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  • Writer's pictureJo Parkes

MA Dance: Participation, Communities, Activism. Deadline to apply June 30th 2023.

As dancer citizens, many of us are asking ourselves how we respond to the extraordinary times in which are living. How do we support each other to sustain hope, address inequality and to bring our skills and knowledge to the task of co-creating a sustainable future?

When the team at London Contemporary Dance School asked me to consult with them on the development of an MA in the field of community and participatory dance, I began to ask myself what course can meet the challenges of this moment in time. With Director of Dance Studies Dr Lise Uytterhoeven and Director of Research and Postgraduate Studies Dr Martin Hargreaves, I started talking to industry bodies, students, artists and participants in projects. The process ended with the validation of a new course MA Dance: Participation, Communities, Activism which is now open for applications (deadline to apply is June 30th 2023) and starts in September 2023.

The course fosters a global community of artists working locally for social justice. The course is exciting for emerging, mid- and late career artists with a participatory/community/activist dance practice who want to situate, interrogate and expand their work in the light of the seismic social shifts of the last years. The course places the individual creative practice of each student at the centre of learning, bringing artists with diverse approaches together to explore and challenge their work.

Our first big decision was to teach the course mostly online. My experiences of exchanging with colleagues in the pandemic taught me a lot. In a strange way, I have never felt more connected to my peers as we created forums to support each other and slowly started to engage in creative processes at distance in formats both digital and analogue. I remember being alone in a studio in Berlin, eyes closed, hearing other people dancing, eyes closed, in locations across Germany. I was moved by the intense connection I felt to other bodies in other places. I realised a potential which I had not experienced before and which this MA seeks to expand. We seek to manifest a space where creative collaboration across distance can co-exist with the need to reduce air travel as an urgent response to the climate emergency.

The student cohort meets live twice in the course, each time for an intensive two-week residency at The Place in London. All other teaching and learning takes place at distance. When you work with different communities, you learn by doing. It is one thing to discuss and practice how you will work with your peers; it is another to work situated a local context. We want to leave artists embedded in the communities with whom they work, so learning can be applied immediately and developed in exchange with those communities. We seek to create a network of artists who are working locally and exchanging globally, seeking collective solutions to challenges faced by communities across borders.

The course examines the relationship between social disruption and social construction in activist practices. Can work in community/participatory settings incrementally change the institutions and contexts in which it is situated, thus contributing to social change? How can our knowledge of organising bodies in time and space to communicate serve to highlight issues in public discourse? How does socially engaged work feedback to change the fields of dance in which each individual works?

It is possible to do the course full-time (12 months) or part-time (24 months), so students can study alongside work or caring responsibilities. The part-time route also aims to make the course accessible to disabled students. Having have just returned to the UK from living and working in Germany, where Higher Education is free, I am acutely aware of the irony of offering a course such as this in a sector which charges fees. We are happy to offer two scholarships, covering all course fees, to artists located in the Global South. We also have a means-tested Student Fund accessible to all students. We know that there is more for us to do to lower barriers to access and are working hard on this.

As we deliver a course which centres collaborative, co-creative processes, it is vital that we build collective structures into the leadership of the course and resist inherited hierarchies. In this way, we seek to de-centre western models of community dance and ensure that multi-perspective, decolonising processes are at the heart of how we create and deliver the course. I am happy to co-curate the curriculum each year with a team of artists. The curatorial team this year are: Dr Nora Amin, Dana Yahalomi, Dr Funmi Adwole, Dr Ruth Pethybridge and Louise Katerega. As I write their names, I am humbled that this extraordinary team of makers, activists and thinkers, with practices and research which reach across disciplines and across continents, are joining me in this endeavour. We have already learned so much form each other and we cannot wait to begin sharing this extraordinary resource with the students who will join us. Each year the curatorial team will set three themes along which their work is curated. The themes for 2023 - 2024 are: Care, Crossings and Resistance. You can read more about the curatorial team on the course website which is linked at the bottom of this post.

I understand dance as a way for us to bring heterogeneous groups of people together to research how we can live together; to imagine alternative - sustainable - futures. I see encounters through dance as knowledge generation with the widest group of people possible; using our bodies to understand, movement by movement, meeting by meeting, a little more about what will help humanity meet its future. It is an absurdly big claim, I know, but it is made real one encounter at a time. I look forward to the encounters that this new course will make possible.

If you want to have an informal conversation about the course you can contact me at You can find out more about the course and the scholarships as well as apply for the course here:

A version of this post was first published on the website of People Dancing.

Images by Katrina Brown.

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