Dance & Academia

Dance & Academia: Moving the Boundaries is an Oxford-based project I set up in 2007 and ran for 12 years.  The project aims to facilitate dialogue between practitioners, academics in any field, and lay people, who have an interest in any aspect of dance or movement.

Oxford is a city with a rich academic heritage and is also host to a strong community of professional dance practitioners. Dance & Academia aims to be a genuinely interdisciplinary platform where intersections between research and practice in dance can be explored. The group welcomes everyone regardless of background, and intends to be an egalitarian space respecting and exchanging all kinds of different ways of knowing.

Space, Site and Surroundings, 2012; workshop with Struan Leslie Image: Andrew Steele

As part of Dance & Academia, I organised a day-long conference and/or seminar series in Oxford each year 2008-2019, mostly programmed as part of the annual Dancin’ Oxford festival.  Academics and practitioners taking part have come from a wide variety of academic fields and artistic disciplines. Many are based in or near Oxford, and have represented institutions in Oxford and also further afield. Speakers have come from academic backgrounds including anthropology, literature, classics, psychology, human geography, music and dance, and with practitioner backgrounds including contemporary dance, physical theatre, intergenerational practice, Kathak, ballet, Skinner release, Bharata Natyam, music, architecture, and the visual arts.

Past events and speakers, 2008-2019

2008  – three individual seminars

Fiona Macintosh (University of Oxford, Archive for the Performance of Greek and Roman Drama) and Sarah Whatley (Professor in Dance and Director of the Applied Research Centre for Media Arts and Performance at Coventry University)

‘Dance and the Archive’

Cecilia Macfarlane (independent dance artist and and senior lecturer in Arts and the Community and in Dance at Coventry University) and Caroline Potter (Departmental Lecturer in Medical Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Deputy Director of the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity )

‘Learning to Feel’

Susie Crow (independent ballet choreographer and teacher) and Emily Lim (theatre director/Classics Faculty, University of Oxford)

‘Dance and the Narrative’

2009 – Conference Day ‘The Body’

Zoe Norridge (English Faculty, Oxford University.)

‘Multicultural Bodies in Conversation: Guillem and Khan’s Sacred Monsters

Ruth Pethybridge (Independent Dance Artist)

‘Governing Bodies: Community Dance Values in Capitalist Society’

Fiona Macintosh (Archive for the Performance of Greek and Roman Drama, Classics Faculty, Oxford University) and Struan Leslie (Head of Movement, Royal Shakespeare Company)

‘Collective Bodies: Modern Incarnations of the Ancient Chorus’

Thomas J M Wilson (Independent Dance & Theatre artist and lecturer) ‘The Body as Script’

Kathleen Riley (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics at Oxford University and Junior Research Fellow of Corpus Christi College)

‘The Body Poetic: Pylades, Fred Astaire and Edward Petherbridge’

Susie Crow (Independent Dance Artist) and Jennifer Jackson (Lecturer in dance studies at Surrey University)

‘Beyond the Ballet Body: the Education of Physical, Intellectual and Emotional Bodies in the Making of the Dancer’

Cecilia Macfarlane (Independent Dance Artist) ‘The Body and the Landscape’

Sarah Whatley (Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University) ‘Digital Technologies and the Reinvention of the Dancing Body’

2010 – three individual seminars

Jennifer Jackson (Lecturer in Dance Studies, Surrey University)

Tom Armstrong (Composer and Lecturer in Music, Surrey University)

Malcolm Atkins (Musician, Oxford Brookes University/Open University)

Robin Kirkpatrick (Professor of Italian and English Literature, Cambridge University)

All on Collaboration and Improvisation

Fiona Macintosh (Classics Faculty, Oxford University) and Anuradha Chaturvedi (Kathak dance artist) on ‘Contemporary Interpretations of the Classical’

Bonnie Kemske (sculptor and dance practitioner) ‘Dance, Movement, and Community: object, dancer, and audience interaction’ and Ella Clocksin (visual artist): ‘Connective tissue?  How does physical touch and movement relate to being metaphorically or emotionally touched or moved?’

2011 – three seminars and conference day ‘Dance in Body, Dance in Mind’

Sue Ash (History Faculty, Oxford Brookes University) ‘Fit’ women: aesthetic movement or eugenic exercise in the private gardens and public parks of early twentieth century Britain?

Catherine Charlwood (MA, Cambridge) ‘Agony nearest Delight’: When and where dance allows us to hurt beautifully

Christopher Engdahl (Falmouth University) Choreographic Authorship and Digital Media

(Talk and interactive session)

Sarah Whatley (Coventry University) Watching Live and Virtual dance: negotiating the relationship between embodiment and technology

Vicky Fisher (dance lecturer and practitioner) Dance Imagery: the Influence of the Mind on the Body (interactive session)

Conference Day:

Karen Wood (PhD, University of Manchester/Watching Dance), Dee Reynolds (Professor of French, University of Manchester) and Rosie Kay (choreographer) (Watching Dance Project) ‘Performer-Spectator Relations in Dance’

Adriana Pegorer (tango/contemporary practitioner) “Close your eyes… and dance!” (interactive session)

Gill Williams (PhD, Coventry) ‘Dance and Disability: Moving the Boundaries’

Ruth Pethybridge (PhD, Falmouth)Relating to Age: Performances of singularity in cross-generational dance practice’

Debbie Lee Anthony (Lecturer in dance, University of Winchester) ‘On Middle Ground’ (Performance) / ‘Sharing the dance through the lived body’ (talk)

2012 – Conference day ‘Moving through Space – Exploring Dance, Site and Surroundings’

Struan Leslie (Head of Movement, RSC and independent pracitioner) ‘The Sensitised Body’ (workshop)

Clive Albert (Malcolm Fraser Architects) ‘The Architecture of Dance’

Derek McCormack (Faculty of Geography, Oxford University) ‘On Geography and Dance’

Fabrice Guillot (Artistic Director, Co Retouramont) ‘What does ‘to live in’ mean?’

Rita Marcalo (Artistic Director, Instant Dissidence) ‘Choreographing the Audience: Mobile Technology, Choreography and Urban Territories’

Lesley Cotton (Architect and Landscape Designer) ‘”Touch the Earth”’ (talk and interactive walk)

2013 – Conference day ‘Dance, Body, Identity’

Karin Eli, Caroline Potter, Stanley Ulijaszek (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropoloy, Oxford University), Rosie Kay (Independent Dance Artist and Choreographer)Moving from the Inside: dance in anthropology’ (workshop, talk and discussion)

Rachel Gildea  (University of Surrey) ‘Dancing to Revolt: Women performing the grotesque in 1970s Britain’                             

Luke Pell (Independent artist) ‘Thresholds of Understandings’ (facilitated discussion)


2014 – Interactive seminar ‘Dance Discourse’


Hamish Macpherson (Independent Artist and Choreographer)

Alan Beattie (Creative Writing and English Department, University of Lancaster)

Lizzie Le Quesne (Independent Artist and Skinner Release Practitioner)

‘How do we approach meaning in text and movement?’

2015 – Conference day ‘Science and Dance – Finding Commonalities’

Bronwyn Tarr (University of Oxford, Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group)

Subathra Subramaniam (Artistic Director of Sadhana Dance)

Nicky Clayton (Professor of Comparative Cognition, University of Cambridge) and Clive Wilkins (Artist, writer and performer)

Panel members: Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (Associate Professor of Modern Drama, University of Oxford) and Morten Kringelbach (Professor of Neuroscience, Aarhus University and Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University)

2017-2019 – What is Dance without an Audience? Four seminars and workshop 

Chloe Middleton-Metcalfe (Roehampton) ‘When non-dancers dance: considerations of audience and performer in contemporary British community-dance events.’

Susie Crow and Maggie Watson ‘Looking in and looking out: ballet performance from the perspectives of the viewer and the doer’

Nicky Clayton (Cambridge University) and Clive Wilkins ‘What is dance without an audience? An investigation beyond language and the complexity of our social interaction to explore wordless thoughts~ to include demonstrations of tango and magic.’

Cathy Seago and Lizzie Sykes: A Somatic Lens

We are exploring the nature, impact and materiality of the ‘screen’ and the ‘lens’, questioning the spectator’s role and impact on the work at different stages – be they live, mobile, choice-making, unsuspecting, distanced, imagined, and/or literate in particular codes.  

Lise Smith: The Critic as Audience Member: reflecting on the role of the reviewer

How does a critic’s place in the audience reflect and impact in their experience of a performance? How do they speak for, to and on behalf of the watching audience?


Debbie Fionn Barr with Vidya Thirunarayan: Individualising Cultural Knowledge in Clay Body Sites (workshop)

In this interactive presentation and discussion, choreographer and researcher Debbie Fionn Barr explores the practices of Bharata Natyam dance artist and potter Vidya Thirunarayan, questioning how this Diaspora artist has negotiated dislocation from the cultural, religious, historic and social moorings that support her Bharata Natyam form and practice.  Furthermore, she investigates the ways Vidya reclaims specificity of her migrated classical practice through clay and dance.