“What if I could feel this free all the time?”: An interview with dance pioneer Dan Daw
Dan Daw is an innovative performer at the forefront of dance and disability both in the UK and Australia. Having started his career in 2002 with Restless Dance Theatre, he has since impressed with a range of performances – including On One Condition by Graham Adey, which received the Adelaide Fringe Best Theatre Award 2017. His newest show, The Dan Daw Show (set for performance at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells at the end of this month) utilises Daw’s experience as a queer, disabled dancer and explores the relationship between Cripness (disability) and kink, resulting in a fascinating new concept. In advance of its opening, Dan Daw has granted The Upcoming an exclusive interview.
What is the concept behind The Dan Daw Show?
Working in collaboration with theatre director Mark Maughan, performer Christopher Owen and as part of a larger creative team, I am looking at my relationship to my Cripness (disability) and to kink, and how power, pride and shame intersect.
A duet, this work is about me finally finding the strength of self to overcome the burden of shame to step into my power. We use the holding device of kink to allow us to talk about the nuances of care, internalised ableism and interdependence, at the same time as celebrating my “messy body” in a way that nothing else can. It is a work about me no longer apologising to take up space. It is a work that acknowledges that we are all messy. At its core, it is fundamentally a work about care, about intimacy, about resilience, about letting go and reclaiming yourself.
How did you first get into dancing?
I grew up in Whyalla, a small city on the edge of the Outback, and I started going along to dance and theatre workshops led by visiting artists from Adelaide. This was when I was about 13.
You were born and raised in South Australia. How did you end up doing dance in the UK?
Through these workshops I connected with Restless Dance Theatre, who I danced with when I moved to Adelaide to study when I was 18. It was there that I met Phillip Channels who introduced me to Adam Benjamin as a way into professional integrated dance practice happening in the UK.
How did your family react when you first told them you wanted to become a dancer?
They worked hard at trying to convince me not to follow a career in the arts. Accountancy and teaching seemed to be what they had in mind. They’ve never been completely sold on the idea, even now. I think they’re hoping I’ll get a “real job” one day (haha!).
Do you think disabled dancers such as yourself are important to inspire others with disabilities to start artistic careers?
Absolutely. It wasn’t until I started seeing non-normative bodies on stage and on screen that I realised it could be an option for me. It’s so important we keep pushing the edges of what non-disabled people decide is possible.
What sort of reactions do you get from your audiences? Has it changed over the years as you have become better known?
We started on The Dan Daw Show journey five years ago, before it was called The Dan Daw Show, by looking at the idea of inspiration porn (a term coined by Australian disability activist Stella Young) and why non-disabled people are inspired by seeing me do what I do. In the past, I’d come off stage and be called things like “brave” and be cried on by audience members. I’m not saying this is wrong, but I wanted to examine this, because I increasingly became aware of the burden I felt in having to be an inspiration to non-disabled people. It’s interesting to see how the work has moved on from that and it is now very much a work that looks at how I inspire myself after a lifetime of feeling the pressure to inspire others.
Thematically, is it challenging in The Dan Daw Show to combine both Cripness (disability) and kink in a single show?
Making a piece of work always has its challenges, but I’d have to say connecting my Cripness to my experience of kink hasn’t been one of them. We’ve realised that, actually, the two are very closely linked. Whenever I’m engaging in kink practices and, indeed, performance, I’m unapologetic in the way I navigate space and inhabit my body. However, finding this freedom is much harder outside of these worlds. This is essentially what this piece is examining: “What if I could feel this free all of the time?”
Are there more exciting projects lined up for you in the near future?
There are always other plates spinning. Over the past year, I’ve been working with StudioThreeSixty developing a project called Reimagined Futures, which is essentially turning into a capital build project looking at improving the architecture of and working culture within arts venues to make them the best they can be. Rather than entering existing buildings and untying the many knots they’ve tied over the years, we’ve decided to start from scratch by designing and building an accessible performance venue of our own.
Thanks a lot for your time!
Photo: Josh Hawkins
The Dan Daw Show is on at the Lilian Bayliss Studio at Sadlers Wells from 30th September until 1st October 2021, and at Dance City, Newcastle on 25th September 2021. For further information or to book visit here.
Watch Dan Daw performing Crush here: