Dance and social inclusion: possibilities and challenges: Michael Gard and Doug Risner
Introduction Dance is often romanticised as a mode of existence free of the prosaic restrictions of everyday life. As such, dance artists and educators often talk about dance more as a place to escape to rather than as a vehicle for social inclusion. Despite the enthusiasm of its advocates, dance has not quite generated the rhetoric of mass physical participation in the English-speaking West, a remit that has by and large been cornered by sport. Neither as high-brow art, low-brow sexiness nor in-between fun, dance – unlike sport – is rarely seen as a socially unifying force, accessible by people across social and economic strata. There have been many attempts to popularise various dance forms and draw them into the social mainstream but, in the context of this chapter, these attempts highlight an interesting tension. If the idea of social inclusion is at least partly concerned with drawing those on the excluded margins closer to the cultural centre, attempts to involve more people in dance often stress dance’s power to question, problematise and even splinter mainstream culture. For example, a number of community dance programmes aimed at boys and men in Australia have been conceived as antidotes to what its proponents saw as harmful dominant ideas about masculinity and male embodiment. In other words, in some ways, these dance programmes have sought to shake and fracture the mainstream rather than to grow and draw more people to it. So, if social inclusion is taken to mean fostering cohesion and connections between people who were previously alienated from each other, it is worth remembering that much dance expression seeks to announce, emphasise and in some cases preserve the specificity and difference of particular social (think break dance) and cultural (think folkloric dance) groups.