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October 2nd 2017 – Change Maker Blog: Allies…. 


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Welly O’Brien and Kate Marsh – in rehearsal. Image by – the artists


What does it mean when we speak out for others? When we verbally or physically express our belief in or support for another person or group of people. The rapid growth of social media has meant a dramatic rise in petitions, and online protests, calls to locate ourselves with a certain group or political canon. As I have written about previously this has been an important aspect of my role as a Change Maker at Metal, I have gained so much from reaching out and gathering in artists with a shared experience and interest. There is a power in how we lift each other, somehow validating our ideas and beliefs.


At the second Change Maker Lab in Southend, the speakers included, Scottee, Caroline Bowditch and Noemi Lakmaier, listening to these brilliant three sharing their practice and then listening to them question each other and open up discussion to the artists on the lab, I started to think again about allies or more specifically who is included when we talk about ‘otherness’, furthermore how can we offer ourselves to those who are not necessarily the same as us or even, dare I say, in the same ‘minority’ group. Where is the power in the collective voices of the marginalised?


Scottee talks so clearly about his commitment to access and aim that his work is available to a diverse audience. Caroline Bowditch suggests that we should all “check our privilege” meaning, perhaps that we should think outside our own experience and consider the multiplicity of other lives and experiences in the world.


In reality, I have found that it is often the case that this collective understanding can somehow further marginalise, To use a real life example, how many times do the pregnant woman and the person with a disability on the tube do the polite dance of offering a seat to each other, whilst the non-disabled, banker[1] continues to sit behind their financial times oblivious to the situation (I’m generalising of course, but in truth I have certainly noticed that is often my fellow ‘others’ that really ‘see’ me or recognise where I might benefit from some support).


When we (Metal and I) were hashing out the application for Change Makers, we kept coming across the question of who is this for? For me personally, making it about disabled and non-disabled was not satisfactory, I had been living this binary professionally and personally for many years and felt strongly there was and is another way.


My friend[2] Dan Daw and I once had a conversation (one of many) where we talked about ‘folk who “get it”’ an over simplified idea, yes, but behind the simplicity is something interesting, a lack of the need to explain over and over again our needs and wants or a straightforward nod of understanding across a sea of ‘gatekeepers’ at an event, performance or conference. These nods are not exclusively from disabled artists in my experience, they are from the invested, the aware, the questioning, the allies.

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Welly O’Brien and Kate Marsh – in rehearsal. Image by – the artists

Extending this notion of allies has great potential, can we ‘borrow’ from each other’s experiences and lend our voices to others to strengthen and support? I chatted this morning to Katy Hawkins, an artist currently working at Metal in Peterborough and we talked about our discomfort in representing others or speaking on their behalf, for fear, maybe, of misinterpreting or re-framing their voice with our own experience. As we talked, the idea of being next to people emerged, as a dancer and general touchey-feely type (I’ve admitted this before), I am really drawn to this physical imagining of a collective proximity, if I were cooler it would be something like ‘having each other’s back’, but I’m not, so it’s more like a gentle being there, not always ‘getting it’ but being ready to ask questions and listen to see what is needed.


There is a real power in this, that resists hierarchical frameworks of ‘being let in’ a way of making an authentic space that does not feel like being ‘allowed’ into a corner, rather a shared, brilliantly diverse, changeable, messy space.

I am excited by this idea, by opening up our conversations to include ‘all the voices’ to allow our practice and thinking to be shifted and supported by the voices of others. We can learn from the experience of others and add our voices to those with whom we are aligned, thinking about access in our practice, which includes being prepared to change and listen, always asking when we attend anything “who is not here?” and using our power to ask why not and how can they be invited?


[1] Banker is an arbitrary job title, the financial times an arbitrary publication, please insert job and publication of your choice.

[2] It has recently become very important to me to locate those artists that I work with a lot as friends, not to call them colleagues or even peers. It is important that they are my friends, it is this friendship that informs the work we produce and the conversations we have. A friend is not less than a colleague or an associate it is a powerful dynamic that enriches and supports my dance practice.

Change Maker Blog: Allies….