Knowledge that is specific to dance is often implied or “silent” knowledge, operating in the background and rarely named in detail for its unique impact and potential in diverse settings. Empowering Dance - Developing Soft Skills has identified, collected and articulated the implicit skills developed through dance practice by focusing on five examples of contemporary dance practices involving a community of non-professionals. For you as a dance artist, there is a huge potential in becoming aware of the empowering impact dance can have on people and why that is, so keep reading!

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Journey

September/10-11/2018
Kick off Meeting / at Dansateliers Rotterdam, The Netherlands
January/9-11/2019
Work Session 1 / at K3 | Tanzplan Hamburg, Germany

Session summary

From the 9th to the 11th of January, 2019, all participants in the Empowering Dance project gathered for the first time to exchange about approaches and experiences, as well as to begin to identify and reflect on the soft skills arising in contemporary dance practices. The aim was to shape the pathway needed to make more visible what contributes to soft skills within each of the case studies, as well as to collectively define our areas of focus.

Day 1

The first day involved introductions and a working session engaging with both physical tasks and reflection rounds, triggered by a few impulse questions sent the day before: When you’re teaching dance or leading a workshop, outside of “steps” or movements, what else are you teaching? What is most important for you to transmit about your practice? Through what non-verbal layers in your practice are you fostering relationships with others?

A first collection of thoughts following the physical tasks and written on a large sheet of paper spread across the studio floor already revealed soft skills at play: negotiation, focus, responsibility, trust, respect, awareness of time, connection, as well as how a physical practice can help open up new ways to investigate a topic or theme. Through a few shared stories from the dance artists in the project, we could zoom in further: A physical practice activates the senses anew and helps people shift into the unknown. Tasks utilizing touch and contact help create that shift. Additionally, attention is often given within contemporary dance practices to remove hierarchy and to meet on equal ground.

Day 2

The second day contained a presentation from the expert of the Bassano del Grappa team, where she introduced the European Qualifications Framework and explained that personal, social and learning competences are also sometimes identified as life skills, socio-emotional skills or transversal skills, in addition to being identified as soft skills. She also gave a first impression of the soft skills contained inside of the dance practices in the form of a map, which she identified through interviews with the project participants. The map lays out specific personal and cognitive skills next to interpersonal and social skills, which all fuel creativity and critical thinking.

The map triggered further impressions regarding what is happening in the duration of the dance practices: the movement one makes from a physical dimension to a creative one, as well as the movement from the personal to the social; a moving body helps to interrupt one’s thinking patterns and norms; the way a dance practice navigates through fear and opens up sensations of freedom; how various artistic dance practices give meaning to bodily experiences; the valuing of body knowledge as a pathway to new understanding and discoveries.

A highlight of the afternoon was meeting three former long-time members of the K3 Youth Club   for teenagers and young adults interested in contemporary dance. While they could not yet specifically name how their dance experiences contributed to attaining soft skills, the descriptions of their time in the Youth Club gave some clues. They described an ongoing process of dealing with oneself and one’s own body in relationship to others, activating a new awareness in how they “read” people and the act of encountering something unknown and the ability to figure it out via their acquired physical skills. While in her university studies, one participant said she didn’t shut off her brain when she came to the Youth Club, but rather came to use her brain in a different way, which ultimately helped her learn more effectively at university.

Day 3

On the final day we began to look ahead to the next steps we will take when we meet again in June at La Briqueterie. There we will go deeper into the artistic practices in each case study to more specifically identify and articulate how they create the soft skills that the expert of the Bassano del Grappa team identified on her map. We also clarified the trajectory of the project as a whole:

  1. Identify which soft skills are present in the artistic dance practices
  2. Which are transferable – this includes a two part process: equipping the artists with the ability to recognize the soft skills in their practice; identifying what and how the participants are receiving and developing soft skills
  3. Identifying where the soft skills can make a difference

The day concluded with addressing the administrative and coordination needs of the project. 

Participants

Elisabetta Bisaro (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Luisella Carnelli (Expert; Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Roberto Casarotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Roberto Cinconze (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Kerstin Evert (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Jordi Galí (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Giovanna Garzotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Monica Gillette (Moderator, K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Kristin de Groot (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Anais Hamard (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Patricia Carolin Mai (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Uta Meyer (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Connor Schumacher (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Elena Sgarbossa (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Carolien Verduijn (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
 

April/28-29/2019
Focus Group Meeting Bassano del Grappa - HIPP (Zagreb)
May/8-9/2019
Focus Group Meeting Bassano del Grappa - Dansateliers (Rotterdam)
June/20-23/2019
Work Session 2 / La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne, Vitry-sur-Seine, France

Session summary

For four days in June 2019, the participants of the Empowering Dance project met for the second time. Focal points of this gathering were: 1) to further understand the definitions of the soft skills identified by the expert from Bassano del Grappa in her evaluation of the five case studies, 2) to directly engage with dance practices in order to experience and evaluate them physically through the lens of soft skill development.

Day 1

The first session began with an update of the ongoing evaluation following participant interviews from the case studies, which included the context and soft skills identified in each setting. There were distinctions of focus between the age range of the participants – younger were focused more on personal sphere and interpersonal skills, older more on social sphere and inter-relational skills. There was also a difference discovered regarding the purpose of their involvement, meaning there were different soft skill outcomes depending on if they were engaged in weekly classes versus preparing for a final outcome, such as a performance. The longer the duration of the practice revealed greater awareness of the skills the participants were gaining. Additionally, in heterogeneous groups there was more emphasis on interpersonal and social skills, particularly those relating to risk management, cooperation and negotiation.

The expert shared graphics from each case study, highlighting which soft skills were found to be present in each group. This information opened up a discussion questioning what might be a base that is needed and inherently present across many dance practices, which may be giving the foundation for the soft skills to flourish. For example, each dance artist involved in the project fosters an environment where there is no right or wrong way to move one’s body, facilitating a non-judgemental attitude from the start. The dance artists shared perspectives and approaches for how each create self-awareness in their participants, putting them in dialog with their own bodies and others through attention to breath, touch and eye contact. The dance artists also shared their approaches for bringing participants into a type of internal dialog with their own bodies and boundaries, which could be a common groundwork for soft skills to evolve.

Some more aspects that stood out from the first day:
—The unique ability of dance practices to contribute to an interdependent social environment and creativity at the same time. Also, that creativity is being experienced on an embodied level and not only cognitive.
—The interest to deal with transferability of soft skills both within the dance sector as well as towards sectors outside the dance field.
—That the soft skills discussed were a result of a confluence of elements within the dance practices. So, no one single task generated one specific skill, but rather the confluence of multiple factors generated interconnected skills.

Day 2

Day two gave the opportunity to experience dance practices from three different artists, who are responsible for the focus groups in the partner institutions and coming from one of the case-study projects. Following the practice sessions, we moved step by step through the class structure and in relationship to how soft skills have been identified via the language given by each participant as they describe their experience. This helped illuminate what about the dance practices could be creating soft skills and to begin to tune the awareness of the Empowering Dance participants, which include dance artists and staff members from the partner institutions, to view dance practices through a new lens.

A key aspect arising from one of the dance practices was the focus from the very beginning to create equality in the room, togetherness and the sensation of “taking care“. This notion of “taking care” initially came from the dance facilitator’s own leadership style and then gradually transferred to each person in the room. There was also a shared experience of risk taking combined with moments of vulnerability, almost a subtle yet constant rhythm of tension and release, which was continually met with care. What was most noticeable about this feedback from the project participants, was not only the consistent experience each had in personally managing vulnerabilities and finding the persistence to overcome those moments, but also that each person experienced it at different points in the class. This further highlights the inability to isolate specific single tasks that might foster one or two soft skills, but rather pointed at the journey each person individually experiences in a group setting and how the confluence of tasks, encounters and overcoming personal hurdles over time, ultimately accumulates to a dynamic approach to gaining new skills.

After the in-depth analysis of the first dance session, entering the second practice of the day quickly revealed the challenge of experiencing familiar practices through the “soft skill boxes“. Rather than being directly present in the practice, many were still in analysis mode, thinking of what skill box to check. While challenging and perhaps a damper on the pleasure of the practice, it opened up a new discussion regarding approaches to analyzing dance. It triggered an interest to communicate the skills being developed in a way that feels connected to the origins of the dance practices and the field, in addition to the external evaluation rooted in another sector‘s language.

Day 3

The third day began with a joint practice from a third artistic team responsible for a focus group. Following the practice, each Empowering Dance participant was invited to self-identify two soft skills that they feel they most deal with in their practice. From this collection, three of the most often mentioned skills were selected to work on in small groups and to unpack their context in the contemporary dance field:

Self-Awareness – Developed through exchange and reciprocity. The dance practices are often events within one‘s day where there is a peak of attention existing outside of normative behaviour. The act of having such social encounters outside of usual daily encounters fosters “high intensity work to practice how to be a human“, to quote one of the dance artists.

Cooperation – Developed through co-responsibility. To create a positive experience of cooperation, there needs to be a basis of trust and the understanding that all can participate no matter one‘s ability. Within the dance practices, many spoke of empowering participants so that they could have an “active cooperation” attitude, rather than solely a “follow the leader” attitude.

Listening Attitude – Developed through first tuning attention to oneself, then towards others. Within the dance practices, many spoke of taking the time for connection and to activate listening through multiple pathways at the same time: ear, skin, heart, and giving space for discussion following the embodied actions.

Another aspect that repeatedly came forward in discussions was the topic of leadership. To further investigate and share various approaches, the session’s participants were sent out in pairs for a 15 minute walk and talk on the topic. Once they returned, each introduced their partner‘s viewpoint, revealing some overlaps in approaches: value given to creating collective responsibility, learning how to balance diverse needs with the tasks being given, creating a safe frame for self-expression, leading physically as much as verbally (leading by doing) and the ability to deal with discord.

In the afternoon the partners came together for an intensive administrative meeting and then everyone joined the festivities of La Briqueterie‘s open house day for the community, as well as the premiere of a participatory piece.

Day 4

The final day was composed of a short reflection of the prior days, as well as looking ahead to the gathering in Bassano del Grappa in August. It was understood that in order to think towards the possibility of a transference of skills, there needs to be a deeper investigation into awareness. How can we develop awareness of soft skill development within one’s own practice, as well as between colleagues within the dance field? And how can we begin to shape practices in a way that brings awareness of soft skills to the participants?

Participants

Elisabetta Bisaro (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Luisella Carnelli (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Roberto Casarotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Roberto Cinconze (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Nadia Delcourt (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Kerstin Evert (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Giovanna Garzotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Monica Gillette (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Kristin de Groot (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Anaïs Hamard (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Patricia Carolin Mai (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Uta Meyer (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Connor Schumacher (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Elena Sgarbossa (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Gordana Svetopetrić (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Carolien Verduijn (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Normela Kresic Vrkljan (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Mirna Žagar (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)

August/26-29/2019
Work Session 3 / at CSC Bassano del Grappa, Italy

Session summary

For two days in August, the participants from the five partner institutions of Empowering Dance met in Bassano del Grappa for a third transnational project meeting. The focus of this gathering and practice exchange was to better understand how to increase awareness of soft skill development (both within the dance field, as well as among participants who are not dance professionals), and to design and prepare a dissemination plan.

Day 1

The day began by joining a Dance Well class (one of the project’s case studies), held at Museo Civico in the center of the city. After the class there was a brief reflection round where project participants highlighted the qualities they felt related to soft skill development: “I felt autonomy within following, where I could also tap into my own choice-making”, “The playfulness opened up my ability to feel flexible”, “There was a rhythm that pulled me through the class in a comfortable way, which opened me up to think in a different way.”

Following the morning session, Empowering Dance participants broke into three groups: 1) the dance artists met for exchange and preparation of joint classes to co-lead for the local community during the two day gathering, 2) the partners met for administrative tasks, 3) staff members dealing with communication at each partner institution met to discuss dissemination options.

In the afternoon there was a lively working session, where the project participants broke into small groups to delve deeper into highlighted topics from the meeting at La Briqueterie in June. Three areas of focus were identified in order to better understand the relationship to soft skill development in contemporary dance settings:
            —To identify what is specific to each individual dance artist
            —To identify what is specific to the environment (each dance house/institution)
            —To identify what is universal among all five case studies to be able to further articulate what is universal to dance, even if each dance artist or the various environments also play a role.

The multiple small group exchanges revealed some common values and perceptions for soft skills to be practiced and to flourish in the contemporary dance context: it begins with a conscious listening attitude, shared leadership, patience, care-taking, ability to deal with uncertainty, persistence and an openness to “learn how to learn” with “empathy as a baseline”. Creating a safe space was also a universal necessity for each artist and institution. A safe space was further articulated by the participants as a space of inclusion where trust is consciously built and where one can experiment beyond one’s own comfort zone, which allows for learning and growth. This led to a new awareness, which was the disconnect of having an inclusive mindset or environment that is inclusive, but then discovering that the institutional brand, digital interface or locational barriers were less so.

For the evening session, two dance artists from the project co-led a new Dance Well class being offered for blind and reduced sight people, yielding new layers of perceptions and presumptions. Through the lens of soft skills, most notable was discovering how a sensorial deficit impacts one’s perception of self and body and how perhaps a dance practice may enhance one’s ability to gain personal spatial awareness and confidence, allowing for greater ability to interact in society.

Day 2

The first part of the second day involved two dance sessions for the Dance Well community, co-lead by two different dance artist teams from the Empowering Dance project. Through the co-leading of classes, the dancers were able to exchange about their individual approaches and discover more about each other‘s practices. In the group feedback sessions that followed each class, some common aspects from the collected approaches could be further articulated in relationship to soft skill development. Many had an interest to first warm up the connection to oneself, or to create a type of personal stamina before moving into interactive tasks and creating a stamina for learning with and in exchange with others. There was also a shared value of creating and experiencing joy, described by one of the dance artists as the oil “for the mechanisms of self-awareness and interactivity to function“. Another participant realized that the safest spaces she has been in were “framed in joy“ and were absent of success and failure.

In the afternoon session, the focus turned towards the dissemination plan. There was a shared interest to create a frame for all project participants (artists, partners, staff members dealing with communication) to be able to present and disseminate the project. For this reason, the dance artists broke into a small group to brainstorm the possibility of creating a workshop or performative presentation to share the Empowering Dance findings. The partners and other staff members met to map a dissemination plan, as well as website layout and a powerpoint presentation to be made available to all participants. At the end of the day, planning began for the next meeting in Zagreb and there was a short round of feedback for the project.

Participants

Koraljka Begović (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Karina Van Bezooijen (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Elisabetta Bisaro (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Roberto Casarotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Roberto Cinconze (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Nadia Delcourt (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Kerstin Evert (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Giovanna Garzotto (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Jordi Galí (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Monica Gillette (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Kristin de Groot (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Anaïs Hamard (La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne)
Normela Krešić-Vrkljan (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Patricia Carolin Mai (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Uta Meyer (K3 – Zentrum für Choreopraphie | Tanzplan Hamburg / Kampnagel)
Connor Schumacher (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Elena Sgarbossa (Centro per la Scena Contemporanea, Bassano del Grappa)
Gordana Svetopetrić (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Valentina Toth (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)
Carolien Verduijn (Dansateliers Rotterdam)
Mirna Žagar (Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance | HIPP)

December/2/2019
Editorial Meeting / La Briqueterie – Centre du développement chorégraphique national du Val-de-Marne, Vitry-sur-Seine, France
January/20-22/2020
Editorial Meeting / Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance (HIPP), Zagreb, Croatia
February/24-26/2020
Evaluation Meeting / K3 | Tanzplan Hamburg, Germany
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