A WAY TO GROW
A collaborative research by graphic design studio; ST–DUO & dance company; MISICONI
Funded by Stimuleringsfonds
A collaborative research by graphic design studio; ST–DUO & dance company; MISICONI
Funded by Stimuleringsfonds
At the beginning of 2021 dance company Misiconi and graphic design studio ST–DUO started a very special collaboration. The aim of this collaboration is to translate an already existing methodology* into a successful design that enables the target group, (the Misiconi dancers), to feel autonomy and provide insight into personal growth. To achieve this, ST-DUO explores an inclusive design method in which experimentation and collaboration with the dance company and its dancers is an essential part of the process.
Methodology Shift Dance was developed by Misiconi in collaboration with Northern Ballet and Psico Ballet. It is inspired by the Wheel of Creativity developed by Caroline Redmond in 2004. The wheel has changed content with and for dance terms and pedagogical purposes. The wheel has been used in the process and documentation at test moments and as documentation of one's progress. Until now, the wheel was always used by the teacher. Misiconi wishes to get the existing methodology from the education angle and deploy it for a tool for seeing personal growth, reflection and gaining autonomy from the target group.
The start phase of this research consisted of 3 contact moments; An observation and 2 workshops. Experimentation was used to explore the possibilities of adding design to the dance floor as a means to measure growth.
The general question that ST–DUO and Misiconi posed was: How can an existing methodology in inclusive dance be transformed into an inclusive design, so that people with additional learning support needs can use it better and see their own personal growth visually?
For the past 8 years Misiconi has worked on several movement methods for inclusive groups. For Misiconi inclusive means that the group is always mixed. Dancers with all kinds of ability and disabilities are involved and part of the training or artistic process. Currently the group consists of mostly dancers with additional learning support needs. The differentiation in learning methodologies has always been present in their work because there is a wide scope of dancers that learn via different ways. For example via tactile, visual or auditory feedback. Although visual metaphors and imagery are widely used in various movement and dance practices, education, and artistic creation the company found problematic that most methodologies on talent development are for the teachers to use but not often implemented as a tool for the dancers to work with to measure their own growth. Or even has a combination of both. As both the educator and the student have a shared responsibility in the journey of the student reaching their potential. Both the process and the outcome is equally important within dance.
According to Anu Sööt and Ele Viskus in Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences; Owing to the active role of students, self-regulation and reflection skills become increasingly important in today’s dance education (Lavender & Predock-Linnell, 2001; Leijen, Admiraal, Wildschut & Simons, 2008a) (2)
In order to grow and become a professional dancer it’s important to reflect on physical, mental and social skills in an accessible way. For the dancer it is important to feel empowered and also feel a sense of belonging towards the performing arts.
Anu Sööt and Ele Viskus emphasise that. While dance education of the previous century was mainly based on the studying of dance techniques for the aim of perfect performance, new tendencies started to occur from the mid 20th century. The students were not merely trained bodies any more, as the impact and effect of dancing was also seen regarding the development of the individual, (blz 292). (3)
Within the practice Misiconi noticed that it is more difficult for dancers with for example additional learning support needs to carry out reflections. Also they could have difficulties with questioning comments or expressing themselves in class. The students have the tendency to be very positive when reflecting on themselves, or when feedback is given by the teacher they merely find negative aspects of their experiences and miss to point out positive aspects of the feedback. In order to address and communicate feedback and reflections the company had to rethink their ways.
For ST-DUO motivation came from the fact that they believe that design can offer added value in various disciplines. Graphic Design in the modern world is prominently used for commercial purposes. ST–DUO is convinced that design is most impactful when it is used to tackle social, cultural and environmental problems. Within a project or collaboration, ST–DUO is always looking for authenticity and essence. These two factors are the most decisive for a design that fits appropriately in visualising the message behind an issue, in both image and word. Through starting a process collaboratively with handmade or analogue processes a designer gains insights into the ‘human’ side of an issue or problem. To search for, and embrace within its errors, irregularities, and
other often overlooked details to form an ultimate foundation for a design with its own personality and unique character. In a world that is increasingly dominated through generic and automated processes, authenticity is a powerful tool to stand out from the rest. This artistic belief is a reflection of how we see the world: not everything is perfect, but everyone belongs.
Within the conversations with Misiconi it was uncovered that a lot of existing graphic design which is used for people with mainly learning disabilities is often not creative or expressive, much unlike its audience.
ST–DUO believes that design is for everyone, and through approaching design for this target audience in an inclusive way they can add to a future of more accessible design.
Communication between the educator and the dance artist is essential to learn to transform their content and embodied knowledge. With the dancers that Misiconi works with, the visual organ is well trained and feels as second nature.
Like Anu Sööt and Ele Viskus say For a long time already, the art of dance has not been seen as merely body-oriented. Other forms of message communication have become more frequent. Dance education could apply to people interested in dance in all accessible and relevant arts (light design, sound design, graphic design, etc.) (5)
That's why in the initial phase of the project, both parties wanted to investigate which methods worked to actively involve the target group in both the research and the 'design' process with the aim to create a tool kit that the dancers with additional learning support needs can use better and see their own personal growth visually.
The Toolkit included several subtopics:
Tools for experimentation and investigation in giving their own way of feedback Tools to produce, experiment, investigate and document their own growth. Tools to produce, experiment, investigate and document in their own authenticity.
ST–DUO observed Misiconi’s first class of the autumn program. Armed with notepads and pens, the focus was to discover how the teachers and students learnt and guided one another through the exercises. Through making observational drawings, it was clear that drawing and dance have a special connection. To trace the movements of the dancers, ST–DUO found personality and expression in the marks left by the inks.
Alongside observational drawings, ST–DUO paid attention to the use of language during the class. Misiconi in some ways has their own language, developed terminology that in the context of their dance floor everyone understood. Language full of expression, which was creatively applied to inspire and transfer information to and from the dancers.
ST–DUO took note of the flow of the class, how exercises were structured and the pace of the class was set. All conscious decisions, that are very natural to a professional dance group, which as outsiders were able to deconstruct to then apply in the following workshops.
aimed to experiment and explore the level of abstract thinking of the Misiconi dancers. Through a series of excerises the dancers were asked to visualise music and movement. The following pages decribe the exercises and display the results.
In the first workshop ‘make your mark’ the designers and dancers experimented with several techniques. Firstly translating Misiconi’s dance vocabulairy into a visual image. This could be words connected to the physical bodies like breath and focus. As well as, words that were connected to spatial elements like duets and patterns. Music was also used to explore how different ambiences have an impact on creative expression.
An important feature within the workshop was choosing the marker. By giving the marker as a tool to manifest their own signature was something very valuable for the dancers. It was a reminder that everyone is unique, each dancer leaves their own form of expression, which was symbolised in the form of the marker. The representation of their own dance training experience became more clear. It could be argued that the outcome revealed a new visual or presentational knowledge of dance.
M. Reason says ‘In the context of the arts, it seems sensible enough that non-verbal art forms do express something beyond that which could be said with language’ (4)
Then at last these directed tasks were followed by a period of 'free drawing' within a duet form. Two dancers followed each other. One dancing and the other following with a marker.
The designs were all documented (scanned and photographed) and the originals returned to the designers to do further research and analysis on patterns.
Both Misiconi and ST–DUO were pleasantly surprised by the level of abstract thinking and outcomes. For each word artistic and abstract drawings were made which showed a large understanding of symbolism. ST–DUO experimented further, exploring layering the images digitally, creating beautiful results which immediately provided us with a sort of dance analysis and documentation. Revealing the dancers' conscious, reflective memories of Misiconi’s vocabulary.
ST–DUO compared similarities and differences in how the dancers translated language to visual. In similarities they found opportunity for global communication, and in differences uncovered authenticity and individual creative expression. Through actively making with the target group, interpretations and evaluations were instantly evolving. As well as in documentation, through the compiling the works a kind of meta-reading of the vocabulaire evolved. For example in the practice of making, during the workshop, the designers were able to analyse what tasks were simple to follow and which ones were more complex. They observed in which tasks the dancers felt empowered by the use of the medium, and alternatively restricted through it.
This research helped the designers to understand the level of understanding of the dancers and practice itself. It became more clear where the comfort zones and boundaries were. So dancers can be challenged in reaching their potential with a medium that supports their needs. This research considers the impact of process and methodology. Whilst also engaging with the dancers’ use of materials and the process of visual rep- resentation. In doing so it seeks to provide both an analysis of these particular dancers’ experience of these particular words, and a more general insight into the dance processes of reception, experience, meaning- making.
As M. reason says; ‘It is possible that the pro- cesses of responding creatively and visually allowed greater scope for these kinds of sensorial responses to emerge and become articulated (p17).
One dances the other draws. Try to represent the movements the dancer is making through the marks of your pen.
Draw on top
With the outcomes of the first workshop it was clear that we had to move from an experimental representation, to an individually applied result. A visual that could also represent the space or be more involved in the space. Also in order to measure growth there needed to be a starting point and a goal to work towards. However, the journey and process to reach goals is different for every dancer and depends on the day and an emotional state. Maybe even two wheels were needed to document on. One for the physical elements and one for the mental state. Monitoring this journey also comes back within the Shift methodology as testing moments. The WheelFig. 1 was then used to document and collect data to monitor someone's development. But we noticed in that previous way of working that the conversation about development and the reflection on development was difficult as it is all very linguistic. Also a certain cognitive level is needed to make connections between body and mind.
For the second workshop the designers did research into infographics and instruments for measuring growth within dance and movement, looking into shapes and the notation of dance via the working method of Rudolf Laban ST–DUO came up with a draft design that was used before and after an exercise. An intervention with a visual task that would generate feedback verbally and visually.
Feedback from the dancers:
• Working with 2 colours before and after gives a clear visual growth.
• Often in growth and dance especially is about good and wrong. Some shapes were very circular and there was no good and wrong which is nice.
• Some of the shapes gave a clear starting point in where to begin and where to stop, others less.
• Connecting the question of ‘how do you feel’ even more with what someone can perform that day is really a snapshot of the day.
• All elements on forms can be used separately.
Every dancer had their own large poster compiled of a series of abstract scales in a chosen colour and was offered a flexible way of engaging with the reflective practice of the dance class. The large format of the paper gave a sense of one's own space and was very empowering. Also filling it in on the floor was helping for that. The amount of visual diversity and interpretations that came out were incredible. By doing so, the dancers started thinking and a conversation was already generated by explaining why they used the form in this way and what the abstract drawing meant.
To conclude back on the general research question on how an existing methodology in inclusive dance can be transformed into an inclusive design so it can enrich the personal growth of dancers with additional learning support needs. To achieve this both parties worked with an already existing methodology called Shift and did art based research in the studio with the dancers alongside with theoretical research into topics like dance methodology from Laban and ways of measuring growth. It was important in the process that the dancers felt autonomy and that tools were provided to give an insight into their personal growth and could support them in their needs. After a collaboration of 6 months, one observation class and two workshops the impact was enormous. Visual expression and abstract thinking started a process through which new and different kinds of knowledge were generated and communicated.
The material created by the dancers was so interesting that it even could be considered as a form of presentational knowledge on it’s own. The exchange was immediately mutual and it not only raised questions, but also brought a deeper understanding and conversation on personal development between dancers, teachers and designers.
Karen A. Kaufmann states (p. 15) that imagery always enriches the dance learning and responds on a more deeper level. (1)
This also connects to the fact that most dancers from Misiconi are kinesthetic learners and imagery and visuals support this learning. However, not only in learning, but also in response and reaction to the topic as most of the dancers at Misiconi with additional learning support needs have difficulty expressing themselves orally or in writing.
The collaboration provided an innovative way of looking into dance skills, creative learning, dance vocabulary, giving feedback and reflecting. Professional dance instructions and dance classrooms have not been very inclusive as there might not be a need to use a diverse palette of learning styles and feedback forms. However there are always visual elements involved in dance class. This means that there is potential to insert and take advantage of this element. This research showed us that graphic and visual design enriched the company dancers in their personal development as artists and the understanding of dance training both physically and mentally.
1 Kaufman N, K. A. (2006). Inclusive Creative Movement and Dance. University of Montana.
2 Psico Ballet maite Leon, Northern Ballet, Stichting Misiconi. (2021, 7 juni). Shift Dance. www.shiftdance.eu
3 Reason, M. (2010). Watching Dance, Drawing the Experience and Visual Knowledge. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 46(4), 391–414. https://doi.org/10.1093/fmls/cqq014
4 Sööt, A., & Viskus, E. (2015). Reflection on Teaching: A Way to Learn from Practice. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 191, 1941–1946. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.591
5 Wikipedia. (z.d.). Rudolf von Laban. Geraadpleegd op 15 oktober 2021, https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_von_Laban
Text : Joop Oonk
Design : ST–DUO www.misiconi.nl www.st-duo.com www.shiftdance.eu