Dance Tapes

Exploring dance as an accessible audio experience


Our Projects Manager, James Greenhalgh, introduces our new sound-based digital dance production in collaboration with six disabled dance artists, supported by Pavilion Dance South West, Arts Council England, Farnham Maltings, Canada Council for the Arts and British Council.

Listen to an audio version of this blog read by Lily...

Over the last year Stopgap started to explore alternative ways in which dance could be made and presented, while also wanting to centre intersectionality and cultural exchange between disabled dancers. We supported pairings of artists to work collaboratively online, and this resulted in the development of sound-based digital dance productions which we call Dance Tapes. This is a project with audio description as a creatively driven artform, voiced by the artist themselves, inviting audiences into a disability culture experience with dance which experiments with what the form can offer. The concept and the creation process was designed and developed in response to Covid-19, as a central issue during the pandemic was how disabled and inclusive creatives could continue to make dance works while socially isolating.

Image Description: Shyne Phiri, a slender dark-skinned black man wearing black over-ear headphones stands front-on and gazes directly into the camera with enquiring dark brown eyes. Shyne’s long thin black dreads hang loose framing his face and falling onto a light blue jumper and t-shirt, he has a short black beard speckled with grey. Blurred in the background behind is tropical floral wallpaper.

Dance Tapes involves six disabled dance artists from different backgrounds, each creating solo dances and facilitated by our Artistic Director Lucy Bennett. These will be presented as immersive audio pieces, combining spoken word, sound recording and music. These descriptive narratives, spoken by the dancers, audio describe their movement and physicality as they perform, and voice their unique self-felt experiences of being disabled individuals and professional dance artists. This is accompanied by composed soundscapes from musicians Hannah Miller and Oliver Austin of the art rock band Moulettes.

The artists each bring distinctive and different cultural perspectives to the project, and we hope Dance Tapes will help listeners to become immersed in the cross-cultural perspectives of the artists, as the choreographies of speech and sound draw upon their lived experiences and their heritage of Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan and Zimbabwe. Each of these pieces will be collated into an album of multi-cultural disabled experiences, and alongside these audio choreographies audiences will be able to access artistic transcripts to accompany them. Dance Tapes is a way of presenting dance that invites audiences to engage with the artform in distinctly different ways.

Diversity and inclusivity are the driving force of the process behind this project. Dance Tapes is primarily a dance production created with blind and visually impaired audiences in mind, exploring how dance can be created and presented purely as an audio experience. Dance has always been a visually orientated artform, and we wanted to explore alternative ways in which audio description for dance could appeal to blind and visually impaired people, and also to be a unique way of experiencing dance for non-visually impaired audiences by offering a chance encounter via different sensory experience.

Looking down from above, concentric circles ripple out from a water droplet as it falls on dark black water. Deep blue and hot pink lights reflect and highlight crests and waves of the ripple as it spreads from the centre outwards.

Image Description: Looking down from above, concentric circles ripple out from a water droplet as it falls on dark black water. Deep blue and hot pink lights reflect and highlight crests and waves of the ripple as it spreads from the centre outwards.

Creative transcripts are also available which offer a combination of written sound descriptions and illustrative elements to create a different visual layer to the work, in an attempt to translate sound for the eye. Inspired by the ideas of Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim, in creating these transcripts we consider how captions can interpret and describe the music to try to capture what sounds are made of and how they move. These artistic transcripts are created in collaboration with the six dance artists by our Access Artist Lily Norton, and they will be downloadable alongside the audio-pieces.

I asked Lily if they could explain a little more about our conversations around and explorations of access on this project:

“As an audio describer, the proposal of creating choreography in an audio realm without any visual elements was something I found really exciting. And as an artist who prioritises accessibility I was really keen to ensure that we considered alternate ways of capturing the work for Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent audiences.

As sight and sound are two completely different sensory processes in the brain, attempting to directly translate one into the other isn’t possible and can never truly capture the artistic essence of the work. We however still wanted to support those whose sensory experience doesn’t prioritise sound. Inspired by other artists who’ve developed creative textural interpretations of their audio work, and examples of explorative typography, we created distinct transcripts that expand on the identity of each track.

The transcripts, which notate all spoken text and include descriptions of the sound, support listeners to engage with the audio work – not just Deaf audiences, but those with different levels of audio-processing such as neurodivergent folks.

Creating the transcripts allowed space to explore and expand captions of sound that weren’t confined to gaps between speech, evolving the artistic dialogue between spoken stories and the soundscape. What became interesting was how we chose to describe sound and music, a subjective decision for sure – did we choose to convey the emotional intentions of the sound, did we choose to describe the instruments, pitch, and tempo, did we choose to use metaphor? For the initial two tracks we use a combination of all these – but there’s so much to explore further and develop as we continue the process…”

Image Description: A dark atmospheric shot of Shyne Phiri, a dark-skinned black man who stands side-on to the camera, his face barely lit by soft white light that catches his forehead, cheeks and nose. The green of his t-shirt picked up by light falling on his shoulder.

By asking the audience to use unconventional sensory methods to engage with dance, the project aims to make our artform more accessible, to show fellow dance artists that our artform can be presented in alternative ways and push boundaries for what dance can be. This project also led us to think how our existing works could be translated into sound-only experiences, and we created a series of audio experiences for our outdoor work Frock. The link to these is available at the end of this blog.

We hope that by recording the experiences of dancers who have different physicalities to the traditional dancer, we can remind audiences and mainstream practitioners that there is a much broader spectrum of dancers that are not represented on our stages.

The first two works by artists Kat Ball and Sander Verbeek are available from the button below:

In ‘Boombox’ you can join SAND-R’s ‘audio bubble’ as they guide you through an immersive experience which responds and changes with our energy levels, and Kat’s ‘My Whys’ is an intimate reflection on her relationship with dance and the story of life in a disabled body, going through multiple subjective positions of self to consider what freedom is. The series will be completed later this year and collated into an album of six audio choreography works in total.

The next tapes by Japanese artist Kazuyo Morita and London-based Zimbabwean artist Shyne Phiri will be released in the next two months. Sign up to our newsletter to be notified when they’re available

The following is a link to our Frock audio experiences: