Reflections from a talk with Amy Bell – ‘Gender Guerillas’, part of Groundwork’s discussion series ‘Representation of the People:ACT’.

This is a set of notes from ‘Gender Guerillas’ – it does not represent any individuals voice, neither are they a complete or coherent record. They are not definitive statements, rather thoughts aired and points of discussion.

Art is activism.

As performers we are acting in our practice all the time, we have responsibility and agency.  Softer political actions are equally valid.

Amy had come to recognise that in aspects of her work and training as a dance artist she felt she had been neutralised/policed and isolated. She didn’t have a physical language that connected to her identity, her sexuality. Her work is acting on this – questioning the norms and bringing more of herself to her work.

It then becomes about embodiment, an interrogation of how we move, how we act…

We are in a time, place and art form in which there is possibility to confront and shift the margins….
but how do we challenge the norms when all our tools, our history and training is rooted in a patriarchal and binary system?

Inhabiting a different physicality to the established and institutionalised norm can and often does equate to ‘bad technique’ and thus the invisibility/marginalisation of non straight women.

There appears to be a range of gender identities for men but less so for women- could we move towards being visible?

Trans people are almost absent in contemporary dance. Why is this the case? Who comes? Who feels welcome in our field?
Is this a result of the art forms history? Does it happen out of ignorance as we perpetuate what we are in?

Live Art is way ahead of dance, in terms of acceptance and representation of different bodies, aesthetics and sexualities. This often leads to the suggestion that dance artists concerned with these questions should move into live art, however this might not be our field or passion. If we are well placed within contemporary dance, a discipline that for the most part is wonderfully open and responsive, then we can instead work to effect change within our own field and look, learn and share across other fields.

We can also take inspiration and work to be more open and inclusive across dance forms. For example street/break/hip hop connect much better across demographics of class and race – how can contemporary dance achieve the same and step out of its white/middle class bubble.

Somatic practice is rooted in a matriarchy. It is in some ways an antidote to objectification. A practice where you can claim your own experience and move/act with that.

However in somatic practice along with most of our contemporary dance practices we are working with a de-sexualized body. We never work with desire, sexuality, or touch in a sexual way. Claiming our sexuality has historically and systematically been seen as monstrous, threatening, ugly, etc

Dance is a medium that has historically and systematically objectified and abused the female body. Have we sanitised our art form to escape that history? Does a male and binary gaze still dictate the experience and aesthetics of our art form – how can we shift that.

We can’t control how people are viewing the work- as we all come with our biases but we can be more aware of our choices within our work- conscious choices, questions, consideration…awareness.

Before empowerment has to come acknowledgement – let’s not perpetuate.
We can renegotiate the form we grew up with, no one is beyond shifting their practice. We can disrupt hierarchies and school our selves to not make assumptions.

Many Thanks to Amy Bell for holding this discussion and to all who came.

The series of talks marking the 1918 Act of parliament that first gave most women the right to vote and equal franchise to men and looks at where we are now. The invitation is to not only reflect and acknowledge but also consider how we might ACT. Join us for our next discussion, with Jamila Johnson-Small on 15th March.

Written by Deborah Light
on behalf of Groundwork