Spotlight on inclusive practice, with Phaedra Petsilas
6th February 2023
With an exciting week ahead of guest practitioners coming into Rambert School, we sat down with Head of Studies, Phaedra Petsilas, for a deep dive into what’s in store for the students.
Q – Tell us about this week at Rambert School.
A – This week at Rambert School we’ll be spotlighting inclusive practice. It is an opportunity to take some time together as a school community and engage in meaningful dialogue on inclusivity in dance. It is also an opportunity to explore inclusivity creatively and experience diverse ways of working within dance. Most importantly it is about shedding light on how we create, curate, facilitate inclusive environments in dance.
This week came about really organically after realising that we had so much to take stock on and unpack – our work on gender inclusion, racial justice, accessible training and performance, neurodiversity and inclusive pedagogies has been an ongoing focus and sometimes we have to stop and reflect but also celebrate our diverse lived experiences and identities within our practice.
It is an opportunity to share best practice and work as a school community to improve inclusivity and accessible practices in dance, starting with our own institution. We want to develop a continuum of conversations between us and industry professionals working in inclusive ways and organisations which advocate for change in our sector.
It is important to note from the get go that inclusivity is not something we are just thinking about for one week – we have developed our School strategy embedding Diversity and Inclusion principles and we are constantly learning and changing – evolving our pedagogic practices and artistic content in line with societal changes. This work is ongoing – it goes beyond one week and one week is not enough to cover everything, but we are keen to have a deeper and more focused dialogue on inclusive practice and accessibility.
We are on a journey…
Q – Who are the practitioners coming in and what will they be exploring with the students?
A – We have quite a full and exciting schedule – broadly focusing on gender, queerness, race, disability, neurodiversity and activism in relation to dance
We have colleagues joining us form various areas of our industry:
Louise Katerega from People Dancing accompanied by a dance artist/collaborator
Stuart Waters, dance artist and Willie Elliot actor and audio description specialist
Natasha Britton of Parable Dance
Charlotte Edmonds (Rambert School Alumna, Choreographer, Dancer and co-founder of Move Beyond Words)
Jess Lowe (Administrator of Health, Wellbeing, and Performance OneDanceUK)
Fraser Buchanan (Rambert School Alumnus and co-producer of MindYourHead Productions)
Joyce Gyimah and Gerrard Martin from Black Artists in Dance (BAiD)
These practitioners will be bringing diverse approaches into the mix – from audio description to queer nightlife, from working with neurodiversity to exploring identity and activism through movement and more…
Q – Why is it important for the students to experience this during their training?
A – There are many facets to answering this question:
Raising awareness of the lived experiences of dance practitioners within our industry who are working in inclusive ways is really valuable from an educational perspective. Conservatoire dance training has historically been elitist or exclusive at times, and we want to break those perceived barriers and also learn and progress as a specialist educational institution together.
Also, it is important for students to feel represented and celebrated and this week is an opportunity to do this in a focused way. Even more poignantly, it is important to break down the hierarchies that exist in dance – to embrace dance and dancing for every-body, everywhere, in all its forms.
Finally, it is important for students to take time to reflect and have an active voice in these important discussions. We are a collaborative institutional community, and the student voice is central to our development. Meaningful change is imparted through dialogue and students can benefit greatly from engaging with the wider industry or taking time to consider the importance of inclusive practice in dance as they are the leaders and artists of the future.
Q – What else does the school do on a daily basis to promote inclusivity?
A – As per our School ethos, we celebrate difference, fostering a culture of acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect where we strive to provide equality of opportunity for all. We have embedded Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) targets within all our departmental action plans, and we are constantly striving to be as inclusive and diverse in our approaches as we can. This is ongoing work…not a tick box exercise or something to be fixed. We have some key aspects to what we do that directly promote inclusive practice:
- Inclusivity Student Advocates who lead on issues of diversity and inclusion from a student perspective.
- The work of the EDI committee and its working groups that outline our institutional EDI priorities
- Our Anti-Discrimination and Social Justice Group provides a place for the diverse voices in our community to speak freely about matters that affect them and let us know what we can do to support them
- Partnership with Advocate organisations such as People Dancing, BAiD and more.
- The connection with ‘critical friends’ who help us interrogate our practices and stay at the forefront of developments in terms of diversity and inclusivity.
- The engagement with a diverse range of industry practitioners and artists on a weekly basis through the FreshFriday series of workshops.
- Ongoing review of the curriculum to ensure diversity of content in terms of dance technique, history and choreography, along with diversity of the content and delivery of the curriculum, focusing on racial justice, gender identity and disability, in response to feedback and priorities identified by our student body.
- Decolonisation of our Library resources to include diverse voices from a wide variety of scholars and practitioners.
- Funding research projects which promote inclusive practice – our most current examples are our Neurodiversity in the Studio project in collaboration with Charlotte Edmonds of Move Beyond Words, the research on gender non-specific ballet repertoire or the WomanMade project focusing on female ballet choreographers and makers.
- Focus on mental well-being and enhanced, targeted individualised student support creates a safe and inclusive everyday environment.
- Our pedagogic approaches are driven by celebrating individuality and teaching towards difference, not conformity.
Q – How do you feel the school/students have benefited from these initiatives?
A – These initiatives collectively make our prioritisation of equality, diversity and inclusion highly visible and involve our whole School community; we maintain a continuous, kind and transparent dialogue with all members which is open to receiving feedback and reaches for inquiry. This means we are able to have a ‘whole School ethos’ that staff and students embed into their professional practice, no matter what area of the School’s activities they occupy. Students and staff can each easily see their input and influence (both actual and potential) in terms of inclusivity and diversity.
Q – Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A – Through dance as an art form, we can a create a powerful cultural movement of advocacy and awareness.
African American Modern Dance Pioneer, Pearl Primus famously said: ‘Dance is the first with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice’
Putting inclusive practices into the spotlight encourages us to be more involved, to take action, to step out of our comfort zones or belief systems and impart change.
Sharing our work and progress as an institution or highlighting industry voices may also encourage other organisations, and their audiences or stakeholders, to bring the challenges and problems some people within our society face, into the greater narrative of inclusivity.
This is our first week spotlighting inclusive practice, and we’re excited to see where it takes us!