NEWSFLASH 8/3/2023: Bolshee Dancefloor Project’s Listening Project session with Pilot Theatre at York Explore Library on March 9 has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
HAVE you ever felt unsafe on the bus? Or walking to work? Or on a night out? If so, Bolshee invite you to join their Dancefloor Project in York.
The York creative projects community interest company ran a pilot session at Brew York, in Walmgate, as part of York Design Week 2022 last October and is now delivering a series of nights around York in March and April on a “pop-up dancefloor where you make the rules”.
“Take up some space, soak up the vibes, bust a move, pick up a pen and tell us your demands,” say Bolshee creative director Paula Clark, associate director Lizzy Whynes and creative producer Megan Bailey. “When women don’t feel safe in so many spaces, what would make you feel safer on the dancefloor?
“The Dancefloor Project brings people together to explore ways we can make everyone feel safe and reduce sexual harm in public spaces – because everyone deserves to be free to be themselves and bust a move without fear.”
The first night, held at The Crescent community venue last Saturday with Lizzy on the decks, will be followed by a Saturday afternoon session at the StreetLife Hub, Coney Street, on April 1 from 1pm to 3pm, while a night at the University of York is being organised, hopefully in May.
In addition, as part of York International Women’s Week, Bolshee’s Dancefloor Project will be teaming up with York company Pilot Theatre for The Listening Project at York Explore Library and Archive, in Library Square, Museum Street, on March 9 from 5pm to 6.30pm.
Bolshee is running the Dancefloor Project in tandem with York St John University psychology researchers, in association with York St John University Institute for Social Justice, whose community research grant assists the project’s purpose of “creatively and collaboratively exploring prevalence and prevention of sexual harm in public spaces”.
The Dancefloor Project emerged from Megan’s ongoing studies for a Masters in Culture, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the University of Leeds.
“We had a module where I had to come up with a project,” she recalls. Cue her “interactive pop-up dancefloor with a tiny dancefloor that can fit into the back of a van and Perspex walls that people can write on”.
“They can dress up, request a song, have a dance, chat to us, in a project that’s all about looking at sexual harm against women and girls in public spaces,” says Megan, who has designed the dancefloor space with its flashing walls.
“York St John is leading the research part of the project, under Dr Anna Macklin, which is basically an arts-based method of looking at sexual harm and prevention, where everyone can claim the dancefloor as their own, wear what they want, but also talk about these things that disproportionately affect women and girls in public spaces and nightclubs.
“The next step will be build on the research to work with partners to push for change. That’s what missing; everyone knows about the spiking of drinks and women being injected in nightclubs, but no-one knows what to do about it, so as part of my dissertation, I’m looking at embodied knowledge of women working collectively and individually to employ their own strategies.”
Paula says: “Why is it our responsibility as women? That’s why we want to discuss it. When you go on our dancefloor, you are asked: ‘what would you want in this space?’. Like, ‘don’t touch me’; ‘don’t spike me’, but also ‘can we make it brighter?’.
“The suggestions from what’s being written on the walls are coming in from women and from men too. Women are asking, ‘please give us more space’; ‘please don’t sit next to us when there’s loads of space on the bus’.”
Dotted around the dancefloor is a QR code to facilitate participants to write down their own experience, tell their story, that can then be submitted anonymously online to the project researchers.
The Dancefloor Project is methodical in making participants feel at home. “When they come in, we explain what the project is about, and they’re told what will be happening, with no photography allowed,” says Megan.
“Everyone has to consent to enter the space because of it being a research project, so it’s a closed space to anyone who doesn’t agree to provide that consent.”
Bolshee also will provide support on how to report an incident. Paula is a safeguarding lead on the York St John project, and Bolshee work with the York St John All About Respect team, wo train students and the university community to run campaigns on dealing with sexual violence and to signpost the support services that are available.
Among the questions asked most regularly by women relate to how they get home safely from a night out and how do they do so when walking home. “It’s something that tends to be overlooked by men, probably because they don’t experience those problems, but women do,” says Megan.
“That’s why we want to keep the Dancefloor Project open to men, so that they can see what’s being written on the walls, think about they can do, how they can contribute to ultimately make the quality of life better for everyone, not just women.”
In turn, the York St John researchers are exploring the psychology of how to make men be part of the conversation and not be mere bystanders.
Already in place nationwide is the Ask For Angela poster and window sticker scheme in bars, where, if someone feels unsafe, they can say that coded phrase to the bar staff to let them know they need help “getting out of their situation”.
Bolshee CIC would be delighted to partner with other organisations in schemes. “We’ve had a meeting with a chain of bars in Yorkshire, who have approached us and want to talk more,” says Paula.
“We’ve also been talking with The Egalitarian, an organisation at the University of Leeds, under the business strategy offices, where they run data-led training for venue and festival staff.”
Bolshee noted how “no-one was reporting spiking of drinks because there was no formal information about it or what to do when it happened”. In the absence of such protocols, Bolshee can play their part in addressing such problems.
“Our projects are artistic, and we like to do things that are vibrant and make people talk about things,” says Lizzy.
“That’s why we’ll be taking it to both universities in York, as well as the Saturday late-night event at The Crescent and the afternoon pop-up at the StreetLife Hub.
“It’s not just nightclub culture, but safety for everyone, and this is a really good way to talk about it. It could be on the bus, but we’ve chosen a dancefloor because it should be a fun space.”
One collaboration already set in place is Bolshee’s one-off involvement in Pilot Theatre’s Listening Project on March 9, when the Bolshee dancefloor will be used in a workshop for 18 to 25-year-olds. “We’re doing a mash-up, with dancing, and then they’ll talk about what changes they would like to see in their city,” says Lizzy.
Bolshee will be receiving funding from the University of Leeds to expand the Dancefloor Project into Leeds as a result of Meghan winning the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Student Award.
“We’ve also been asked to do regular DJing with the Arctic Piranha team of learning-disabled adults at ARC [the arts centre] at Stockton-on-Tees, putting on safe, accessible, fun club nights once a month with a theme, guest DJs, dancers and singers each time and the chance to send in suggestions for the set list,” says Lizzy.
“Again, this has been all about coming together in a safe environment, where people feel included and accepted.”
In a further contribution to York International Women’s Week, Bolshee CIC will be taking over the Golden Ball Open Mic Night at York’s first community pub in Cromwell Road, Bishophill Senior, tonight (6/3/2023) at 8pm.
“Run by Hannah Hutchinson, it’s a very old pub that’s very supportive of York artists, spoken-word performers and musicians, with lots of creative people meeting there; it’s also inter-generational and it’s our local,” says Paula.
“Every week the pub runs an open-mic night, but usually not that many women perform. We wanted to do something for International Women’s Week last year but we’d only just started, and so now we’re doing it for this year’s festival.
“We’re encouraging all self-identifying women and non-binary people to take the mic, and everyone is welcome to join us for a night of music, spoken word, delicious pints and Bolshee women. It’s coming at a really busy time for us and just something we’re doing for everyone to have fun.
Lizzy adds: “It’s great to be part of International Women’s Week, doing things with people we love, and there’s no need to book to perform. You can just come along and sign up on the night to perform.
“It’s a nice way to celebrate female talent, whether they perform for fun, or professionally, or just want to try it out for the first time.” As a further incentive, there will be a free drink for each performer and a Bolshee badge. Entry is free of charge.
Definitely taking part will be women who attended The Bolshee Women autobiographical Perform Yourself course last October to December, now making their Open Mic debut.
What Paula did next after leaving York Theatre Royal
PAULA Clark has taken on a new full-time post as head of programming at Creative Scene in Kirklees, West Yorkshire.
Based at Brigantia Creative in Dewsbury, this project to “bring arts to the people and make art part of everyday life” commissions and produces arts and cultural activities and events in and around Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike.
All the work is shaped by the people that live there, who become involved as co-commissioners, co-producers and participants.
Creative Scene puts on gigs and shows in pubs and libraries, family-friendly performances in community centres and rugby clubs, film screenings in old mills and outdoor arts events in town centres, parks and at festivals.
At the Brigantia creative meeting and making space, Creative Space hosts creative groups and activities and brings people together for creativity and learning, collaboration and conversations.
Creative Scene is a project of Brigantia Creative, a charitable organisation that supports positive social change through arts and culture.
“Spaces may be plentiful around Kirklees but they’re not always accessible or safe because of being left derelict,” says Paula. “We’re doing a learning research project for Arts Council England to see what works where. Already there’s been a load of involvement in Creative Scene projects going into housing estate communities that might otherwise feel excluded.”
Fellow Bolshee founder Megan Bailey is working for Creative Scene too.