what if the practice was the research

dancing with Parkinson's, practice as research

In late 2016 I began an investigation with dancers with Parkinson's entitled Explorations in Collectivity and Intimacy, in response to my desire to interrogate further and answer questions arising from my own practice and what I was learning from the dancers I worked with...


Equality, empathy and relationality are ingrained in my values as an artist and a human being. I am an inquisitive artist, I think and reflect constantly, as a consequence my practice is and will always be, research. By looking differently at my dance practice I find new questions emerging constantly which shift my perception on the human body, on dance, and provide an opportunity to learn, reflect and grow. What am I doing? How am I communicating this? Why? What do I have to say? Do I need to say something? What is the experience for the dancers I am working with? What can I learn from them? How can I empower them to share their skills with me? What is the most valuable experience I can give?

Having worked with people with Parkinson's for around 8 years, it is inevitable that the way I view my role in this practice is constantly shifting as these questions also apply to this work. As an artist working with movement disorder I am also a researcher of movement, as I am always learning from those that I move with.


At the end of 2016 I began an artistic collaboration with filmmaker Sara Hibbert, which resulted in the work in progress film Collective Field. I was struck in this process by how her gaze through the lens of the camera also changed the way I saw the human body, reflected the way we initiate movement, how the dancers were experiencing the movement and so on. Her input reframed my own thinking and encouraged me to ask more questions.

How do I initiate movement ideas in my explorations with the dancers I work with? What communication tools am I using? How do those modes of communication empower the dancers to respond for themselves, or not? The Collectivity and Intimacy project began to look at how we use both group motivations and individual initiations to generate movement ideas in dance.

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In leading dance we use communication tools such as physical mirroring, imaginary language and metaphor, touch, music and rhythm. These communication tools could be considered cues to initiate movement in the Parkinson’s dance context. In the collectivity of moving as a group, we use cues to give a sense of togetherness, to direct and craft movement and to give security. But if I were to constantly use external cues this would not enable me to stay true to my core values, and find equality / allow ownership to flourish for the dancers I work with. To enable autonomy the dancers must understand how these different forms of cueing work and be able to initiate the movement for themselves. This was the 'intimate; part of the enquiry and the area of questionning that I am inspired to take further.

I began a version of this interrogation within my post-graduate research and continue now through practice based enquiry. This way of thinking is also fundamental to my relationship with Marc Vlemmix and Dance for Health.

I met Marc Vlemmix when I visited dance for health in Rotterdam in the Summer of 2015. We connected through shared values and an interest in the co-ownership of dance experience between dancer and artist. Marc is the initiator of dance for health Rotterdam and he also has Parkinson's. In expressing to him my aims to develop a level of empathy for my dancers, necessary to build an environment for their creativity to thrive, I found this same goal in dance for health. There, this is fostered in the dancers and collaborators alike.

what next?

This summer we began a collaborative research enquiry at dance for health initiated by Marc Vlemmix and his dance experience working with choreographer Itamar Serussi. At the heart of that enquiry, much like my own research interests, is Marc's desire to find greater ownership of his movement potential and increased ability to move with Parkinson's. To train himself to find movement potential, and not to trick his body to perform through external cues.

The notes from this enquiry are posted in the following blog post: dance for health research lab, august 2017

The Collectivity and Intimacy project also continues to evolve, and I will be presenting the work so far and the provocations for further enquiry at the People Dancing Conference in October 2017. You can read more of the background and train of thought behind the research on the project blog