Earlier this summer, Arts Intern Brittany Roberts had the pleasure of interviewing professional
dance artist Kimberley Harvey. Kimberley is a freelance performer, choreographer, and teacher, and has been an artist with Candoco Dance Company since 2010, which has involved her working as a teacher and a dancer, including at the London 2012 Paralympic Closing Ceremony.
Firstly, how would you like to introduce yourself? How would you describe your job role and the work that you create?
I'm a dance artist - in my case that means I'm a performer, choreographer and teacher.
I also have my own inclusive contemporary dance company, Subtle Kraft Co. I make work that is centred around relationships in whatever form that occurs, such as between dancers; between performers and audiences; relationship to the space; and your relationship to yourself. Subtle Kraft Co.'s creations predominantly move between live performance and film. I am interested in the different ways that we, as performers, can meet the audience and create opportunities to encounter the work. Additionally, I am the Director of the Youth Dance Programme for Candoco Dance Company.
What are your views on the word "disabled"? Do you feel it's an important term for the "disabled" community to reclaim in order to challenge stigma, or do you see this label as reductive and unhelpful? Is there a term you prefer to use, or do you not feel it's necessary to use any kind of label at all?
I identify as a dance artist that is disabled. Visibility of disabled dancers, choreographers and teachers is really important for the sector in order to continue to broaden perspectives of who can dance and the roles that we may choose to take on within the arts.
How did you come to be involved in dancing? What about it appealed to you in the first place and what motivated you to become a professional dancer?
In 2001, at the age of 12, I happened to go to Candoco Dance Company's first week-long workshop for their youth dance company (Cando2, as it was known then). I absolutely loved it, I felt like I had found where I belonged. From this moment I knew that I wanted to be a contemporary dancer. This was the start of my journey into dance.
Some amazing dance artists and teachers have and continue to inspire and motivate me to do what I do as a professional dancer.
What is dancing to you? What would your definition of dancing be?
Dancing is how we each move through life - an expression of who we are and also, what we could be.
How does dancing make you feel?
Dancing can make me feel many many things. In the best of moments, I feel a sense of elation, like I am suspended in a moment of time.
What do you think are the barriers that stop more people from dancing?
Stereotypes about a type of dance and who it is for/who can do it.
Dance can be unfairly pushed aside in favour of sports and other arts subjects in schools, so often children and young people are limited in terms of access to opportunities.
For young people in particular, embarrassment and low self confidence can definitely be barriers to accessing dance. That is why it is so important that the dance environment is one that feels supportive, nurturing and a place where you are free (and encouraged) to be who you are.
What are the barriers you face, as a dance artist today?
Funding has always been an issue. But now with Covid-19 in full force, the limited provision for independent dance artists and the undeniable financial impact of this on freelance artists is all too apparent.
As a dance artist right now in these times of Covid-19, with social distancing, a severe lack of physical connection with others, limitations on travel etc. I feel my entire artistic practice is being called into question.
Of course, it is important to be curious and always questioning and evolving; but at the same time there are certain aspects of my practice that I know are central to who I am as a dance artist and as Kimberley.
I think there are still some very literal physical barriers in terms of access to buildings and venues; alongside training opportunities with inaccessible application processes, training programmes.
Although huge progress has undoubtedly been made, there are also barriers in terms of the 'place' of a disabled dance artist within the sector - where you will see disabled dance artists performing? As part of what programme? Which companies are employing disabled performers? etc.
What are some of the steps you think the dance industry needs to take in order to tackle exclusion and inaccessibility?
Meaningful and sustained engagement with disabled young people/dancers providing them with the support they need in order to progress with their training/career.
Continue to interrogate dance training programmes - application process, course delivery, assessment criteria.
It is essential for the dance sector as a whole to be willing to grow and evolve. The importance of valuing dance artists for their craft and artistic practice, regardless of how they present. Individuals, venues, institutions, companies need to be challenged (with kindness) in regard to inaccessible/exclusionary practices. We all have a responsibility for how the arts sector moves forward.
The disabled dance artist is often seen as a role model. Role models are really important, but with that comes responsibility. It feels crucial that we acknowledge the breadth of disability within the arts and ensure that it is not only a particular type(s) of disability that is showcased by the dance sector, as this can lead to a narrower perception of what a 'disabled dancer' or a 'disabled dance artist' looks like.
What would you say is the dance work that you're most proud of?
In terms of Subtle Kraft Co.'s work, each one seems to represent a different point in the trajectory of the company, or in some cases the journey and manifestation of an idea, so I value the reminder of how each of those happened.
It's the people I work with and the connections that are made as part of a process that make a project all the more meaningful.
Do you have a favourite dance project that you've worked on? Do you tend to enjoy performing the most or do you prefer devising and choreographing or facilitating community work?
It's impossible to pick a favourite, but there are definitely projects that I remember very fondly and/or that hold a special place in my heart.
I think I will always be a performer first and foremost, but that doesn't mean I value facilitating or devising any less. I feel very fortunate that the poignant memories I have span each of my roles as a dance artist.
When do you feel the most empowered?
When I am fully 'in' whatever I'm doing as a dance artist. When that happens, even if there is some uncertainty in a particular situation, I know that this is where I belong and I feel ready to embrace whatever is required.
Who inspires you?
I feel very lucky that I have friends and colleagues in the arts and dance sector that inspire me on a daily basis.
How has dancing helped you "find your voice" or express the voice that already existed within you? Do you see your body as a different kind of "voice" or tool for communicating?
As a dancer and choreographer I think I am always curious about finding new ways of my body finding its voice. And my body is still figuring some of this out too (and I hope it always will be in some way).
Undoubtedly, my work as a dance artist allows me to 'give a voice' to things that I might otherwise struggle to articulate. As a dance artist I am then interested in exploring how my personal experience relates to the universal human experience as a way of initiating communication and building connections between people.
Do you see dancing as a form of activism, protest, or resistance? If so, what are you protesting when you are dancing or creating dance work?
I am not intentionally protesting when I dance and make work, but I recognise that my presence as a disabled dancer/artist/woman (plus, various other ways that I also identify) is saying something...
I think all of our actions 'say something', because we exist in relation to others and to the world around us.
And to finish off, are there any other thoughts, experiences, or pieces of advice you would like to share?
Do whatever brings you joy!
Empower Her* Voice would like to extend a massive thank you to Kimberley for taking the time to share her story and for writing such beautiful, detailed, and insightful responses.
If you would like to find out more about Kimberley and her work, please follow the links below.