The gap between ‘the dancer’ and ‘the dance researcher’

Earlier this year, Kate Maguire-Rosier (an ECR community member) approached me (Anja) in a theatre foyer. I was a bit stunned to see someone from our mostly virtual community in the flesh, but absolutely thrilled to have a chat about the network, ECR life and, of course, dance! I asked Kate to share a bit about how she is navigating her multiple dance identities in post-PhD life. 

One day in 2013, I was invited by my sister’s friend – emerging artist Georgia Cranko – to be her support artist in a program for emerging Australian dancers. And the world opened up. For the first time, I was in a creative space with practitioners who communicated in sign language, pole-danced with one upper limb, or thought through giggles and bodily contact. I realised the difference that bodyminds makes constitutes an aesthetic feast for the art world – a gift, and therefore also, a weakest link. I was attracted to research on disability, an identity category, I once read, which is the marginalized of the marginalized, partly for its plethora of paradoxes like, for instance, a wheelchair-user’s simultaneous hyper- and in-visibility. I’m nondisabled and use this negative qualification to highlight my lack of lived experience. Specifically, I research the work of Australian dancers with disability, an area which exquisitely undermines dance’s traditional ontological status. Though I identify as a disability ally, I make a distinction between the ‘social benefit’, and the artistic value of this work. As a scholar, I am interested in the latter.

As a trained classical dancer, I approach movement with discipline and tenacity but I’ve long been tempted by anything that undoes ballet’s imperatives – perfectionist technique, the sylph figure, femininized expression, its assumed luxuries of disposable money and time. For something completely different, my aunt took me to a West African dance class by a Guinean teacher and I began training and performing in Ghanaian, but mainly Senegalese ‘sabar’ dance. I even travelled to Dakar to contextualise this newfound movement practice. In my (ongoing) journey to shake ballet out of my system, I’ve taste-tested an orchestra of styles from Armenian folk, Margaret Barr’s dance drama, Hawkins technique, Bodyweather, Cuban Afro-contemporary to reggaetón and I’ve just returned from Jamaica where I underwent a three-week dance intensive in the aggressively sexual style that is dancehall. Now, late at night, partly to feel free, partly to bemuse others or simply spite the world, I dancewalk home from the station, work, a show, my class… That’s me, ‘the dancer’.

In somewhat of a parallel, as a theatre tragic, I have been attracted to experiencing more contemporary, grounded, raw, social and different dance that blends form, skills, concepts and bodies. I have been enamoured by Kate Champion’s dance theatre for years. Same, same, but Different (2002) is one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. Nigel Jamieson’s Honour Bound (2006) critiquing the imprisonment of Australian David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay likewise resonated deeply. At Jacob’s Pillow where I interned for the 2009 season, I remember Groupe Emile Dubois’ Des Gens Qui Dansent and noting, for the first time in my life, older people dancing professionally. For me, at the time, it felt revolutionary – weird, wonderful, curious but mainly, powerful. I was thirsty for more.

And so, I do duets with the dance sector. For work, I find myself teaching in higher education, doing arts administration and management as well as a lot of unpaid labour in the form of research. Outside of work, I continue exploring ways of moving. Today, there is a gap between me, ‘the dancer’, and me, ‘the dance researcher’. Being in an audience enables me to dream of bridges between the two. Part of me would like to reconcile the two identities because somehow, it feels like I hold a secret otherwise, as if I’m unfaithful to my two disparate approaches to dance. Another part senses the gap might be beneficial: Keeping my ‘practice’ separate from my ‘work’ means I do not have to force-fit my art into an economic outcome and means I enjoy dance on my own terms. Don’t mix personal with professional, right? With an economic recession looming, and further austerity measures forecast for both the arts and higher education, this seems sensible, advisable. But maybe, one day…

Dr Kate Maguire-Rosier, who recently obtained her PhD in Australian dance and disability from Macquarie University, co-convenes the IFTR’s Performance and Disability Working Group. You can read some of Kate’s research here and here. She also has a blog where she posts responses to live theatre.