Community is a diversified collection of individuals navigating their need for belonging, which simultaneously remains essential in its nature and challenging as a process. Therefore, belonging, collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision-making are some of the core values that define a community. Giorgio Agamben affirms in his book The Coming Community (2003 ) that community is the place where we express our belonging in relation to our identities. Richard Sennett in his Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation (2013) suggests that creating and sustaining communities is the only way to avoid harmful conflicts and inequalities triggered by neoliberalism. Moreover, Roberto Esposito in Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community introduces the concepts of “communitas” to reconsider the idea of community as the opposite of the individual (2010) and to focus on the act of belonging to a collective as a process based on giving and receiving. He contrasts this shared commitment with the concept of “immunitas” (immunisation) as a counter process for defending the individual against the total absorption within the communitarian dimension. In our neoliberal and post-Fordist globalised societies, artistic community-based projects are gaining relevance in an attempt to compensate for the dismantling of the welfare state, as much as they counteract pervasive individualism and alienation.
As a result of new social and aesthetic approaches to the arts that occurred during the second part of the 20th century, community making has represented a pivotal turn for artists and institutions. Since then, an increasing number of contemporary dance productions and art projects have addressed urgent social and political issues such as racism, migration, queerness and climate change. These aim to explore the different ways bodies can relate to each other or to nonhuman bodies by trying to imagine and build different forms of communities and political actions. With participation becoming an essential element in the process of contemporary art-making, new dynamics also occurred in the relationship between doing and perceiving. This paradigm shift is represented by the diffusion of artworks (especially in the visual and performing arts) that break the rule of a substantial and clear distinction between the artists as the “absolute” creators or doers, and the audience as merely observers who witness. When artists and performing arts spectators or museum visitors occupy a space together (inside the black box or the white cube) and experience closeness while sharing movement, they are already building new ways of coming together. More specifically, by mobilising kinesthetic empathy, involving embodied cognition and stimulating consciousness, dance, both as a social practice and performing art, activates sensorial memories and promotes new forms of inclusion that offer a variety of examples of what a community can be (Foster 2011).
The label “community dance” refers to the process of belonging and connecting to each other through moving together, which is the outcome of a complex encounter between professional dance artists or educators and different communities of people practising dance as a positive experience irrespective of their physical ability, class status or cultural background (Amans, 2017). Projects developed in the frame of community dance use movement as a tool to tackle marginalisation, inequality, exclusion, to forge social engagement, and last but not least, to treat trauma or other psychological disorders. From a choreographic perspective, communities are places of complex encounters, whose shapes and functions originate in the rehearsal studio as much as in other public spaces. On the one hand, dance artists conceptualise, create and propose artefacts, on the other hand, each product of the artists’ labour potentially meets with specific communities or the entire citizenship. Community-making through the arts has been an empowering experience that is also associated with inclusive practices in dance within the museum. These institutions are also undergoing a profound revision of their identities and missions as they strive to serve diverse communities by stimulating our understanding of the world and its transformations.
In an effort to become more accessible, museums have imagined and created their communities of reference by engaging in educational and leisure activities that, in turn, aim to enhance the cultural and aesthetic experience of the programmed events. By becoming porous and welcoming to different communities, museums preserve and transmit cultural and artistic heritage and act as dynamic institutions where groups of citizens democratically co-exist. Contemporary museums tend to foster and create their communities of reference by recognising that heritage needs to be perceived as part of everyone’s history and legacy. In recent decades, interactions between dance and museums were actively developed, acknowledging a situation of positive co-dependence regarding their communities of reference. Inside museums, dance professionals develop new skills to dialogue with collections of different types of artworks as much as with a museum’s communities.
As an immaterial art, dance also helps to question heritage as something that we need to own and preserve and offers the possibility to experience it as a form of shared memory of many different communities, as well as circulating goods rather than as objects and artefacts. Dancing in museums favours participation and stimulates political intervention because it always involves physical actions and critical thinking for individuals and different communities. Finally, inside museums, visitors can inquire more about their individual and collective identities and deeply connect to the political through the aesthetic experience that increasingly includes the possibility to attend choreographic works or participate in performances understood as political actions. All these social, cultural and aesthetic processes activated by contemporary museums spread their effects far beyond their architectonic dimension. For this reason, dance and dancing as part of museums’ programmes and as a cultural and artistic heritage represent a novel way to experience the notion of community that contemporary society needs to acknowledge and support.
Agamben, Giorgio (2003 ) The Coming Community. Translated by Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Amans, Diane (2017) An Introduction to Community Dance Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Esposito, Roberto (2010) Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Foster, Susan Leigh (2011) Choreographing Empathy. Kinesthesia in Performance. New York: Routledge.
Sennett, Richard (2013) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation. London: Penguin Books.