Powys Dance Goes to Culture Shock

Lauren Hussein , project manager for Flying Atoms, tells us about her visit to London for Culture Shock:

After touring to Primary schools in Powys in the Summer term 2016, reaching over 1,000 children and receiving outstanding feedback, Flying Atoms is now in a period of development. We’re thinking, talking and fundraising to bring the show to an even wider audience in 2017. Culture Shock, organised by the British Science Association and Fun Palaces seemed like the perfect place to think further about the science and arts overlap which has led to much of the excitement and learning of Flying Atoms.

It was an inspiring and at times overwhelming day. Following the emotional journey of a culture shock, the day was organised around feelings of honeymoon, anxiety, adjustment and assimilation. With a diverse range of speakers, from psychotherapist Philippa Perry to Actor Daisy Lewis, Professor of Sociology of Education Professor Louise Archer to Scientist and inventor-in-residence Carole Kenrick, I returned to Wales with a head bursting with inspiration and a notebook filled with the same.

With the quantity of information in mind, I’ll put aside the musings and share with you just three of the key tips put forward by the speakers to facilitate exciting, substantial and exciting inter-disciplinary partnerships and projects.

One: Deborah Bull, Assistant Principal at King’s College London, encouraged those moving into new sectors to be honest about what you don’t know, to seek out experts, be open and have a diverse team. With Flying Atoms, we were working with Key Stage 2 curriculum, most of which was accessible to us at Powys Dance. However, when we reached the limits of our understanding or when we needed to confirm the facts we were including in the show, we made sure to reach out to those expert in the field and will continue to do so as the show develops.  

Two: Professor Louise Archer leads a project to enable greater access to STEM subjects. She encouraged those of us working on these type of projects not to work from a “deficit discourse”. For example, Flying Atoms should not arrive in a school with the attitude of ‘you need us to teach you what you do not know’. Instead, Louise said projects should connect with an individual’s existing knowledge and look to extend that. Flying Atoms linked everyday movements and actions to principles of physics. We demonstrated states of matter with tea making, and forces with acrobatics. This approach engages learners with the unusual through the familiar and values their existing knowledge.

Three: Matt Locke, Vice Chair of the British Science Association chaired the day. Rather than an overlap of art and science, he spoke of “adjacent possibles” with “mutual impact”. This really resonated with my belief that cross sector and outreach work is not about diluting either subject but about enriching each. Although the initial aim of Flying Atoms was to enable learners (particularly girls) to be excited by physics through dance, we found that other students (particularly boys) became excited by dance through science. Jess Thom, aka TourettesHero, artist and playworker, said on the issue of adaptation to think carefully about what barriers you want to bring down, but also about what you want to protect.  For the Flying Atoms team, it was important that the science learning was substantial and correct but also that the dance content was beautiful and of a very high quality.

One of the final thoughts from the conference (prior to the group singing!) was from Stella Duffy who encouraged real conversations between the sectors at the start of a process. Often she said, one partner ‘brings in’ the other towards the end; art making science palatable and science making art correct. Early conversations are very much our aim for the next stage of Flying Atoms and to this end, we invite anyone interested in working with us to extend the reach of the show to get in touch.