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ERASMUS+ Project

“The Art to Dance Community”

Dance of Cultures coordinated the ERASMUS+ co-funded project “The Art to Dance Community – An African Way of European Inclusion” from 2020-2023 as a Strategic Partnership for adult education in the category of Exchange of Good Practices. Our project partners were the Macedonian Gestalt Association-Kontakt (North Macedonia), Popolomondo – Associação Cultural (Portugal), NamaStay – Social Justice Lab e.V. (Germany) and Association Dju Dju (France) and Centar IGW Zagreb (Croatia).

We wanted to take a closer look at the question of how best to teach dance when different cultures and nationalities meet on the dance floor: How can different languages dance together? How do you make people of different cultural identities and social backgrounds feel like a group and create cohesion through dancing together? In order to research these questions and develop suitable formats for transcultural dance lessons, the consortium was formed with partners from Germany, Portugal, France, Croatia and later North Macedonia, bringing together expertise from the fields of dance, dance education, Gestalt therapy and social work. All partners are already confronted with the challenges of transculturality at a national level and how they can best respond and develop their services. The international exchange between the project partners should address common problems, approaches to solutions and pedagogical guidelines so that dance is not simply (frontal) teaching, but a lived „art of dancing together“ with real social relevance.

The objectives of “The Art to Dance Community”

1. international exchange of experience and promotion of collegiality of cultural practitioners in the field of dance & music (education) across borders

2. Pooling good practice and developing suitable interactive formats for transcultural dance education based on African dance forms and principles that are accessible to a target group with diverse cultural identities and correspondingly different disadvantages.

3. Expanding the skills of participating (dance) educators for their own artistic and teaching practice in order to offer the innovative formats in their organizations and countries in the long term and to further develop them in everyday practice.

4. Establishment of a network platform and long-term exchange on transcultural dance education in Europe and beyond.

The project activities

As part of the project, we held 3 staff training sessions and 3 transnational project meetings (plus one virtual project meeting). Due to corona restrictions, the first staff training focused on the internal exchange and development process. In the two subsequent staff training sessions, freely accessible transcultural dance workshops with live music were offered with teachers from all project partners, as well as an interactive, participatory dance performance for a local audience that was developed in-house during the course of the project. In terms of content, the consortium has developed pedagogical guidelines and formats for dance education that go beyond the label „African dance“ and are characterized as a transcultural methodology based on the two models of ritual and group formation. These principles of dancing community became accessible and tangible for people with diverse cultural identities through the dance performances with live music and the dance workshop formats. This was accompanied by the production process of the project results of the method handbook and the video toolbox to record the results and make them accessible to others.

The project results

As concrete project results, a practice-oriented „The Art to Dance Community“ method handbook (PDF) and an accompanying video toolbox (on YouTube) were produced, making the developed pedagogical guidelines and formats accessible to interested dance educators and other interested parties in the cultural education sector in Europe.

In addition, two project videos of the staff training sessions in Portugal and Hamburg were produced, which provide impressive behind-the-scenes insights into the project process and complement the methods manual and the video toolbox, making them accessible.

Another project result is the participatory dance performance with live music as a concept and tested work of art, which features its own choreography, a dance pedagogical guide and specially composed music and makes „The Art to Dance Community“ lively, cool and appealing to a diverse audience and goes beyond the normal notions of dance lessons.

While the handbook and video toolbox were already concretely targeted outcomes in the project proposal, the full development of a participatory dance performance is a project outcome that clearly exceeds our expectations. We set out with the aim of finding suitable and innovative formats and methods that make transcultural dance education with a focus on group building and social inclusion tangible and open to diverse target groups. At the beginning of the project, we would never have dreamed of such a successful synergy of dance education and dance art with live music in the form of a dance performance that playfully combines dance workshop, performance and concert. The greatest challenge in this project – combining art and therapy or education – resulted in a great project outcome, which can be seen in this video, among others.

Why “The Art to Dance Community” was so innovative

What was innovative about „The Art to Dance Community“ was the attempt to incorporate Gestalt therapeutic perspectives into the voodoo tradition of African dance forms for a transcultural dance pedagogy that promotes group formation beyond linguistic, cultural and national boundaries and contributes to social inclusion. On the basis of West African dance forms in particular, such as those of the Mandinke and Yoruba, universal principles for dance teaching have been crystallized that underlie all ethnic dance forms and are therefore particularly suitable for transcultural work: Repetition, improvisation, live music and ritual. Working with traditional dance forms always poses great challenges, so that the consortium has also moved within a field of tension between cultural appropriation and the dilution of powerful traditions on the one hand, and the immense potential of these dance forms to promote a paradigm shift in dance education on the other. It is not a question of either or between tradition and „modernity“, but of universal principles that allow people to truly encounter themselves and each other through dance. The composition of the consortium was (at least in theory) a suitable collaboration for this, as organizations led by both people of colour and white people participated. There were participating dancers and artists from the regions from which the West African dance traditions in question originate, as well as from many other countries and regions of the world. Combined with the Gestalt-therapeutic perspective of the partners from Croatia and North Macedonia, this ensured that the project reflected on and consciously addressed the challenges and opportunities that working with West African dance forms presents in a contemporary, transcultural context.

The process of exchanging and experimenting with new formats for transcultural dance teaching was also a challenge in itself because the team itself was so diverse: age differences, older and younger participants, different working methods and professional understandings of dance teachers and artists (sometimes with more and sometimes with less understanding and acceptance of each other), and also differences in recognition, success, fee standards, etc. between experienced and successful artists and younger or less successful artists.

Carrying this diverse group through the project process was already a high degree of social inclusion and equality work on an internal level, which naturally reached its limits at times. The project’s internal approach to emerging conflicts (which arise in every group process) was innovative: An attempt was made to confront conflicts with rituals, thus resolving and overcoming them in an unconventional way. For example, attempts were made to incorporate West African traditions (such as eating and celebrating together, not addressing things directly) into conflict resolution. However, strong informal hierarchies between the participants made it impossible to form groups on an equal footing. As coordinators, we underestimated the hierarchies. There was a clear division of who was a teacher and who was a „student“, so that prefabricated hierarchies could not be broken down and some participants refused to take part in other teachers‘ workshops as „students“. At the same time, the joint work of internationally successful artists and other artists with less experience/success also had a great impact on participants from both sides. The challenge of uniting strong artist identities with a pedagogical goal of being authentic and vulnerable and cultivating true encounters through dance – away from elitist habitus in the dance world – was our daily companion in this project.

And finally, the biggest innovation is the interactive dance performance with live music that has been developed: dance workshop and performance merge within one format to create a performative workshop/performance with a workshop character or performance with a participatory character. This format breaks down boundaries between „professional artists“ and participants – dancers sing, musicians dance and the audience is given permission to try things out and free themselves from preconceived notions such as „I can’t dance“. This is the great potential for social inclusion: That we can experience and embody on a small scale how we can make self-determined decisions in the moment, away from labels and prejudices, how we can participate in a group that is forming itself through dance – which can only be achieved through competent and safe guidance.

The project results can be found here

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