Thursday, 8 January 2015

4. Practical tips for engaging young people with dance within a museum context

Work with handling collections: there was an excellent handling collection at the British Museum, and at most of the other museums with which I have worked to date (which include replicas and real items). These can sometimes be taken away from museums in Loan Boxes, often for a relatively small hire charge, so they can be used as inspiration for dance workshops in schools where those schools are not able to work on-site at their local museum for whatever reason.

Being able to handle items reintroduces the tactile into an environment that young people can often associate with not getting too close and not touching, and that’s why this handling activity can be so useful in setting the tone for a project aimed at engaging with museum collections in a new way.

Allow time for the young people to familiarise themselves with a particular gallery/series of galleries that will be the focus for the project: for the British Museum ‘Exploring Objects and Sharing Cultures’ project, we spent the full first day doing this, and again it set the tone for the project and excited the young people about what was possible in that space.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Write things down and come back to them, especially if working over a longer period of time (or document in other ways e.g. film, photography, as long as you have obtained the necessary permission of course). It’s a useful resource to come back to as ideas develop, or to use when reflecting about the work at the end of the project. This documentation is even more effective if the young people are involved in it, or take charge of it altogether.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Skills/information-sharing are important when setting up dance activities in museums, particularly when working with individuals that don’t have a great deal of movement experience. It is useful to have an alternative workshop space you can use to try things out away from the gallery. You can use this alternative space to be able to warm up thoroughly, and it’s a place where the young people can test things they aren’t confident about, where they won’t be watched by the members of the public passing through the galleries. It is also a place to talk about shared expectations for behaviour before moving into the gallery space, and to prepare the young people for what to expect when the general public is sharing the same space as them. I usually introduce an attention signal as well so that the young people know what to listen out for when they’re spread out around the space and I need to get their attention.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
I always emphasise what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to move in the museum space in a different way, but I have found that generally young people realise that anyway and are very respectful.

Work closely with museum staff to understand the potential challenges of a space e.g. times when tours might be happening, areas that are out of bounds, any display cases with particularly sensitive alarms

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum
Also, work closely with museum staff to understand the great benefits of working in a particular space, and create opportunities for them to share their knowledge of both challenges and benefits with the young people involved in a project, so the participants feel included and understand what happens behind the scenes at the museum.

As well as preparing the young people for how to behave when sharing the space with the general public, prepare the group leaders to be able to interact with the general public appropriately e.g. make sure there are enough members of staff/support staff for the number of participants; perhaps consider making flyers to hand out with information about the project

Most importantly, having outlined all of the potential challenges and mutual expectations for a project with a group of young people, find the most creative way of working in a space bearing in mind all of the limitations given, so they don’t feel like limitations, but opportunities.

Photo Benedict Johnson, courtesy of the British Museum

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