Discussion taking place at dance/museums workshop event, Lincoln, May 2019

The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - why do we dance in museums?

The Blog


Having reviewed the material gathered from our Imagination Museum Consortium (IMC) online sessions on the 5th and 9th July 2020 (more on the aim and content of these sessions here), Katie Green reflects on a few of the themes, key questions and ideas that we started to explore in the following blog posts:

  1. The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - Why do we dance in museums? 
  2. The Imagination Museum Consortium July 2020 - What next for dance in museums? 

THE IMAGINATION MUSEUM Retford 2019  Photo  Roswitha Chesher,  LR  135

The Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 at Bassetlaw Museum; Photo by Roswitha Chesher; Performers Sarah Blanc, Megan Griffiths, Lucy Starkey

Why do we dance in museums?

I was struck by the similarities and differences between the different reasons/motivations participants gave for working with dance in museums in our July IMC events and those captured at our first consortium event in May 2019, which you can read in full here. Here are some notes on just a few of those motivations:

1. “By dancing about history, [we make] it dynamic and relevant – showing that it can be reinvented over generations rather than being a fixed entity” (from May 2019)

    In July 2020, people spoke about dance and story-telling, but this time there was an even greater focus on talking about dance not necessarily helping to tell the stories that have always been told, but reinterpreting museum objects, collections, historical events and figures in new ways. There was discussion about using dance to shift the perpetuation of a particular world view; not “fixing any particular moment in time as being important”, but rather opening up different kinds of interpretation and “unlocking hidden, lesser known stories”. Particularly following recent Black Lives Matter events and in line with work on the decolonisation of museums and questioning of artefacts’/collections’ meanings/full context, this is urgent and necessary.

    Support decolonising collections and the imperial narratives around objects in museum collections that have supported or have been acquired by means of colonial aggression or with the profits of the transatlantic slave trade, must be identified as such, giving clear and explicit information to audiences on the history of the object and its acquisition, and how it came into the possession of the museum, investigating the reasons and deeper context.


    Black Lives Matter Charter for the UK heritage sector

    2. Dance “helps people to feel like the museum is ‘for them’” (from May 2019)

    In July 2020, participants spoke once again about bringing dance into museums/heritage sites (and other non-traditional performance contexts) as a way of making those sites, and dance itself, as accessible as possible to the broadest audience.

    helping people unlock their responses; how they interpret them…helping people to feel less intimidated

    Consortium participant

    July 2020

    Our groups felt that dance could contribute to encouraging visitors to take a risk to engage in something new, which could therefore contribute to building a closer relationship between a venue and its visitors/community. This of course feels pertinent at this time of additional safety measures, which could contribute to making museums feel unfamiliar, perhaps uninviting? 

    We talked about the ways in which dance and movement could be used in museums as a way of opening up possibilities, creating the “right sort of atmosphere” to make museums feel like museums again, feeding people’s curiosity and intrigue, encouraging them to be playful even as they complied with new distancing measures. At a Playful Places webinar earlier in July, Charlotte Smith from Chester Zoo spoke about ways in which they were encouraging playfulness through activities shared with visitors in advance of their visit, as indicated in this resource for example:

    Chester Zoo Playful Adventures

    See activity sheet

    Skipping lane

    Skipping lane at Chester Zoo, taken from Ludicology resource exploring research and experimentation into play at the Zoo

    Also, in a recent news article from the Museums Association, Rebecca Atkinson described some of the playful ways in which museums were using video to welcome back visitors, and prepare them for the changes they should expect to see, as in this video from the Mauritshuis in the Hague, Netherlands.

    3. Following on from this last point, much discussion at our July IMC event explored the potential for dance to model different possibilities for using/behaving in these spaces – what we described in May 2019 as “morphing” a heritage space, or “breaking down preconceptions about the way in which they can be used”

      This can happen through the inevitable contrast between dynamic, living beings with “static objects in space” or “bringing living relationships into the museum alongside the objects/artefacts” which can, for example:

      • make people more aware of the living person who once owned a particular object or occupied a particular place
      • put themselves in the footsteps of that person, trying to think what it felt like for them to live through a particular part of history
      • therefore making them more aware of their own body in relation to the space around them.

      We talked about the capacity for dance to “enhance visitors’ sensory perception” of a museum or site. We speculated about the use of dance and movement as a possible way of rebuilding the trust of visitors whose increased sensitivity to the way in which they were allowed to share spaces with other people they didn’t know could cause anxiety, and make people (particularly vulnerable people for whom the impacts of lockdown are more restrictive and likely to last longer) less likely to try new things.

      how can dance help us get back together after lockdown ends and get people happy to be physically near each other?

      Consortium participant

      July 2020

      Since our meetings, it has been interesting to see some of the early findings about/reflections from visitors as sites are starting to open, e.g. from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), shared by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), as well as ways in which heritage sites such as The Collection Museum, Lincoln, are responding to the needs of more vulnerable communities in how they are structuring their reopening to include 'shielding hours'.

      Please read on here to discover more about the discussion that took place during our Imagination Museum Consortium events in July 2020, focusing on the key questions participants had about what might happen next.

      Katie Green Lincoln 24th May 2019, image   Roswitha Chesher LR 89

      The Imagination Museum Consortium has been formed as part of the Imagination Museum: Mayflower 400 Strategic Touring project, which is supported financially using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England as part of the Strategic Touring programme, Hampshire Cultural Trust, The Box, West Lindsey, Plymouth, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire County and Bassetlaw District Councils, Pavilion Dance South West, the Surf the Wave programme and The Charter Trustees of East Retford and also delivered in partnership with the Pilgrim Roots Regional Partnership, Transported, The Point, Plymouth Dance and Plymouth Culture.

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