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Notes from a conference

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Two weeks ago, I attended the 32nd Annual Meeting of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) in Limerick, Ireland. It was my first in-person conference in three years – the last event I attended was Holland Dance Festival’s DanceAble while I was 6-months pregnant, and then the UK locked down 3 days after my daughter was born. And as much as virtual events were a gift in enabling us to continue working and connecting with others, unsurprisingly they are no substitute for the real thing!

Prior to attending the conference, I had planned to summarise my resilience presentation with Michelle Dwarika for this month’s blog. But instead, I wanted to write up a few reflections from 4 days of presentations, panels, and movement sessions (not to mention as much catching up and networking as could be squeezed into the breaks!). This is because the nature of the conference has changed remarkably since my first IADMS back in 2008. And since IADMS is arguably the barometer for dance science around the world, this change is wonderful, exciting, and invigorating.

But first, let’s go back a bit. At the 28th Annual Conference in Helsinki, I presented on action research as a promising methodology for dance scientists, and one I had adopted to conduct research on inclusive teaching methods for the ISTD. I remember being a little nervous about the presentation, because it was quite a departure from the kinds of research I had presented before (not to mention I could not be considered in any way an expert on action research – more that I wanted to introduce it to an audience that may not yet be familiar with it). Despite these reservations, it felt important to me, and I was delighted by the response – delegates were interested, inspired, happy to see fresh takes on methods that felt far removed from the traditionally revered positivist approach. I had many passionate discussions with colleagues about the potential for this kind of work, but also received the following question: “Is this still dance science research, or should it be classed more broadly as dance research?”, which led me to wonder more broadly about “what counts” in dance science.

Not long after, I was invited to talk about research methodologies for Dr Gemma Harman's ResDance podcast. The conversation enabled me to further think aloud – or perhaps more accurately, ramble – around my evolving ideas about research methods. I was beginning to question the extent to which various methods reinforce power imbalances between researchers and researched; whether or not participants can, should, and want to be, involved in research design and dissemination; how much we should focus on outcome over process; and how new methodologies fit in the world of dance science. This questioning was interrupted by the pandemic and my move to freelance working, but was completely refreshed two weeks ago in Limerick.

In the 5 years since the Helsinki conference, there have clearly been a great many of us considering similar questions. What felt really exciting about the latest IADMS conference was that these questions were no longer new, or different. We no longer seemed to be having conversations about “what counts”; there was little need to justify “alternative” research methodologies, and less obsession with statistically significant results. Instead there was acceptance of a variety of methods and perspectives, and space for questioning the status quo in terms of both research methodology and dance practice itself. Dr Ashley McGill cautioned against research being done “on” or “to” participants, and against the need to “prove that dance works”. Dr Derrick Brown invited us to think about intersectionality and its importance across the industry. Edel Quin argued for the importance of valid field measures so that data could be collected in the participants’ contexts. We heard panel talks on preparing students for the industry, and the challenges of creating mental health interventions in dance schools. Key notes discussed transitions in dance careers, and the role of parents and guardians in the talent development journey. There were several movement sessions focused on mental health, and dance for health is now a key part of the conference. We heard about pregnancy, parenting, and the menopause in dance. I also was delighted that two of the three winners of the new Hamilton Symposium represented disabled and older adult participant groups, including a wonderful project from Ricarda Tillman on dance for young people with cerebral palsy that explored the holistic benefits of such work.

So, to say that dance science has moved on from traditional quantitative vs qualitative approaches would be an understatement. Of course, these approaches are still an important part of the landscape, but what feels exciting is that there is now space for so much more, and a greater understanding of what new approaches can contribute. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Limerick event also had the largest attendance in the history of the conference (over 600 delegates!) – and it really felt like there was room for everyone. Thank you, IADMS, and thank you to the passionate researchers and practitioners who make the conference what it is. I can’t wait to see where we are in another 5 years.

To see some pictures from the event, have a look at my Instagram page. And if you were hoping this blog would be about resilience, I promise that this will be the focus of next month’s blog!

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