A Happenstance of Serendipity – Reflections from the C-DaRE PGR Symposium 2021.

by Charlie Ingram, PhD candidate in the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE)

On Monday 7th June 2021, members of the PGR Community at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) came together for the centre’s first ever Postgraduate Research Symposium. The symposium served to create a space where C-DaRE staff, PGRs, PGT’s and researchers external to the Centre for Dance Research across Coventry University could learn about the current PGR’s research ongoing at the centre and to bond as a cohort.

Although only members of C-DaRE attended, in some ways I am thankful as what resulted from this exclusively C-DaRE symposium was a deeply intimate, thoughtful, open, honest, experimental (I could come up with more adjectives) set of sessions that were deeply insightful, moving and overall, fantastic.

The beginning of the day saw PGRs introduce themselves and their research in 3 minutes, similar in nature to the 3-minute thesis competition organised by the Centre for Research Capability and Development. I found it fascinating to discover that the research being carried out at the centre was from such a wide varying breadth of subject matters. Film and Television, Dance Archives, Health and Wellbeing, Hip Hop practice, South Asian Dance practices, Inclusivity in dance, Choreographic practices, Somatic practices, Theatre and Cultural Policy, Dramaturgical practice and even Posthumanism! This vast array of projects reaches far and wide through inter/cross/trans-disciplinary work. This breadth proves how essential Dance, Theatre and the Performing Arts are to reframing what it means to be a modern researcher today.

I could write for hours about the different nuances of each presentation individually, so I won’t, but I would like to pick out moments of notable impact on me, as a theatre arts practitioner working in a Dance Research Centre.

I was struck by Kat Hawkins sense of the body as a round object, opposed to the flat drawings of the body depicted in biology textbooks. I felt incredibly impacted by this concept. Too often do we see society pushing for ‘flatness’ (flat stomachs etc). Allowing myself to accept the roundness of my body was truly impactful on my sense of self, and self-esteem. Thank you, Kat. 

I would also like to mention Jade Ward’s joyous and exciting sharing of Hip Hop practice, guiding us through the framing of your three-fold process of critical praxis including self-reflection, reflective action, and collective reflective action. Truly a great experience.

Thirdly, I wanted to mention the practice that we experienced at the end of the day led by Micia De Wet. Expertly led, we were guided through and invited to pay attention to our psychophysical energy by cultivating a clearer fleshiness of it as an embodied experience. Truly transcendent, I felt myself enter a trance-like state, where I was completely aware of my body and its physiology, whilst as the same time being truly attentive to the world around me. Brilliant.

Some honourable mentions are the joy of the slapstick-adjacent experience of watching Josh Slater fall in his flat hallway. The transcendence of being gobbled by giants in Sarah’s virtual reality spaces. Hypothesising what might happen to dance archives post-pandemic with Erica. The freewriting practices from Lola, who allowed us to let go and write. The swift whistle-stop tour of South Asian Dance with Hiten Mistry, and the ASMR-like experience of hearing Emilie Gallier’s doctoral thesis creak and groan as it moves. Of course, I must mention my own presentation combining headphone verbatim and cultural evaluation practices.

It was a shame not to hear from Lin, who was unable to make it on the day. Her presentation Pandiculation and the (existential-phenomenological) Matrix – ‘the mystery is in the hyphen’ will certainly be enjoyed by us at a later date and time.

I was also grateful that PGRs got the opportunity to air their concerns surrounding the PhD Journey. I feel like this bonded us as collective beings going through this process. We are not alone, we have each other. The concerns/questions raised are all listed here, if you have capacity, I would appreciate contributions to help respond to and answer some of them here: https://padlet.com/ingramc5/3ys094qjbnenvxjc  

At the end of the day, I found myself reflecting on the practices I experienced. I don’t think I have ever encountered so many varying ways to be cognisant of my body. From deep, meaningful, slow reflective practices to more energetic ones, my levels of bodily awareness/attentiveness were tested to the max!

Overall, it was an enjoyable day of truly thoughtful reflections, practices, and presentations. Here are some comments from attendees:

“This was a very nourishing and enriching experience. It was beneficial to learn about everyone’s research topics and to share practices and enter into discussions about topics. Most importantly it was great to connect with one another feel connected through communication and exchange with fellow PGRs, ECRs, researchers and professors from our centre and field.”

“Really awesome day, wholesome, rich and varied!!! DANCE IS IMPORTANT AND SOOO RELEVANT and this symposium made that case… ART and Performing arts MATTER!”

“I found some great parallels to my own interests in some of the research shared such as Lola Maury’s paper. It was very interesting to experience a real range of participatory/listening experiences during the day – from the led somatic experiences to traditional academic paper. I noticed that my attention was best held by those presentations somewhere in the middle, which were informal and anecdotal but also structured. This is useful for me to know!”

“A rich array of topics and presentations in a really supportive and nurturing environment”

Obviously, we would have hoped this event to be hybrid in nature, online for those many miles away from the centre, but also to have the richness that comes from being in person. Let us hope that next time we are out of this restrictive pandemic.

My thanks go to all the speakers for their contributions, Louisa Petts for helping me bring this to fruition and the administrative staff, particularly Olga at C-DaRE and Sarah Whatley, for cultivating such a brilliant research environment.

Until next time!

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Vicki Williams