Podcast Episode: Waterbaby Arts
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
RF - Ruth Foster
MG - Maureen Graham
SG - Sandy Graham
MM On this episode on Iriss.fm we hear about an arts organisation called Waterbaby Arts and we’re going to be hearing from two of the dancers that take part. It’s Maureen Graham and Sandy Graham but first up we’re going to speak to Ruth Foster, Ruth Foster is the tutor of (… unclear) Dance baby.
So, Ruth, can you tell us why did you set up Dirty Feet in the first place?
RF That was just before I started working with Dirty Feet, they were going for about 2 or 3 years before I came along but basically in the disability resource centre they had lots of young vibrant individuals that were looking for some dance experience so we got Candoco dance Company up to do a week long residential programme, I think it was, like an intensive week and then after that they loved it so much that Dirty Feet was born and it became a weekly company and now it’s been going for about 11 or 12 years, I think. There wasn’t any dancing happening in the centre and lots of very energetic individuals that were looking for something to do.
MM And when did you get involved in the company, Sandy?
SG We got involved probably 3 years ago, 4 years ago and we were actually part of another dance group called Awaken, and we decided that we enjoyed doing dance but we wanted to move on to something else so, we went along to meet the people who were in Dirty Feet and then it just sort of progressed from there.
MM So, how many people overall is in your Dirty Feet?
RF I think at the minute we’ve got about 12 or …
RF … or 13.
RF Which is a nice juicy number, it gives you lots of different opportunities, different things that you can try.
SG Lots of laughs.
RF So much nonsense like I can’t explain, I can’t describe.
MM I suppose that when you’re dancing you forget about the element about being disabled and suddenly you come out that box label as it were?
SG Yeah, very much so.
MM Yeah and that’s the way it should be all about, it should be inclusive as well.
SG The thing I’ve found is when you’re actually doing like, shows or compositions, you go along and they see you in the wheelchair and they think, “How can you dance in a wheelchair?” but see once we’ve done it …
SG … they come up to you and go, “That’s fantastic …”
SG “… de didn’t think anybody, you know, a wheelchair could do the things that you make it do.”
MM So, that leads me on to my next question about your classes that you run, tell us about that?
RF So, Dirty Feet is, we’ve always kind of regarded them as the performance company part of Waterbaby Arts, so Waterbaby Arts is a big organisation that does lots of different type of work. Dirty Feet is the, not the oldest but the longest running group that we’ve had and it’s more like they come to training as it were. Quite intensive rehearsals, we’re always making new pieces but some of the other things that we do, is working in care homes, working in nurseries, working in different adult day centres, we do a lot of partnership work. So, we work with Paragon Music, we work with the Castle Project, we work with lots of different organisations like the Beacon Art Centre, RAMH. Sandy and Maureen have both just completed our first ever intensive teacher training programme which is something new that we wanted to try, we were really lucky that Irene, from the disability resource centre went and found some funding for us to have a pilot scheme, just to explore what are our barriers to teaching just now. I think the guys would agree because they’ve been performing for so long, so Sandy and Maureen have dancing for about 11 or 12 years together, were kind of looking for that next phase, “what is it that I feel that is the right thing for me to be doing now?” and because we’ve gathered all this experience over the years, they felt like it was time to give a little something back and so the guys can maybe talk about how they found intense teacher training. It was really, really good but also Sandy’s coming out to the schools with us at the minute, so I will be interested to see how he’s found that experience.
SG Well I’ve actually found going out to the schools, tremendous, especially the people that we work with because up till I came out to Isabel there, I’d never worked with people like that, well when I say like that, you know because they can be quite intense and you’ve got to remain calm.
MM And I suppose does it help your confidence as a performer to work with other people as well?
SG Oh, yes, because you’re getting to know, if you like, the disabilities of other people, it’s not just people in wheelchairs you’re working with, it’s right across the board.
RF I think that’s a really important part of the way that Waterbaby works is that, like you were saying, it’s not about your disability anymore, we just come together and find what works for us so, there’s lots of experimentation and we often make our own art instead of trying to imitate what’s already out there. I think that sets a really good example for the younger children as well to be able to say, “look at everything that I’ve done with my life even though I have got, what other people might regard as a negative situation.” There’s still so much joy, friendship, connection, inspiration, there’s so many amazing things that dancing has given us. I think we, without really realising it, a lot of the time what we do is fighting misconceptions or prejudices about what life with a disability should be like or could be like and we’re really fortunate to be able to build one another up in that way. I think part of the reason why we are so close is because dancing’s a really intimate thing and even though, I’m saying we have loads of fun and we’re full of nonsense, we do make pieces that are about quite serious subjects sometimes when you share experiences that have happened to you in the past, or you share that experience of making a really powerful piece of art together, it does, it moves something in you, we are, we’re really, really close and we’re so fortunate, I always say that, to have one another because so many different services are getting cut now a days and for us to still be here like you know, causing it on a Wednesday afternoon is just amazing. We’ve been through so much together and I’m really excited about that next chapter which is, these guys taking on more teaching responsibilities.
MM So, how could it work in terms of the workshops? Does people come to you and say, “Can Dirty Feet come to my school?” or whatever or do you have to sell yourself to them? In a nice possible way.
RF It can be a bit of both, can’t it?
RF Sometimes, because we’re funded by the Renfrewshire Disability Arts Forum sometimes, they will say, “We’ve got this event coming up, can you make a piece about that?” Or sometimes, the period that we’re in just now, we were left to our own devices which is sometimes good and it’s always good, we were left to our own devices so we decided to make a new piece for children based on the rainforest and that was a big massive challenge because none of us knew anything about the rainforest. I can’t remember where the topic idea came from but I think it was just something we’d never done before, we were worried about the environment and that’s normally what we do when we’re get stressed out about something big in the world, we decide to make a dance about it.
SG We’ve actually tried to make it interactive.
RF Yeah, so we’re involving the audience in an entirely different way and I think that’s just the nature of this work is that we don’t like to stick to those traditional strict boundaries of you’re the audience, so you’re over there and we’re the dancers so, we’re over here, we want to mix it up and have that real connection with the kids as well. I think it allows Dirty Feet to show more of what they’re true personality is and they’ve got so much to give, it felt like the natural thing for us to do to mix it all up so the piece is nearly, nearly ready, nearly finished we’re just kind of polishing and tweaking that and then we’ve been asked to take into 3 different schools and we’ll see what happens after that. It’s quite an organic thing sometimes to just see what works, what doesn’t work but it’s nice to be able to be in charge of making the work that feels important to us as well as then sometimes getting really odd requests, like last year we got asked to perform at the closing party for the Paisley Observatory. So, the theme was space and we literally, I mean if you thought we knew nothing about the rainforest, we knew absolutely nothing about space. What happened in the end was a really beautiful moving piece about love and loss and connection and our place within the wider world and we got to have glittery stars all over our face so that was always an added bonus when you can add that to your performance so, yeah there’s things like that, you get thrown the odd curve ball that we always find a way to work through it and make it something that feels right, right for us.
MM I guess I want to come back to what Sandy was saying a minute ago about, don’t look at their wheelchairs, look at their person and people have got this perception that because that you’re in a wheelchair or because you’re in a walking frame or whatever, you can’t play football, you can’t dance or whatever but we know that’s different that because I’m sure you know a lot of talented people, apart from yourself and your wife that can do a lot of things and people have got this thing saying, “Oh, no you can’t do that because …”
SG We’ve found over the years it’s got better but there’s still a long way to go because there’s still people who still see the chairs, they’ll still see the walking frames. The chairs isn’t the person, the chairs is just a means of getting around.
RF And if I may interject I think what we forget is that the reason the shifts have happened in our community and the wider world is a lot to do with the work that you put in and the work that you make every time you get out on a stage, it’s blowing peoples minds left, right, centre and it’s unfortunate that that’s still the case but I think when it becomes your everyday life, you forget your contribution and that’s a really important thing for me that we don’t lose is that you’ve made such a difference, not just to your own community but to the next generation of artists, that’s really …
SG Like you say, very recently, it was Barrhead …
SG … cos there was a lot of people came back the afternoon we were on stage, we did what we did but some of the kids from Isabel there.
RF So, for the first time ever I think, Isabel Mair School was invited to participate in the East Renfrewshire dance competition, like regional dance competition so, that was a really interesting dynamic cos normally we would perform because we love what we do and we want to share that but competitions are a different thing entirely so it was really interesting I think to be amongst an entirely different crowd but the kids did an amazing job, they absolutely loved it so, it just goes to show you know, you’ve got to try sometimes, sometimes you just have to trust your gut and see and also because it was really important to them to compete with their peers in a local competition, there was no reason why our kids shouldn’t have also been up on that stage.
MM Uh huh.
RF Do you know what I mean, if you look at the entry requirements to be in that competition, we tick every one of those boxes so for our kids to feel represented, to feel seen, to feel like they’re a real part of their community, that was important for them so we had to put our fears aside as the people responsible for them cos there was a chance in a competition that you can get really horrible feedback, like what happens if you don’t get a good mark and you feel, you know that impacts on how you feel about the work, you made something, you were really proud of, just because someone else doesn’t like it. And often we have a lot of that kind of square peg, round hole thing when what we’re doing, works for us and not for others so, again that kind of brings us back to the discussion about making our own art rather than imitating others so, I think we learned a lot of lessons from that.
RF A lot of lessons from that about how wonderful our kids are, not that we didn’t already know that but just like … och, they call me Fretty Betty, there is a reason I get called Fretty Betty at the dancing and I think it is because the things that we’re anxious about, may ever have crossed their minds so you’ve got to take that fearlessness from them.
SG It’s actually good that they’re taking the lead on some of the stuff as well.
RF 100%, 100%.
MM I suppose that’s why everybody loves the arts because, arts is, you can tell a story especially in dance as well and stuff like that, yeah.
SG Not only that but the word arts, it’s a multitude of things.
SG If you said arts to some people, they would think of painting. It’s not just about painting, it’s about anything you want it to be.
MM So you were telling me before you started, you’ve been busy over the year. So, whereabouts have you performed and what’s the feedback been like?
SG When we first joined, we were at the Tramway, when Maureen and I first joined.
RF How was the Tramway for you? Because I remember …
SG Terrifying cos it was the first time we were ever on stage.
RF What about you Maureen?
MG I enjoy what I’m doing.
SG You’re enjoying what you’re doing?
RF I think the Tramway was …
SG (… unclear)
RF It’s really different, the Tramway was like a hard one to do first I think, cos it’s big massive, international stage but again, I think we have just as much right to be there as any other group of performers.
SG And that was really good feedback we got from there cos we were actually crowded; we couldn’t get away that night.
RF So, really important I think for us to share that same stage, share that same space.
SG The Beechwood.
RF The Beechwood, yeah, we do community centres. We did Braehead a couple of times, haven’t we?
RF Which is an experience and a half I think, again when you change that relationship between the audience and the performer cos in Braehead, folks are just in getting their messages, you’re kind of forcing your art on them whether or not they want it, it’s right there for them to consume but we talked a lot about how …
SG Sometimes when people are walking by, they sort of look thinking, “What on earth’s going on here.”
MG Uh huh.
RF Those are perhaps the type of audiences that we do want to reach, is people that haven’t signed up to it, that haven’t agreed to it cos maybe they’re the types of folk that need to see this even more. You never know who you’re going to meet when you’re doing that kind of performance, the knock on effect that that will have, whether it be inspiring somebody who has a similar disability to yourself or inspiring somebody by changing their way of thinking, making them more open and responsive to the next disabled person that they meet. People cry a lot when they come to our shows but in a really good way, I think a lot of our work is really emotive and it’s really emotional and I would hope that that strand continues but it’s nice for us as well when we’re rehearsing together to just have fun and shake it off, shake off all the worries, all the stress of the week, coming together is a real highlight for us I think, for many different reasons.
MM So, what’s your goals and what would you like to achieve before the end of the year? I’m sure you would like to achieve more things and break down barriers and stigma?
SG I think the thing we’re working on at the moment, to go round the schools, that is our first priority is to go round them cos we are getting asked to do more schools and the more we’re rehearsing for it, that everybody can get involved in. Although we say we have fun, we do have fun, but when we’re doing the performances, we’re quite serious, it can be quite terrifying at times.
RF Although there’s a lot of monkeying around, literally, literally monkeying around during this rainforest performance.
MM Aye, I suppose you’ve got to be a bit professional as well.
MM So, good luck and thanks for talking to us.
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