Guest blog from Joop: About Misiconi Dance Company
Joop writes a blog about the ups and downs of trying to set up her own inclusive dance company and the importance behind it…
Two years ago, I was asked by Stopgap to join their EU project, which became the piece ‘You et Vous’. It was a wonderful experience to spend two years with so many different companies. In the meantime, I graduated and went back to the Netherlands with a backpack full of knowledge and skills.
Integrated or inclusive dance was fairly new for me, however I felt comfortable enough to start something myself. This is because I saw the need for an inclusive or integrated company in the Netherlands. Why do we not have such a thing here, even though we are seen as a very open minded country with a lot of dance culture? Well… Of course there are things happening; workshops, classes and especially theatre companies and within the day care organisations. However, such a high quality and technical scheme for integrated practice is not there; something that would be considered comparable to a “normal” dance company. Determined to change this, two years ago I started Misiconi Dance Company and from there things have started to change slowly; step by step we are gradually growing.
I started training with Mathilde (17), she was my first dancer with a learning disability. We started by making a duet together. From there on, in order for us to train in a free studio and to start earning, I had to set up a project with an organisation that could help me out. I set up a course in an art school called SKVR. The course ’Dansmakers Fits ALL’ was designed for a group with potential. Two classmates of Mathilde joined after we had been promoting it for almost a year and we also had two volunteers joining us. Unfortunately, this was not sustainable because of the money. Together with SKVR we tried to set up a shorter, one-hour class. Unfortunately we didn’t have any new dancers coming to us, so in the end it was just too expensive to continue.
However the parents, the youngsters and myself wanted to continue. From that moment on, we were welcomed to train in Codarts, a dance academy. We opened up our classes for the students. For me this was difficult because I felt so much doubt with continuing this small company I’d created. Whether it was sustainable for me, money-wise as an artist? Or if the dance culture was actually ready for it? During those times, even the small bits of feedback and reactions received from audiences, helped me to push forward and believe that it is important what we do. Maybe not for the high-level dance culture that is present here, or even in the regular dance schools, but it is important for my dancers to continue training at a permanent base.
After training in Codarts, a lot of things changed again. Unfortunately Codarts could no longer give us the space for free anymore. I then had to make the biggest step I’d needed to take so far; I had to rent a studio. We found TangoWorks, which is close to some great cultural places and organisations in Rotterdam. Also it is accessible, or ‘wheelchair proof’ as I like to call it, which is great! It was such a big step because as a freelance dance artist naturally I’m not always financially stable. I am living from my dance practice, and now I have to financially commit to this studio. I also had the fear dancers wouldn’t come any more, for all kinds of reasons.
Now we train at TangoWorks every Saturday from 9:00am - 1:00pm. The morning session is open class and soon we will start Stopgap’s pilot of IRIS; their inclusive dance syllabus. I feel that more and more parents and organisations are starting to recognise the company, and we have more dancers with a real interest in coming to join us. At the moment we have a strong collaboration with Codarts and Holland-Dance. For example, currently we are making a new production with first year students from Codarts, and I personally help coach the second year students on a community art project, where they work with actors with learning disabilities. The ‘Dance Renegades’ project also helps to engage students with professionals in the inclusive dance scene. (Find out more about the Dance Renegades project here)
However, as we grow there is still so much to do. We of course need to become a registered organisation in order to apply for funding. We want to find more partners to work with, to grow and progress in all aspects of our practice. The fact that we do not yet have a dancer working with us who has a physical disability, is something that I really want to address.
Although the company does not yet have an established professional identity or the high quality dance skill one would find in a professional company, I see that there has already been so much change in the company, brought about by our training in a permanent, designated space.