Narrating Spaces

Narrating Spaces

 This work developed  methodology and methods for dance as a way to facilitating the expression of people’s lived-experiences in specific places. This seemed to acknowledge their presence in communities through recognising their bodily experiences.

Untitled: women’s work (Flint, USA), Undercurrents: Flint Water Dances (Flint, USA), Global water Dance Deptford (London, UK)  Movements, Narratives and Meanings: Border Identities (Enniskillen and Belfast, NI), Her Life In Movement: reflections on embodiment as a methodology (book chapter).  Choreographing the Campus at MIT (Cambridge, USA) This work is mapped in the Narrating Spaces web-site 

Untitled: women’s work (2014 – 2015)

Untitled: women’s work (originally called Living Jobs), is an interdisciplinary, multimedia work of scholarly art. While policy conversations about employment are ubiquitous especially during election years and there is a plethora of scholarship on all aspects of labor and, the lived experience of working in all its complexities is difficult to capture. Yet, the immense popularity and staying power of such books as Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day (1974)) and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed: On (not) getting By in America (2001) underscores that there is an audience and need for narratives about particular individual experiences of work — precisely the type of fine grained detail that often gets left out of academic and policy debates but that art can capture.

The research is dance-based exploring  the lived experiences of women living and working in the Flint and Detroit, Michigan area. It is an attempt to take the body seriously when we talk about women’s work.  Living Jobs is both scholarly art and artistic research using narrative inquiry, dance and film as research methodologies.   In it women express what they hope for in a good job and the barriers they encounter in searching for and keeping them.  Specifically we draw out two themes in brining home the lived experience of working: rhythms and relationships and their continual establishment, disruption, negotiation and maintenance. 

This research was commissioned by University of Michigan CEW/NCRW conference on women’s ecomonic security, held May 14 – 16 2014.

Co-sponsors of the conference: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, School of Social Work, Institute for Research on Women and Gender

Link to Untitled: women’s work film of the work and research process. 

Link to Her life in Movement: reflections of embodiment as a methodology Chapter 

Soma centred research project
The soma centred nature of the project addresses the belief that the lived experience is multi-layered, and that experience defies the positivist limitations of a single coherent narrative.

We use the language of dance and image as a methodology in order to address the multi-layered nature of the lived experience, particularly the translation from the original sensation of immediate empiricism that informs participants’ narratives, to the qualification of memories as they are solidified into independent events. It is in this translation of experience to communication that meaning can be locked into written text and in doing so become two-dimensional. From the soma centred approach of the research this is too early in the understanding process. By drawing on movement (dance) and image (film) the research seeks to provide for the somatic. Findings from the research will therefore be presented in the multi-layered format of dance, film and conversation.

‘Events turn into objects, things with a meaning. They may be referred to when they do not exist, and thus be operative among things distant in space and time, through vicarious presence in a new medium.’ (Dewey 1958 p.166)

This interdisciplinary research and presentation process allows for meaning to be operative beyond written text while not loosing meaning in abstract sensation. The nature of the topic “what makes a good job” affects people on levels from ethereal constructs of identification of Self to the physical needs of a hungry body. The arts are used in the research process to accept the challenges of translation of embodied experiences. This is done to acknowledge that the embodied being  is not wedded to a chronological framework for meaning making nor relies on a totalizing discourse in order to communicate memory.  

Methodology: A Narrative inquiry / ethnographic framework using interviews and ethnographic observation to inquiry into ‘what makes a good job?’ Six participants drawn from the Detroit / Flint area will be consulted.

Undercurrents: Flint Water Dances (2016 – 2017)

In January & February 2017 Adesola will held five workshops at Odyssey House with Elder women exploring ideas and stories about water and the Flint water crisis which had been effecting them since 2014. These were documented and aimed to ensure the women in the workshops had a full part on the process of making the water dances. 

In March Adesola worked with dancers from Flint Institue of Music (Dance Department) to devise and rehearse a  12 minute dance work in response to the Odyssey women’s stories. Adesola  worked with the Flint Youth Ballet (FYB) dancers March 24-26 and March 31-April 1.  They were joined by the Odyssey house women to finalise the create of an inter-generational performance-work. FYB provide costuming. The choreography grow out of the stories collected at Odyssey House and the FYB dancers’ response to them and their own experience of the Flint water crisis.  This will be a collaborative work facilitated by choreographer Adesola.  We are hoping for around 10 dancers who are secure enough in their dancing to use it to share the stories.  The resulting work was part of the Festival of Dance May 6 and 7 at the U of M-Flint Theatre as well as part of Global Water Dances June 24 2017.


Concrete -Water-Flesh: Deptford Global Water Dances (2021)

DancingStrong Movement Lab. with Irie! Dance Theatre and The Albany. Collaboration in South London. Across the collaboration we worked with schools and local people to create an interactive sharing of the celebration of caring for water. 

Movement, Narratives and Meaning: Border Identities (2017)

Responding to the electoral mandate the 2016 ‘Brexit’ Referendum and USA election votes appear to have given policy makers, it is important that people in everyday communities have modes to create being heard. Alongside this, the surprise political analysts expressed at the ballot box results betrays the need to give attention to the narratives of individual lived-experiences. This pilot project, Movement, Narratives and Meanings(2), sought to use dance and film to acknowledge that the complexities of people’s lives are beyond what can be expressed in just words.

Dance-based workshops were held with people living in Northern Ireland: in Enniskillen, Fivemiletown and Belfast. I collaborated with London based film maker Anton Califano, Northern Ireland based dance-artists Dylan Quinn and Sheena Kelly and Robbie Breadon and Fi Gilmour of Common Ground NI. The project consisted of film and dance participatory workshops that facilitated members of the local communities in creating choreography around the topic of borders, boundaries and edges. Participants shared their movement-memories through site-specific dance and film, in places meaningful to the memory-narrative. This created little movement vignettes that (re)inhabit places of significance in personal histories. The project started a conversation about Place and Identity. Funding from Middlesex University.

Article about the project Border Identities was published in Animated Spring 2018

The following film is one of versions of the documentation of the project.

Posted by Adesola in Research

PhD: Body, Dance and Environment: An exploration of embodiment and identity. (2011)

by Adesola I. Akinleye

Thesis submitted to Canterbury Christ Church University for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. December 2011 

Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (SPEAR),

Supervisors: Dr. I Wellard, Dr. L Mansfield and Dr. M Weed

This thesis is a dance-based interdisciplinary ethnographic inquiry into the notion of embodiment as a way to understand the lived experience.  Material for the research was collected primarily through case studies in four separate schools in Great Britain. Dance, as an embodied form of communication was used in conjunction with spoken words and art installations as a means of exploring the research questions.
An ethnographic and narrative Inquiry approach was adopted in order to accommodate an ontological perspective that draws on Pragmatism, as well as explore further the notion that we are embodied beings.
The research questions looked at the narratives people presented as a means to understand their bodily experiences as well as the role of the environment in this, particularly in terms of establishing identity and engaging with learning. The research also looked at the extent to which dance reflective practices contributed to the meaningful engagement with bodily experience.
The research found that a multi-layered or three dimensional approach to communication of experience offered modes of meaningful engagement with the notion of embodiment. It also found that skills in engaging with the environment in terms of navigation of time and space resonated with practices within dance. Lastly, the research noted that social structures informed by belief systems outside of the embodied approach, such as dualism, restricted meaningful bodily experiences and encouraged a ‘closed body’. However, dance seemed to offer the possibility of a unique engagement with reflective narrative for identity and engagement with the world around.

 The research questions:
1.    What are the ways that people understand their bodily experiences within a specific environment and what impact does this understanding have on their identity?
2.    How does awareness of the body’s relationship with its environment support learning?
3.    Do reflective body awareness practices within dance provide alternative forms of engaging with environment?
The research questions attempt to articulate the inquiry in terms of the bodily experiences dancers seemed to have when moving, in relationship with more general orientation to awareness of the body as a site of knowledge.
The first question attempts to outline the parameter of the research: that it was about ‘soma experience’, that data would be collected from particular places in order to have a boundary to who was consulted, and that there was an interest in the perception of the person ‘in’ the body through seeing them as being an independent identity affected by their bodily experiences. In chapter (iii) I construct a framework for what is meant by ‘identity’ in the research (figure 3:1) in order to better pin down the notion of Self in the body that this question tackles.
The second question develops the inquiry by looking at the role of the ‘environment’ in the situation of the person who is defined by having an identity with bodily experiences.
There is an assumption in the second question that ‘learning’ is an on-going enquiry across one’s life rather than restricted to the activity of formal education. Following Dewey, ‘learning’ is seen as the result of being alert in the world. In fact any experience is a learning experience but some experiences can be negative so although one learns something in terms of acquiring information they are what Dewey calls ‘mis-educative’ (Dewey 1997a).
The second question also attempts to focus on the notion of gleaning something (learning) from the experience of being alive in an environment. Here again this draws on concepts of embodiment that are looked at in chapter (iii). The phrase ‘support learning’ is less about formal academic learning and more about on-going alertness and response to one’s life in general.
The last question focuses the research on the use of dance as a lens for the inquiry. It also seeks to provide a starting place for the idea that the experience of dancing in a place might differ from the experience of general movement in a place outside dance. (Remembering that dance is defined in the research as a kind of interaction rather than a specific style of movement.)
But there are some assumptions the questions had to make prior to the research beginning. Firstly the words ’bodily’ and ‘body’ inevitably have dualist overtones. This is looked at in chapter (ii) where I suggest that the word ‘embodied’ better articulates the concept of ‘body’ outside dualist frameworks. The use of ’body’ in the questions is to establish a sense of concrete experience in the ‘real’ world.
The term ‘reflective practices within dance’ seeks to address the idea that there is a process of reflective thought in dance, in order to compensate for dualist notions that dance could be entirely muscular direction from the ‘mind’.
The questions revolve around notions that challenge the dualist ‘mind’ & ‘body’ by inquiring about the role of the environment in location of mind / body. The questions also seek to know what the practical experience of others might be.
The research activity was a process of understanding the questions rather than one of answering them.  Dewey saw learning as proposing hypotheses that were then adapted as one’s perception of the question developed into more informed questions. The questions act as tentative hypotheses through the assumptions they make. The process of the research was to explore the questions in order to be able to generate better-informed questions, since to assume one could find an ‘answer’ would be assume one could halt the continuum of experiences, and also step outside of one’s own perception.

Overall the data have raised propositions that developed the research questions on into interesting lines of inquiry that could continue to be explored within a Pragmatist framework using the method of dance and choreography, narrative and ethnography I have used in this research. To summarise these are questions informed by continued looking at:
·      exploration of the quality of embodied experiences and what people value as a high quality embodied experience.
·      whether there is a connection between ‘high quality’ embodied experiences and location of one’s identity through Place.
·      whether there is something to understand about ‘use’ of the environment in the same terms as ‘use’ of the body
·      how dance can inform and support the competencies of transactional awareness and the maturation of embodied individuals (including pedagogical approaches to education of young people) and exploration of the notion of Place.
The research was initiated out of my experience as a dancer that had led me to a soma centred orientation to the lived world. I was interested in exploring the notion of embodiment particularly through its links to environment and identity in order to contextualize my own experiences beyond the dance studio. The research questions enquired into notions of the body, environment and identity using a methodology that drew from dance, with a foundation in Pragmatism.
The research has provided a solid platform from which to develop further inquiry. It has allowed me to create a foundation in the orientation of dance through Pragmatist philosophy. This is a construction of the lived experience that is multi-layered and transactional. Linear constructs for locating the Self are replaced by concepts of spirals, and continuums that co-create; hierarchical relationships between things that appear to be different from each other are replaced with rhzomatic relationships where variety creates richness through multi-layered possibility.
The research has presented an argument that soma experience is central to contextualising one’s lived experience.  Rather than being limited within one’s skin, the lived experience is the interaction of physical body, space, time and reflective action. Avenues into the concept of transaction and a soma centred orientation to the world are sharpened by the use of dance as a kind of methodological approach to soma inquiry.
Making attempts at thinking about lived experience as a transactional process involving a matrix of elements that create and give meaning to each other, offers a context for looking at the quality of our embodied experiences. Part of the acknowledgement of the concept of an embodied existence is a meaningful engagement with physical activity. This is an engagement that is not based on concepts of what the body should look like or how it should perform but about developing agent access to sensitive interactions with all the elements of embodiment.


My thanks to Canterbury Christ Church University for the Award of a Research Degree Scholarship.

Special thanks to the staff and faculty at the Graduate School and to the Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research (SPEAR), especially to my supervisors Dr. I Wellard, Dr. L Mansfield & Dr. M Weed for their support, encouragement and guidance.

I would like to thank all the Respondents and their communities across the four case studies and the numerous people who have talked and danced with to me, sharing their ideas and insights across the three years. Thank you to Clive and Amanda.

Thank you to Angeline, Andy, Barry and the dancers who worked with me on the ethnographic / choreographic exploration. Thank you State of Emergency and Deborah for support.

Thank you to my family especially Justin, Kyi, Olukemi and Pat, my colleagues Alan, Rosemary, Paula, Peter, Avni, Karen and Amiee, my friends Lauren and Jonathan, Bikrama Yoga A2 and my thiyospaye who come together on Pine Ridge each year; with remembrance and gratitude to Grandma Chipps.

Thank you to Olukemi and Sonia for the use of the beautiful art work and Koo and Jaskiran for help with making my drawn diagrams more presentable.

Posted by Adesola in Research

Dance = spatial practices = mind-full-body-environment

This work explores Place-making from the perspective of my choreographic dance practice in conversation with architectural and engineering practices. It continues my interest in narrating/understanding Place through starting with somatic experiences. While also asking how agency can be equitable across the entities that come together in the making of that Place.

Theatrum Mundi Research Fellowship – Phase One (2019 -20)

Choreographing the City: at/as the city limits

Phase One took a starting point from the paper ‘Choreographing the City: Can dance practice inform the engineering of sustainable urban environments?’ (Bingham-Hall & Cosgrave, 2019). Activity and events that the book draws on, involved site visits to architectural and engineering organizations working with city-scale projects, two week-long residency events where I worked with dancers, musicians, engineers and architects to explore and exchange movement ideas, along with seven public events of performances, sharing workshops, and dance/talks. Link to Theatrum Mundi page 

This phase informed the book: Dance, Architecture and Engineering (Dance in Dialogue) Bloomsbury Publishers 2021

Related event at Whitechapel Gallery (June 2019): Learning environments: a discussion 

Alternative, democratic and self-led education models, and the architectural responses associated with them, are the subject of this talk and panel discussion led by architects and academics Aoife Donnelly and Kristin Trommler from Kingston School of Art. Guest speakers include Dr Catherine Burke, Reader in History of Education and Childhood, University of Cambridge, artist Nils Norman, Dr. Adesola Akinleye, dancer and PhD artist-scholar with Middlesex University, and Sol Perez Martinez, PhD researcher at UCL, who will each bring their research and practices around alternative pedagogies and the built environment into the conversation.

Theatrum Mundi Research Fellowship – Phase One (2020-21) 


2020 COVID lock down explorations: 

Choreographing the City at MIT (2020 – 22)

Dr. Adesola Akinleye’s residency at MIT, that is hosted by Professor Gediminas Urbonas and ACT course 4.314/4.315 and supported by CAST.

Aim: to explore how research and creative collaboration between choreographic and spatial practices can help create new techniques, lexicons, and ways of consulting with community around urban design.

The project looks at how choreography (seeing movement as a ‘three-dimensional language’) can contribute to larger discussions across subject areas that engage with movement in space and the Place making that the experience of dance creates. At MIT Akinleye will look at Urban design through the lens of capturing the corporeal and bodily experience of Place as a form of data alongside traditional GIS data. The project explores how the bodily experience and language of dance can add to engineering and architectural lexicons of Place as well as give methods of communication for individuals living in urban communities. Is there a possibility of an emotional GIS / a GIS of cultural and individual memories? Can we see a design as an organic, collaborative entity of people’s experience? What tools do urban designers and engineers have to understand how these spaces would work as movement systems?  What tools do communities have to describe the experience of Being in the Places they live? The project will investigate approaching Urban design through seeing choreographic practice as a language for the somatic experience of being in a Place, the research will offer new ways to conceive of the measure of ‘space’.

Emerging lexicon, these inform next steps of the inquiry: power (to and over), preciseness, improvisation/response/spontaneity, connection/disconnection, growth, resistance, boundary, agency, four-dimensional space, score. About Residency MIT and Research Affiliate profile ACT, MIT

Posted by Adesola in Research

Dance, young people and creative agency

It is vital that artists and scholars share their processes with young people. Currently, I am at the beginning stages of further work with/for young people based on the city and shore explorations of Concrete-Water-FleshThis artistic-scholarship addresses agency and placemaking for young people in public art experiences. It uses dance as a non-verbal mode of express and communication. The research premise, that art-making can be a conduit for community participation and cultural inclusion for young people. This explores agency in identity-making and place-making through young people’s co-curation and co-creation of public art experiences. Including asking:

How do children (particularly those from diasporas that extend beyond their local geography) reclaim museum/gallery spaces and have a voice in the cultural curation of the city/town where they live? How do we support and empower these young people in telling narratives of Self that authentically speak to their twenty-first century circumstance? 

The process of making together is the activity. Previous phases of this work are Light Steps Project and ILA project taking place between 2014 – 2018). These projects resulted in two interactive performance works for young audiences, Light Steps and Found.

Light Steps is a 40-minute music & dance performance aimed at children aged 2-5 years and their families in theatre and Early Years settings.  Light Steps centers on Alex, an endearing rag doll, woken by the morning light to explore a day punctuated by points of light as the sun travels across the sky. Alex’s journey is overseen by three friends (two dancers and a musician) whose movement, music and dance mirror Alex’s feelings and curiosity as they experience the journey of the sun across the sky.  Beginning with first light, the dance and music (a profoundly beautiful live soundtrack by Jake Alexander) trace the sun’s morning light, followed by something flying by in the midmorning, then a cloud over head in the mid-day sky, the light on the tide coming in in the afternoon, and finally a beautiful sunset, Alex’s day is an adventure in colour, music and dance which children can enjoy and participate in, free to be themselves.

Found is an engaging and lively 40-minute music & dance performance aimed at children aged 4-7 years and their families in theatre and educational settings.  With live music and an invitation to audiences to play and participate, Found looks at what connects us to each other and our surroundings drawing on stories of discovery, exploration and travel.  A drift on their own islands the performers bring audiences into a magical world where connections become visible as soundwaves ripple through bodies and lines and angles converge in new journeys and forms.

Inspired by objects selected from local museums, Found was created through residencies with three Primary schools.  The show provides an adventure in colour, line, music and dance which children can enjoy and participate in, and feel free to be themselves.

Light Steps (made during 2014), initially partnered with The Turner Contemporary, Margate and three reception/kindergarten classes of Bromstone Primary School. I worked with the children to facilitate them responding to the Turner’s summer 2014 ‘ exhibit of fine artist, Spencer Finches’ work .  In the co-creation with the Reception classes, this resulted in the professional dance-performance work, Light Steps.  The piece was originally made for three professional dancers and one professional musician. It is an interactive performance work in which young audiences participate at different points across the whole performance. This was then performed to other reception/kindergarten age children (outside the area) across South East 2014- 2015. This phase was support through funding from Middlesex University, University of Michigan: Flint, and Arts Council England. 

Ila project (made during 2016 – 2017) developed this theme of co-creating with children as they respond to exhibits in their local cultural organisations (museums and galleries). Workshops with children age 5 – 10 years were carried out in three geographic locations – London: The London Hospital School with V&A Museum of Childhood, Bristol: Hannah Moore School with Bristol Museums and Galleries, and Flint, USA, Daley Elementary School with Flint Institute of Arts. This project (ILA) led to the making of performance work Found. Found is an interactive performance-work for two professional dancers and a professional musician. This phase was supported through funding from Middlesex University, Pavilion Dance South West, Arts Council England.

In 2018 Light Steps was adapted for younger audiences 0-3 years. This included changing the performance to include only two dancers and one musician. Found and the newer pre-school version of Light Steps were toured across England. This brought the works (and voices of the young people who had co-created them) to young audiences outside of the areas the works were created. Audience feedback sessions were conducted to better understand if these young audiences absorbed the ideas that incited the works. Thus after the performances young people who had not been involved in their creation responded to the work with conversation, drawing and impromptu dancing. This phase was funded by Middlesex University, Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Hopper project (Take Art & China Plate).

The journal article ‘…wind in my hair I feel a part of everywhere…’: creating dance for young audiences narrates emplacement’ published Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices (2019) was written as reflection in the 2018 tour of Light Steps and Found. 

The impact of this work has extended cultural participation and overcome barriers to engagement with dance. This is includes increasing the confidence of arts organisations to engage with very young people as co-creators of public art experiences. Also encouraging programming of dance in non-traditional settings, nurturing collaboration, and catalysing new ways of thinking about dance and young children within schools and early years settings. This included 30 interactive-performances, 20 workshops, in an additional 8 organisations and 10 schools  involved in the first two phases of the project. Over 1600 children attended performances and workshops and 554 adult carer/parents, as well as art centres, museums and galleries.

Artists involved with the making of Light Steps and Found projects:

Choreographer, concept, direction: Adesola Akinleye

Composer and live musician: Jake Alexander

Dancers: Anna-Kay Gayle, Alice Cade, Irisz Galuska, Natalie Lee, Maga Judd, Harry Fulleylove, Adesola Akinleye

Scenography: Shelby Newport, Andy  Hammer, Kat Leung, Kate McStraw


Posted by Adesola in Research