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  • Writer's pictureashlee

Talking about thinking about dance


Ashlee sits in the dance studio in a blue t-shirt, smiling with her fingers on her chin and looking off to the side.
Olivia Wikner Photography

We are taking a break from the day-by-day catch-up journaling of my residency. Instead, we are jumping forward in time for an update on what I’ve been up to in these last couple of months.


The big news is that I held a sharing at QL2 at the beginning of June to give a little talk about what I’ve been doing in the studio. It’s the first time I’ve shared my work outside of this blog since embarking on this residency! Most dance residencies would involve some sort of performance or showing, but it seemed to me that opening up the studio for people to watch me improvise in intervals would not actually give any context or explanation of what I’ve been focussing on. So, with a helpful nudge from my wonderful mentor Sara Black, I organised a discussion-style sharing instead.


A lovely group of my peers and supporters braved the cold to come along to this mid-week, lunchtime talk, or Zoomed in from near and far. I gave a quick history of the residency, why I started it and how it has evolved (you can read up on all this in previous posts). Sara and Courtney were there to fill in the gaps and give their point of view. It was a challenge for me as I do find it hard to summarise it all succinctly (hence the long-form blog!), but it was good to finally describe everything in more detail face-to-face.


I also voiced out loud my future goals for my practice and what my next steps are. Ideally, I would love to continue this practice in some form for as long as I am an artist. I spoke about how I don’t really see this approach to sustaining individual practice advocated for as an important part of our dance ecology (despite the impressions I formed at uni) which is largely built on a project-to-project model. Are there support systems for this kind of long-term practice available, or could there be? Is there arts funding out there beyond project funding or once-off skills-development funding? I offered these questions up for open discussion.


It can be really challenging to fight against the notion that supporting arts research and long-term skills development is a self-indulgent and inconsequential allocation of resources. As artists we know the social (and economic) value of art, and we have an understanding of the importance of research and development in producing art of high quality and broad outreach. We also know that without a little nourishment, or what writer Julia Cameron refers to as Filling the well, we endanger the longevity of an artist’s career. The pandemic has only brought this into sharper focus. What can be tricky is sharing this understanding with the wider population and governing bodies in Australia.


Something that was brought up in the discussion was The Greens’ proposal for an artist wage program, similar to models employed in Ireland and France. While these models may not be foolproof solutions (The Greens offer one year’s wage only), they are certainly suggestions worthy of consideration, and a step towards tabling more of these practical conversations highlighting the absolute necessity of supporting artists in order to support the arts. I'll leave some links to further reading at the end of this post!





Moving on from these systemic challenges, I spoke about my thirst to make a dance work that champions movement over the other elements of the show. It’s strange, but when I look back on works that I have seen in the past, it’s often the multi-disciplinary, high concept or site-specific work, or work incorporating elaborate design elements that are my favourites, while I have found a lot of the more minimalist, post-modern or movement-focussed works much less interesting or memorable. And yet. I have found that the work I like to see is not always the same as the work I want to make. Plus, I can’t say that my tastes haven’t changed with time. But I do believe it is possible to make a pure-movement work that connects deeply with an audience. This is what I want to do.


I expressed my fears about funding or marketing a work that doesn’t have a ‘hook’ outside of the dance itself, especially when trying to appeal to non-dancers. Without an exciting cross-disciplinary collaborator, intriguing performance site or ballsy thematic conceit, can I argue for the work’s relevance and will anyone be moved to see it? How can I advocate for the value and depth of a kinaesthetically rich, experiential work based in human movement to a population increasingly interacting with the world through a two-dimensional screen?


I must say it was nice to air these questions in front of a group of people rather than just pouring them all into my notebook. It was great to hear other people’s thoughts and to have some of my fears reduced, if not eliminated entirely. We tackle these things one bit at a time.


The sharing was also a moment of accountability, and it prompted me to enumerate (out loud!) the outcomes and benefits of the residency so far. Initiating these discussions is one outcome in itself. Another is the prioritisation and recentring of my arts practice into my work and lifestyle, even when my funding ran out. This recentring happened gradually, through the process of making and acting on all those decisions I have recently been posting about. Also, when I explained how I actually use my studio time to dance and write, the feedback was that it sounds like a wellness practice as much as an arts practice (I guess the two could/should be inherently entwined?) and I agreed that my mental health and confidence as an artist has definitely benefited from my commitment to showing up and moving through my practice. All these things have led me to take action and reach out for resources and opportunities in ways that I made excuses for or avoided entirely before I started this residency. Through spending a lot of time in a room by myself, I have become much more actively involved in the arts community in Canberra.


Since my last post I have switched into grant application writing mode, aiming to get a more conventional, full-time development off the ground for this new dance work. I’m glad I had that sharing to buoy me up for this – spruiking your value and asking for money is a lot of very draining work. It was helpful to have other people’s words about my practice in my brain while I have been writing, and it made asking for all the support material much less uncomfortable. At the moment I am taking a break between applications to write this post and generally procrastinate about starting the next one, but it feels good to have one in the bag and see all that support gathered together.



In other news, I have been leading a series of Immerse Labs through QL2 and ADP. Sharing my practice in a workshop setting is an idea I’ve been toying with and discussing with Sara and Courtney for quite some time now. I’m far enough behind with my blog posts that I haven’t got to mentioning these discussions yet but we’ll get there! It’s been really interesting to experiment with transforming this solitary practice into a group activity and share the space with other bodies accessing their own dance adventure. Across the series I have attempted to gradually transition from spending the time as a group of individuals to finding more points of connection between people and their energy. I will (eventually!) write in more detail about this experience in a future post.


So, these are some of the ways I’ve been coming out of the box a little bit recently. It feels good! If you don’t hear from me again for a few weeks, it’s because I’m still slogging away at those grant applications. Think of me... #artistlife


Read more coversations about artist wage models:


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