Space to Dance Project: Inventory of dance-suitable spaces in Oxford
Figure 1- Oskar Schlemmer – circa 1920
Space is at the core of the practice of dance, in more senses than one…
In order to be suitable for dance activities, and to ensure that dancers are safe (whether they are professionals or not), spaces need to meet a few requirements. In 2016, One DanceUK and Equity created a Fit To Dance Space Charter outlining these requirements.
So, what makes a space suitable for dance?
Three essential criteria are:
- enough obstruction-free space with a generous ceiling height,
- an appropriately sprung floor, and
- control over heating and ventilation
These are all crucial to safe practice and injury prevention for any dance practitioner (whether professional or not).
Why are such spaces difficult to come by?
The demand for such spaces is always high, yet the offer in Oxford is meagre, due to:
- the high demand for space during highly sought after evening time slots (most spaces are multi-purpose)
- the nature of the spaces, which often fall short of the specifications outlined above
- the prohibitive hire rates in a number of venues, even for low-use time slots
This therefore affects Oxford-based dance artists wanting to create works and to offer opportunities to dance.
It also affects the wider Oxford community wanting to access dance, whether as a participant or as an audience member for locally-produced dance works.
Figure 2- Oskar Schlemmer – 1924 – Figurines in space study for his Triadic Ballet
The Space to Dance Project
Aiming to draw up a clear inventory of spaces that are suitable for dance in Oxford, ODF applied for some financial support from the Oxford City Council’s Culture Fund. Our bid was successful, and so I have now started working on this project: “Space to Dance” (overall, ODF budgeted for 10 full days of work on this project + a results dissemination event).
The aims of the “Space to Dance” project are to:
- establish a much-needed up-to-date detailed inventory of spaces, highlighting those suitable for dance in Oxford, and to share the inventory publicly
- engage venues with a wide range of dance activities and to inform them of the requirements regarding spaces suitable for dance
- forge new partnerships between venues and the Oxford Dance Forum
Start of the project: requirements + database design
During a first phase, carried out in December 2018, I designed a 2-part survey (1) to gather information on what the dance community needs from a list of spaces, and (2) to collect feedback about what better access to space would mean to us as dancers, both professionals and in the community.
Excitingly, the survey received 60 responses in total – of which 37 contributed their thoughts to part 2 of the survey.
I am currently building a database based on the information collected from Part 1. This database will then need filling with the information gathered on each of my visits to the spaces of interest (community centres, church halls, village halls, schools).
Feedback on lack of space and impact on local communitites
In Part 2 of the survey, Oxford-based dancers responded to the following question:
What impact would better access to space have for: – you? – your local community? – the dance community? – dance professionals? – Oxford’s dance culture and economy? [For example: it has been known that professional dance companies touring to Oxford have had to go to Abingdon to find space fit for their off-stage needs (rehearsals, workshops)!]
The thematic axes of the 37 responses can be summarized as follows:
- Oxford, in spite of being a City of Culture, makes astonishingly poor provision for dance
- Health and safety concerns in the existing spaces (which largely fall short of the industry standards) hamper the growth of the local dance economy
- The local dance economy is greatly hindered by the lack of appropriate space. More and better spaces would increase sustainability of dance as an engine in the local culture economy.
- More spaces would allow professionals to create work locally and show it locally, raising the standards and profile of dance in Oxford, and so further attracting more touring companies, and growing audiences for dance.
- Dance is recognized as an activity that enhances health and wellbeing, tackles loneliness issues, and creates links within the local communities (fall prevention, mental health, physical activity, etc). More and better spaces therefore means better provision to keep Oxford constituents healthy, fit, engaged, and creative.
- There is a huge appetite for dance in Oxford, better spaces for dance would increase further the variety of the types of dance, it would allow dance to reach more audiences, and increase the uptake of dance within the community.
These responses are hugely insightful, and will be extremely useful in ODF’s efforts to raise awareness around dance, its safe practice, and its currently underachieved potential due to the scarcity of suitable spaces.
I’m now working on finalizing the database design, and on establishing a schedule for my visits of the spaces.
In parallel, we are also trying to explore other ways in which the space problem might be addressed.
We’re off to a good start – still loads to do though!
Watch this SPACE 😉
member of the ODF steering group and project lead on “Space to Dance”