Shifting the lens
: An exploration into the design and impact of dance and disability interventions

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This research is a critical examination of the intersection between dance, disability and public interventions in the UK, aiming to analyse perceptions of disabled dancers, and how these are created and changed through interventional activity.

    Emerging from a mixed-methods evaluation of UK dance organisation People Dancing’s ’11 Million Reasons to Dance’ (11MRTD) strategic touring project (November 2016 – November 2017), this thesis explores the exhibition of photographs that featured disabled dance artists recreating famous dance scenes from popular films. Not only did this project raise concerns about framing disabled artists within non-disabled ‘norms’, it also prompted questions regarding the effects of photography as a method for transmitting messages about inclusion in dance. Using a grounded theory methodology, this research investigates the concept of ‘impact’ on project participants and audiences, within a framework of interventions, exploring how interventional endeavours can be designed to change perceptions regarding disabled people who dance.

    A core component of how disability is discussed and consequently both experienced and perceived is the use of language. Through investigations of prefix etymology, this thesis considers the use of vocabulary in the design, creation and evaluation of interventions that aim to shift public perceptions. I argue that the use of RE prefixes in the framing and promotion of interventions that involve disabled people is complicated and can lead to the perpetuation of disability stereotypes.

    As a result of the early evaluation of the 11MRTD project, I developed an intervention using zines as a medium of communication between the artist community and wider public audiences. Zines are explored as a tool most often used within marginalised communities to relate and share lived experiences. From evaluation of this intervention I argue that interdisciplinary approaches to public interventions and the way in which these present disabled voices through language and photography work to expand discussions and develop a culture of enquiry that disrupts perceptions. My research, using a mixed-methods approach that involves close examination of how disabled dancers are represented in photographic media, a detailed analysis of how cultural organisations support and promote disability in dance, and my own experiment in intervention design, leads me to conclude that readings and perceptions of disability remain susceptible to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
    Date of AwardFeb 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SponsorsPeople Dancing & Arts and Humanities Research Council
    SupervisorSarah Whatley (Supervisor), Charlotte Waelde (Supervisor) & Kate Marsh (Supervisor)

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