What does a dancer look like? Let’s Talk About Dis by Candoco

This week, Sadler’s Wells is bringing Candoco to their Digital Stage. Let’s Talk About Dis is a piece created in 2014 by visual artist Hetain Patel for Candoco, a contemporary dance company of disabled and non-disabled performers.

Photograph of Candoco company dancers in Let’s Talk About Dis. Photo by Amanda Thomas.

Let’s Talk About Dis is not your typical dance piece. It presents the dancers in a more personal and intimate way, using voice, narration and sign language as part of the performance. Patel invites the audience to consider how we look at and approach disability and surface appearances- why are there things that we shy away from mentioning? Is it okay to say that?! The dancers describe their individuality and differences by comparing their heights, and their level of chickpea consumption, telling stories and talking and singing over one another. Patel plays with the idea of political correctness- what if people said what was really on their mind? “I would have liked that solo”, pronounces one dancer, Megan, towards the end of the piece; “but Tanja got it because she’s disabled”. Joel, who is paralysed from the chest down- not the waist down!- explains why this common misconception is frustrating in a funny way; “If you’re going to be specific about someone’s impairment, you might as well be accurate. It’s like saying that all guys with beards are Muslims…. not that being Muslim is an impairment…”

Photograph of Candoco dancer Joel Brown in Let’s Talk About Dis. Photograph by Amanda Thomas.

This piece challenges ideas about what dance is and what it can be. If the only dance performances you have seen involve a large cast of ballet dancers doing a three-act narrative ballet like Sleeping Beauty, telling a fairytale story with a beginning, middle and end, involving various characters, costumes and sets- this is going to feel very different. Instead, this is a piece that takes the viewer on a journey through ideas and questions, showing in detail a small cast of dancers with different bodies and different personalities, and making the audience a part of this small group experience.

Photograph of Candoco dancers using sign language in Let’s Talk About Dis. Photo by Amanda Thomas.

This piece will raise questions for you throughout. It’s funny- very funny. The playful and intimate atmosphere reassures you that it’s okay to explore these questions and your own feelings and reactions. Do you feel lost when you don’t understand sign language- do you feel guilty about it? Do you feel like you don’t know when you should and shouldn’t mention someone’s disability? Do you feel uncomfortable with the word disability? Do you feel shocked by some of the things that are said? Do you feel like this piece is dance? Does it challenge your idea about what a dancer looks like?

This is the question that I want to think about more in response to this piece. What does a dancer look like? If asked that question, most people would say that a dancer can look like anything- however I’m sure that when it comes down to it, a lot of us have some preconceived ideas that come to mind when we try to picture a dancer. A lot of people would still react with some surprise if someone who is disabled, or overweight, or old, introduced themselves as a dancer. I can tell you that every time I meet someone new and tell them that I’m a dancer, their immediate reaction is to do that eye flick where they quickly look at your body and take it in. As dancers, our body is one means by which we express or communicate things. However something that Let’s Talk About Dis demonstrates is that our ways of communicating, our ideas, and our personalities are even more different and diverse than our bodies. Dancers are taught constantly that the body is our instrument- however that doesn’t mean that our body is the most important thing about us. The point isn’t the body- the point is the dance, and what the dance means or says.

Photograph of Candoco dancer Laura Patay with other cast members in Let’s Talk About Dis. Photo by Amanda Thomas.

I challenge you to share a photo or a video of yourself dancing with the hashtag #whatdoesadancerlooklike – it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional dancer, a student, an amateur dancer, or an occasional participant. It doesn’t matter if you dance on the stage of the Royal Opera House or in your kitchen while you’re waiting for the microwave. Let’s all see the beauty and the fun in using dance and our bodies to communicate and express through movement. You can even take part in the Get Into Dance Workshop with Candoco, which takes you through the company’s style and helps you find that movement in your own body- it’s available on the Sadler’s Wells YouTube channel HERE. Let’s bring that question to the fore and invite everyone to examine their ideas and beliefs about what a dancer looks like. Don’t forget to tag me- I’m @daretodanceblog and you can also tag Sadler’s Wells (@sadlers_wells) and Candoco (@candocodancecompany on Instagram and @candocodance on Twitter).

Photograph of myself dancing at the barre. Photo by Jake Owens.

So what does a dancer look like? I can’t wait to see what everyone has to share! Let’s Talk About Dis is available to stream on demand for free on the Sadler’s Wells website, Facebook page and YouTube channel until 7pm (GMT) on Thursday 3rd December so don’t miss out!

Jessica x

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