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Dance Mama Live!

Today has been a real fire-cracker and memorable day for Dance Mama. Today I delivered the inaugural Dance Mama Live! in partnership with world-renowned dance house, Sadler’s Wells, in the Rosebery Room.

Since hitting the refresh button on Dance Mama late last year, events have always been high on my agenda to create and produce. Over the past few months, this has manifested itself in a number of plans, and some not-so-successful public bidding attempts (!) but all of these circumstances have led me to today’s moment. I am very grateful [and say this out of realism, not a sympathy plea].

A huge hurdle for all parents in attending events is overcoming childcare issues (shortly followed by money) so we removed these two barriers by making it free and welcoming for children. The Rosebery Room provided a great venue as it’s spacious with lots of natural light and children could watch the big red buses out of the large, iconic windows. We were able to talk in-depth and have plenty of room for the children to move about in. Dance Mama also provided a small goody bag with some themed colouring in and a few bits and bobs.

The group came from all over London, some with their children, and as far as the depths of Surrey. Not only was the connection and meeting of like-minded dance folk important here, but in this event, I wanted to ensure that we were talking about the real issues and talking in a positive solution-focused way that can help guide the industry forward into being more inclusive. Hence me approaching four of the most influential organisations on this topic, One Dance UK, Dancer’s Career Development, Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) Campaign and Sadler’s Wells.

In recent weeks, in synchronicity, Movement Director and Performer, Belinda Lee Chapman got in touch with me as she wrote an article a couple of years back following researching dance and parenting in the sector. Belinda works for New Adventures delivering community projects (following 7 years dancing with the company internationally in most of their major productions) as well as founding her own company and working freelance. As New Adventures is a well-known resident company at Sadler’s Wells, Belinda was even more appropriate, and brilliantly shared her story with the group, as well as completing a case study on Dance Mama which also now houses her article.

Belinda bravely talked about the positives and challenges of being a freelance Dance Mama. This covered both of her children’s arrival, house moves in and out of London, building her support network, connecting with her peers and upholding clear values and goals when considering work. She also talked about those moments when work is slow and the ‘Dance’ part reduces and the ‘Mama’ bit takes over. This struck a chord with all of us, as the experience of the momentary absence of our art form on becoming a parent can at times feel very bleak. You can watch it on replay here:

Following a Q&A moment where we explored some of these issues further, we had a break in the foyer to allow people to get to know one another a bit better or simply catch up. I did remark how this was an elaborate plan to catch up with most of the people in the room I knew (including one who lives 20 minutes away and it has taken 5 months to catch up in and around the children!). What was great was there were some women I didn’t know and a couple of people who were able to make it last minute. I think it is essential to have good flexibility to ensure people can access events regardless of their circumstances.

Back in the Rosebery, I hosted our informal discussion panel made up of Joce Giles (Director of Learning & Engagement - Sadler’s Wells), Helen Laws (Head of Industry and Artist Support / National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, One Dance UK), Anna Ehnold-Danailov (Co-Founder Parents in Performing Arts Campaign) and Ellen Chambers (Dancer Support and Programmes Officer, Dancers Career Development) and Belinda Lee Chapman, with valuable contributions from the group at large. Some given whilst doing a nappy change which I thought was totally brilliant. We worked our way through the following areas; working context, physiological impact, psychological impact and creativity. [Transcript will be up soon]

What sang out was the need to connect, have better structure and support to enable the freelance community in particular, to enable them to have similar benefits to counterparts in well-resources companies. There is a huge disparity for those out of an organisational structure as so much of the work required to recover physically, emotionally, creatively and spiritually has to be initiated by the individual as they are often working for so many different organisations as well as creating opportunities themselves. This also struck a note on ‘resilience’ and the benefits of the dance mindset to be tenacious, but also the challenges this can bring in admitting or accepting help.

What was a pleasant surprise was how some simple changes can be overcome some of the barriers with the right mindset of leaders in the dance sector. For example, I didn’t realise until this discussion that my first pregnancy was the moment when Rambert offered keeping in touch days (KIT) to freelancers as well as employed staff, thanks to Joce Giles’s foresight and leadership at that time. Similar policies and ideas can be adapted by others which is right for their context if an organisation is informed and willing.

Another strong point was the communication and information share between individuals and organisations, and this is appreciatively, unique to each person. This is where PIPA Campaign, One Dance UK and DCD really come into play at facilitating better understanding through their work and research to ensure that more formal organisations are up to date with best practice and approach.

However, we know there is more work to be done. Much more. One small step for Dance Mama…

So after summing up the session with some simple evaluation statements, Dance Mama intends to use this wonderful moment to create more opportunities for us to be inspired, share and connect, to improve our outlook and situation for future generations.

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