance and try to work them through, they begin, perhaps, to offer us an alternative picture of how a dance culture that is more pluralistic, participatory and empowering might develop”. In the decades since the inception of community dance, one could easily argue that community dance has already done precisely what Bartlett describes. And over a half-century later, it is the role of the community dance practitioner to question how that alternative picture can more fully meet the charges of community dance. Embracing the tenets of a radical practice, and with a specific attention towards and depth of investigation into the relational structures that are brought into the practice, an alternative reality can be realized. Barrett urges everyone to engage in questioning how and if community dance practice aligns with community dance values, and in speaking directly to today’s community dance practitioners, scholars, advocates and leaders, she “encourages your sense of ownership sufficient that you might consider making a contribution” (2007, p. 15). It is the responsibility of every individual practitioner to reflect on their personal values, the values of the community dance field, and the ways in which the practice s/he offers is in support of those values.


Amended Bibliography

Amans, D. (2008). Community Dance – What’s That?. In D. Amans (Ed.), An Introduction to Community Dance Practice. (pp. 3-10). Hampshire, England: Palgrave MacMillan.

Bartlett, K. (1996). Community Dance and Politics. In Thinking Aloud: a Framework for Community Dance. (pp.15-16). Leicester, England: The Foundation for Community Dance.

Bartlett, K. & Stenton, C. (2009, Winter). Definitions, core values and a code of conduct for community dance. Animated. 37-40.

Green, J. (2000). Power, Service, and Reflexivity in a Community Dance Project. Research in Dance, Vol 1, 53-68.

Thomson, C.J. (1990). Dance and the Concept of Community: A Discussion of the Relationship between the Ideas of Rudolf Laban and the Development of Community Dance in Contemporary Britain (Unpublished master’s thesis). Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, London, England.

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