What do dancing with scrabble pieces have to do with social justice? To find out listen to Podcast #26 as Dr. Jones talks with performance artist, teacher, and scholar, Bailey Anderson.
Bailey Anderson is a performance artist, teacher, and scholar who received her MFA in Dance from CU Boulder where she studied disability at the intersection of dance pedagogy, performance, and feminist theories. Her performing career includes work with David Gordon’s Pick up Company, Nicholas Leichter Dance, and Emily Johnson’s Catalyst. Her choreography has been performed nationally and internationally most recently at the Dance in the Age of Forgetfulness Symposium in London, England where she presented her work, “Befriending Forgetting.” She is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of North Carolina Asheville where she is working on a project titled Dancing Avatars: Disability and Dance in a Digital Land.
More about Bailey and her work can be found at: http://www.dis-ruption.com/
Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.
Episode 27 – Dr. Jones talks with performance artist, teacher, and scholar, Bailey Anderson
Dr. Jones: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the social work Conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:25] Well I’m joined today by Bailey Anderson. Bailey you’re from North Carolina right.
Bailey: [00:00:29] That’s correct.Yep at this point that is where I’m living.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:33] And well welcome to Kentucky. I’m so glad that you’re here you’re visiting our campus the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:39] Tell us a little bit about why you’re here so I’m here primarily to do a talk called Disability aesthetics and labor making dances doing social justice brings together disability and dance and thinking about the way it’s those intersect with social justice in dance making practices.
Bailey: [00:00:56] One of my favorite things making dances.
Dr. Jones: [00:00:59] And we’ll really get into that. I want to talk with you a lot about that. I really want to go back. Early on in your life though I’m really curious you’re the first dancer that I’ve had on this podcast and you and I were just talking I just got back from New York City and was able to see some dance there and Jason and I are both musicians and artists and things and I’ve always thought about this idea of using art and the body to make change in the world. I’m really curious from you like early on in your life. When did you sort of realize that this is something you wanted to do?
Bailey: [00:01:38] That’s a great question. Always and never might be my answer. I think I’ve been dancing. I told students I met this morning. I’ve been dancing since I was five. Many many many years. And at the same time I think something most dancers I think wrestlers and maybe artists in general is is this the thing I want to be doing in my life. Is it especially what we go through different turmoil in the world. Is this making a difference in the life you know in people’s lives and lived experiences. That said I would say I definitely feel like in college I made the decision that it had to be a part of my life in some way in that I felt that understanding the world through the body and making meaning through the body was how I resonated with the world and I think a lot of people I met for resonating with the world.
Dr. Jones: [00:02:36] Mm hmm. Well let’s unpack that a little bit because you and I both have heard the term starving artist right and there’s so many people I’m sure you have lots of friends who are just these brilliant artists but can’t find a way to make a living from it. And so for you you have found a way to make a living. You’re a teacher but you’ve also are an artist and I’m curious about how you sort of went down that road and were able to figure those two things out.
Bailey: [00:03:09] I think it’s an ongoing process of figuring it out. I will say the thing that really taught me how to continue making a living is the fact that in college people said you wouldn’t make a living that stereotype builds up the drive to think about alternatives or creative ways that dance can still exist teaching for me was a good fit but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for everybody. And dance. I think also it has to do with renegotiating what we define as being quote success right. So I think sometimes people can get really down on themselves thinking that I’m not successful because I don’t make all of my income from dance. I really don’t think that’s true. I don’t think it’s historically true I don’t think it’s true in the contemporary era. So how what percentage you make from dance and if you’re doing that full time. I don’t think that those are really necessary measures of your worth as an artist or as a person. And I’ve really found that for me I am really skilled when I have some space to be making a dance some space usually doing some administrative work and then some teaching. And that balances really well for me.
Dr. Jones: [00:04:23] talk a little bit about the creative process for you. What did what does that look like.
Bailey: [00:04:30] I love collecting things so I’m collecting poetry I collect readings I read academic texts so specifically I’ll talk about a piece disability aesthetics and I’m thinking about actually forgetfulness to aesthetics. So this piece I did in London was thinking about what the aesthetics of forgetting might look like and for that I researched to Alzheimer’s and dementia in medical journals in popular culture and cultural studies. I went to antique stores and looked at marbles because for me that idea of spilling marbles of things that relate to my past playing with marbles on floors and gathering those things I grab some poetry written by people with dementia. So all of those things sort of come together and I almost imagine my body is like a receptacle and I collect those things and then I notice what gestures come from that. And in that specific piece I was also aware of when I would forget the choreography. So what gestures do I do when I forget something. And those became embedded into the piece. So I think of my creative personally my creative exploration is collecting things siphoning them through my body and then thinking about how those things come out as movements and gestures.
Dr. Jones: [00:05:57] That’s that’s so interesting because it’s kind of this iterative process that you have right. You come across an idea or something that you’re thinking about in you’re. You have a real interest in social justice. You’re not trained as a social worker right.
Bailey: [00:06:14] That’s correct.
Dr. Jones: [00:06:16] tell us about your educational background.
Bailey: [00:06:18] So I’ve studied dance all the way along. I have a undergraduate degree in dance and actually had another degree in history. And then in graduate school I studied dance and in graduate school I had kind of known I wanted to look into disability studies and injury. So I spent a lot of time taking disability studies courses and women and gender studies courses as well. So that kind of intersection felt really true for me as a dancer I had had lots of injuries growing up my family is steeped in kind of disability work I have a mother who’s a therapist so it’s always been there and then the natural kind of evolution felt like oh these people I care about either are excluded within dance practices or dancers get injured a lot and that’s a form of temporary disability so also thinking about whose bodies are here and whose are not.
Dr. Jones: [00:07:14] That’s so interesting. So your mom’s a therapist so she must have instilled early on in your childhood this sense of of emotional connection with others. Tell me a little bit about that.
Bailey: [00:07:29] Yeah I think so. I mean she’s so she’s an art therapist which actually makes even more sense right. I think this connection to others but also recognizing I had some really profound moments in undergrad when I recognized that friends that I cared about I have a friend who has an arm that’s shaped differently than other people’s. I didn’t know how to teach that person that person didn’t look either like other people in my class. My dance classes or my dance even dances that I saw presented. And and that person was really great at being really direct with me about like yeah you don’t know how to teach my body. You need to figure that out. And at the same time there’s an amazing person Matthew Stanford in Minneapolis who is a person who works with people who are paraplegic quadriplegics and does adaptive yoga. And so I was volunteering in that setting and also once again was grappling with you know where are these bodies and why aren’t they in my dance program or if they are you know why haven’t we been paying more attention to what kind of meaning they’re bringing into that.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:44] How have people responded to to you just because this is kind of a specialized thing that you do. Would you agree with that.
Bailey: [00:08:54] Oh yeah absolutely.
Dr. Jones: [00:08:55] So you know when you when you talk about what you do what’s what’s the response from from people in general.
Bailey: [00:09:03] I’d say generally there’s a lot of curiosity. I think disability and people actually write about how disability draws in kind of this intrigue. We’re curious about it. What are the stories that it has and holds. But I will say I feel like my students in particular are craving this especially the disability studies in the way that helps make sense of one’s body disability studies as an academic discipline. It allows and gives space for students to understand themselves not just as a kind of therapeutic discipline but also thinking about how these things critically work in the world. And so it’s lovely to be able to say yes we can talk about depression and dance and we can dance about it but also let’s think really critically about what depression is in our social world what it means when you represent that onstage.
Dr. Jones: [00:10:01] In preparing for this podcast I went back and looked at your MFA. You have a YouTube clip where you’re describing your MFA project and you actually were doing some dancing. Really interesting you had some look like Scrabble tiles on the floor and tell us a little bit about that particular dance.
Bailey: [00:10:23] So that dance the one that you’re talking about I do this piece with Scrabble pieces quite frequently and I’m wearing earrings right now that have Scrabble pieces on them for me Scrabble pieces are this lovely material that I can work with. That is a metaphor for dyslexia or even sort of visual processing differences. So in that piece I search for I push away I gather up I hold the full version I’m trying to hold them in my mouth I spit them out. So working with these words these pieces are fragments of words and hiding and finding and holding and dropping all feel like metaphors for like the way that I and others search for words within the world especially in graduate school a word text heavy space that relationship to words felt really powerful and important.
Dr. Jones: [00:11:36] Well I should have done this at the beginning but I want to go back now and really ask you and this is a very broad question. But who are you. How. How would you describe who you are as a person. What are the adjectives you would use or just the words that you would describe who you are.
Bailey: [00:11:56] Wow that’s a great question. I think it changes I think one of the important things with my work and with how I identify is this idea of the body in flux. So today I think of my movement gestures and myself as very quirky curious. I think of myself as intelligent in a way that allows my body to process things. I am a dancer. I am an artist. And I think that I identify as an academic although some days I wrestle with that term.
Dr. Jones: [00:12:35] me too…ha ha..
Bailey: [00:12:35] And I think that there is this way that I also like to think about myself as an educator but also as an educator who is interested in the ways that hierarchies can be broken down an educational system that’s good.
Dr. Jones: [00:12:53] I want to talk with you about a little bit more about the way that you use your art form to change things. Because I know you’re this is social work conversations and we have a lot of social work students I have a lot of social work students who are quite creative in different art forms and I try to bring some of that into my classroom and really encourage that. And I want them to use that part of themselves as as a therapist or just as a social worker as we are taping this I had an interesting experience happen to me yesterday I went up to a group of veterans out. They were at a place called Camp brown bear out in out in rural Kentucky and they struggle with PTSD and some of them had traumatic brain injuries and other things and I played music for them along with another guy and they were also going to have yoga trauma and informed yoga there. There was gonna be an art therapist that came and worked with them and I and it was so interesting how that experience engaged them in a way that sitting and talking to a therapist in an office never did it. I mean several of them talked with me about that that they were healed by that discussion of music hearing music doing are doing yoga. So could you say a little bit more about how social work and social work students can use that creativity to heal people.
Bailey: [00:14:33] Yeah I’m going to talk a little bit broader and then maybe narrow in so as an art form dance is about representation and a lot of ways one thing that I think is really important to understand about dance is that although it’s about representing ideas and things it also in the act is doing a thing. So if I wave to you on stage I am both representing someone waving and I am literally waving onstage. So there’s something interesting about that intersection that allows us to think really nuanced about. What does it mean for a person with a disability or who identifies that way to be on stage moving in a really large way or in a way that takes up agency because both they are representing that and they are doing that in action. So that bridge for me as a dancer is something really important in seeing those bodies as I want to use the word professional dance not necessarily as always a therapeutic aspect because I think sometimes disabled bodies are seen as always needing to be cured or fixed. And I like to imagine that they can exist all over the place right. They can also be professional artists. So I advocate for both/and in that situation I also would say in rehearsal processes Sometimes I imagine that that’s a space where change can happen. So even if the dance doesn’t necessarily translate for a viewer the rehearsal process that we go through might change a student’s relationship to their own body and maybe therefore allow a change in how they see other people’s bodies. And that’s sort of where I kind of want to lead towards is this idea. Of how these practices can inform how people live. So one kind of one tiny way is is that there is this idea of. Crip time or slow scholarship is another thing that people are talking about these days. So it’s a change in a relationship to time crib time talks about the time that some bodies need to get ready. So it might be longer it might be shorter it might change based on the day how that person’s living. And so as a dancer I can use that in my choreography to think about the speed at which I create the ideas of whose bodies are productive or when my body’s productive but then I can also kind of draw that into my living experiences when I’m working with someone and we’re getting on a bus together and maybe they’re moving slower than I am or I’m working with someone with dementia and it takes a longer time for their brain to find a thing and bring it back. So the artistic practice in the way that I work with ideas artistically transcends to the way that I live my life. I’m practicing living my life and that’s what I hope creates that change. And I also believe awareness is really important to these days as well.
Dr. Jones: [00:17:31] Yeah. Why do you think people stopped dancing. Do you know what. Do you know what I mean by that. You see little kids we use in our house. I have teenage boys now but when they were little we would every Friday we’d have a dance off and I’d turn some music on and they would just get out there and just tear it up and it was so much fun our whole family would do that and then I noticed as they got older in order not and we’re not going to do that anymore I don’t. And you know now is just like mortifying to think that they would move their body in front of something but what is it. What is it that changes in people how do we keep that alive.
Bailey: [00:18:06] So as a as a dance studies person I have to challenge you a bit and say that like we might argue that everything could be seen as dance.
Dr. Jones: [00:18:14] ok.
Bailey: [00:18:14] I mean through a lens the way that we’re moving our hands and nodding her head and also that expands the idea of whose bodies can dance right. Like if I say that like nodding head is dancing. Even if we have a debate about that by claiming it I’m making a statement for a form of inclusion but also on the other side I’ll say that I think that there is a sense of insecurity about what our bodies do and maybe even the unpredictable ness about dance. I tell my students usually on the first or second day especially to a introductory class that it’s going to be awkward and that awkwardness actually is really important for bodies to experience and and whose bodies get to experience comfort is related to privilege. So there’s this really I call it awkward it’s not it’s studies we study and practice being awkward and dance as a way to think about having fun and opening up those spaces but also what discomfort is and how we can be safe and uncomfortable in the same way. And it’s really great when you start to see students like able we do these really specific kind of roles and sometimes we’ll do cartwheels and these things that they haven’t done in years but they can remember doing and having fun doing and watching the class get more and more comfortable being uncomfortable which allows them to have a lot of fun and that and that’s when you can start to also pick apart learning right. I think learning happens best when we’re not feeling unsafe when we’re feeling more comfortable so that. That’s one of the things I think is transformative about anybody taking dance classes that you get to find a way to connect with your body in space with others.
Dr. Jones: [00:20:01] Mm hmm yeah. So there’s kind of a vulnerability to dancing great burden Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about why you’re here at the University of Kentucky. What are you going to be speaking what you’re talking tomorrow with our students. What are you gonna be talking about.
Bailey: [00:20:18] I’ve got a lot of things I’m talking about I’m going to talk a little bit about dance studies about how dance is culture and identity and we’ll talk a little bit and define what disability studies is. It basically kind of a short version is that it defines disability as related to our environment and especially as a dancer I like to really think about how the dance studio and dance space is creating disability or making it may be more tricky for some bodies to navigate that space. From there we’re gonna start talking and we’re going to watch a lot of really darn cool dance clips. That’s one thing I enjoy is being able to show all of these amazing dancers that might be harder to find. You might have to search a little bit harder but once you find them can’t stop watching the dance videos and so then we’re going to talk about some popular culture representations and we’re going to end on some kind of more pragmatic tips. I hesitate to use that word because I’m reading more practices of ways that you could think about in a dance studio but maybe even the things that might translate for the students so social work or whoever ends up showing up to think about how they can use these ideas towards building a socially just society.
Dr. Jones: [00:21:37] That’s great. That’s what social work’s all about I love that yeah. So I want to kind of end up asking you another big question. I’ve asked you a few of those big ones today. You you’ve done great at answering those just looking back on your life’s work. What do you what do you hope people remember about your your time in the academy your time on stage your time on the earth. What do you what do you want people to remember about you and what you’ve done here.
Bailey: [00:22:10] Wow that’s a weighty question.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:11] mmm…ha ha.
Bailey: [00:22:15] I feel like the ways that students I’ve connected with some students and I they’ve talked about changed paradigm and that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten because I think that we’re usually pretty harsh judges of ourselves and their ability to shift that judgment and recognize how judging oneself translates to judging others. So students if we can have a softer approach towards ourselves that that might change the way we relate to others. And I hope that my work changes those perspective too whose bodies are valuable and how that can relate to making their own bodies valuable.
Dr. Jones: [00:22:58] That’s great. So Bailey how would people get in touch with you if you’ve sparked some interest in them. Tell us a little bit about how people would contact you or look or find your work on the Internet.
Bailey: [00:23:09] Yeah. So I have a Web site that’s related to my dance company and it’s called disruption dot com. So dis with a dash ( http://www.dis-ruption.com ) I’m kind of separating out that this and that would be a great way to contact me. I really enjoyed speaking with folks about disability and dance and there are there usually is a Resources page on that website as well so you can look there as well.
Dr. Jones: [00:23:35] Great. And we’ll link to that in our show notes as well. Bailey I want to thank you for coming on today. This has been so interesting and enjoyable talking with you. Good luck and thanks for coming on.
Bailey: [00:23:46] Thank you.
Dr. Jones: [00:23:49] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.
Announcer: [00:24:00] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. Interim Dean Ann Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston with thanks to our Webmaster Jonathan Hagee. Music by Billy McLachlan. To find out more about the UK college social work and this podcast visit http://socialwork.uky.edu/podcast