Second Skin – dancer’s feedback

Second Skin

As an initiative of Accessible Arts to develop the dance sector through engaging emerging dancers and professional practitioners with and without a disability, people traveled from all over NSW and interstate to take part in this once-off opportunity. Second Skin was a culmination of more than 40 dancer’s work as part of the Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series III.  After just two days working together, the dancers showcased their talents at the Carriageworks in Sydney in an outcome that surpassed many expectations.

Here’s what some of the audience said…

…congratulations for an amazing performance last night. I was so moved by the dancing and the enthusiasm of all involved. It was truly inspiring and heart-warming.

Thank you for all the work that you put in to make it possible. I would be most interested to hear of what next.

What a fabulous turn out on Monday night. Thank you for fitting me in.

It was an excellent evening, you must all be really pleased.

The showing: What a wonderfully co-ordinated team performance with so little time to prepare. The performance was enhanced by the addition of trained dancers to support the group.

I really enjoyed the performance, thank you. We were so proud of Alex and so happy that she got this wonderful opportunity and was in such capable and experienced hands.

Below is some of the dancer’s reflections of this 2-day event.


Please describe your experience of working in a professional environment facilitated by Philip Channells.

Working with Philip was undoubtedly the highlight of Catalyst! Philip is completely focused at all times on the creative process, both as a leader (for myself as a choreographic assistant) and all participants/dancers involved. The detailed de-brief each morning was extremely helpful as an assistant. This let our group understand the direction and vision Philip had for each day. Though this may have changed as the workshop unfolded, his clarity gave us many options to explore with each activity and an understanding of our overall intention. In the morning de-brief, it was also consistently evident of Philips openness to our ideas/
thoughts. Philip was always considered how these could add to his initial ideas. The team work that developed under his guidance was profound and thoroughly enjoyable – I certainly hope to work alongside Philip in the future. Lastly, his general care for all involved, assertive nature and clear communication skills supported a fairly seamless experience for us.
All I can say is “thank you!”

This was a wonderful experience observing how Philip worked with such a large group and experiencing such a high standard of professionalism including the stylists and musician as well.

Philip bought great wit, charm, creativity and discipline to the environment. He took great lengths in first establishing and confirming agreements for the (workshop). How we would work and create together in an inspiring way. Before the final
performance he did a great job of identifying where the energy of the group was and worked at bringing the moral up and ready for the show.

A huge amount was achieved in the short time and the final outcome/ product was really wonderful. The audience enjoyed the show and the performers were inspired too.

The only comment that I have is that I felt that the ‘process’ was a little compromised for the ‘product’ at times, probably because of the pressure to produce something in a really short time in quite challenging conditions!! But I do wonder whether the same successful outcome could have still been achieved without some of the stress, tension and confusion and mini meltdowns that I did see arising on the final day. No easy task that Philip had, but I think with perhaps a little more time and space to workshop and co-create the theme as well as deal with issues as they arose, might have been possible.

The overall feeling was still one of connecting, exploring and soaring at least for me. I particularly liked the story possibilities and layering of voices in the box work and the connection I made with my partner in the Second Skin duet development. I also liked meeting Young Ju and hope to learn more Auslan, it’s an amazing language.

My experience was amazing; I was very honored to work with such talented dancers. Philip was wonderful to work with and I loved how he was so patient and gave everyone a go and I learnt how to dance in a more connected way.

James reported to me that he found it a challenge after the first day, doing what Philip asked him to do. He was uncertain that “Philip was his friend”. By the end of the second day (and a 3-way chat at lunchtime with Philip, James and me as his carer) he felt that Philip “was his friend and cared” and so he was able to obey instructions and feel O.K. This is a constant worry to James: To make sure that people are happy with him and he “drops out” if he feels he has made a mistake in any way and is being reprimanded. He needs the kind of environment where he has to share with others and comply with requests. Philip’s response to James’ “dropping out” was VERY professional and kind and resulted in James feeling that he was a part of the team and that he had succeeded and achieved his goal of dancing in the “showing”.

I’m appreciative of Philip’s professionalism and talent. Thank you Philip and the whole team.

Such a huge group, 40 people!!! It was well managed between Philip and his choreographic assistants. I have worked with Philip before and am familiar with his processes. I was very pleased with how polished the performance outcome was, but I also expected a much from Philip.

Did the workshop meet your expectations?

Most definitely.

Yes! I just wish the workshop could have gone for longer – 3 days would be fantastic to consolidate all the wonderful material we discovered. Having so many fascinating participants’ meant that there was a humungous amount of creativity being explored.
An extra day would have allowed us to really fine tune our movement and clarify our direction. As an integrated dancer and aspiring artist/choreographer in this field, seeing so many participants involved, gives me much hope and inspiration for the future. Though I know I have a long way to go the opportunity to see, experience and learn from all the creativity people with disabilities can bring to the floor, opens my mind to all the possibilities that may unveil in the future. Being involved as a choreographic assistant gave me such an amazing opportunity to continue to develop and build on my skills in integrated dance. Stepping into the role of supporting Philips vision for Second Skin, was wonderful!

Yes I had a great experience of being able to experience the whole process of creating and performing a dance piece in a integrated setting from beginning to end. I learnt a lot about how to work with a mixed group of dancers and how to set up a positive working environment. I saw that more time needs to be allocated for the process when working with special needs.

Absolutely, It was perfect.

It met James’ expectations and it was a valuable and developmental experience for him. He reported to me that he liked the soft movements of the dancing. He’s done a lot of sharp and hard “macho” movements in his limited experience of dancing. He just LOVES the hands to the face, opening the gates and peeping through. He loved “dancing with a girl” (a new experience) and “moving softly together” (quote James).

Expectations were very much exceeded. Catalyst Series II was a lot of fun, it was really great to put the skills developed from Series III and Series II into a show. I feel like it tied everything together really nicely.

Did the workshop deliver new knowledge and or information for you personally? If yes, please specify.

Yes. Observing all the methods Philip used to being out the very best in everyone.

Working with people with disabilities can be extremely raw. I always find the relationships that are developed, are amazingly eye-opening both personally and artistically. A lot of the participants in this workshop with Philip were vocal in their needs and own abilities – watching Philip taking the time to truly respect their voices, explore and discover what is being communicated and then knowing how to guide this in dance, was extremely informative. In this environment I thoroughly enjoy working with the honesty and emotion that can be brought out/communicated then through dance. In being at Catalyst, MY need for clear and empathetic communication was highlighted. I feel that I have fairly sound skills in these areas, but the opportunity to continually fine-tune this all the more is fantastic.

Yes, as I am come from an ‘Improvised’ dance background I found the process of turning improvisation into a patchwork of dance scores really rewarding and to see how rich the material was when sourced directly from the dancers.

I learnt new ways to form a piece of dance like when our group was given a certain topic and ours was tattoos I loved this concept and plan to use it more often and I learnt how to connect more when dancing with a partner.

I wasn’t involved with the workshop itself. However, spending the 3 days in Sydney with James, has opened my eyes to parts of James’ personality that I previously didn’t know. This will help me enormously with future productions of plays and with rehearsals for these performances.

Personally, I think it’s all about the experience. I have done many similar workshops and master classes with similar themes and techniques, but it’s the people involved that contribute to what you leave with and I feel like I left with a lot.

How did you find the structure of the workshop and the devising process?

Efficient and flowing.

I loved the concept of working in groups.

Having the opportunity to be involved on a choreographic level was fantastic!

Knowing the vision of Second Skin from the beginning, allowed me to see how each activity led in to the end result and helped me facilitate my groups’ creative direction. We were given a great amount of time to explore and work with the choreography
created; we could have done this for hours-on-hours if such were available! Though many activities originally discussed were scrapped, the time dedicated to choreographic exploration was highly important for the creation of our concluding

I found it very organised and I liked how we had little breaks in between so we could gather some energy. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing the performance at the end.

Putting together a creative work in a short amount of time is no easy task so I think Philip did an amazing job. In regards to the theme, I think it could have been good to have a short session around the theme of exploring ‘second skin’… I felt more could have been drawn from the dancers. It was great that much of the choreography was sourced from the dancers themselves… so I thought that in the same way it would have been good for more an opportunity to explore what second skin meant to them. I know the poem that was used was sourced from one of the dancers which was great. It was great that there were FOUR assistants who teamed up each with a group of dancers who then were given specific tasks to workshop. This worked really well and was productive I think.

The other thing that was a bit challenging at times for myself and I saw for others too, was the fact that we kept jumping forward and backwards in scenes in addition to shifting between between studios, so it became hard to have to keep re-orientating ourselves in a short time. So keeping things sequential with repetition within the same orientation as much as possible I think would have kept the energy more focused and contained.

Finally just some feedback from the group that I was in. We did notice a gradual decline in moral as more and more of our piece was cut and a slight fear and hesitancy to voice this because of the pressure. We understood that there was a time restraint so didn’t want to be too ‘precious’ but as time went on and it looked like only 10 % of our original group piece was remaining it did become difficult. Fortunately an opportunity to express what we were feeling did come about and so we were able to make it work for everyone…. This made everyone feel a lot better and actually felt more fair and equitable for all and we were very grateful to Philip to being open to us.

How have you benefited from the workshop?

It was such a privilege to take part in Philip Channells’ workshop. I found it personally so empowering and conforming for me that inclusive dance is all I want to facilitate in the future.

Building relationships and learning from dancers, practitioners, facilitators and choreographers alike.
Connecting with other practitioners from all over NSW in this wonderfully beautiful field, is undoubtedly one of the highlights! I now feel there is a network of people around me that support my artistic development, that I can turn to for answers and whom I will be aspiring to work alongside in the future.

Meeting an array of dancers with differing disabilities and recognising how I can best support their needs and lead them towards a work.

Feeling inspired, confident, and all-the-more dedicated (if that could even be possible!) to the development of integrated dance! I adore the opportunities that the dance world is developing and I hope to be at the forefront of its evolution as time goes on. I am quite young in integrated dance – this however means I have SO much to learn and that excited me! Hopefully, it means there is so much more I am yet to give in return. I feel my career in this area has only just begun.

Most certainly yes. I have had experience with moving and dancing with adults with intellectual disabilities but not in actually devising a work. So how this was done from beginning to end and how Philip set up the conditions and procedures to do this was invaluable to me.

I found a bit more confidence in my dancing and I found new ways to create dance that will help me to construct my own dancing.

I am excited about trying to develop the dance scene further in Armidale. I’ve spoken with carers from other Regional locations and realise that we have developed Drama and public performances quite well, but haven’t placed much emphasis on inclusive dance training and movement. It’s all been a bit ad hoc. Now that I see what a professional can do, I hope to rectify this.

I have had a wonderful dance experience and met a lot of really beautiful people. Great networks and great contacts.

Highlights / Additional reflections:

There were so many. I think the final performance was so moving and I loved the strong bond built up over two days.

Working with different people and when we were given a topic (tattoos) and as a group we created and then it was fun to show it to everyone. I found the superman activity quite fun as well.

Working alongside such seasoned practitioners/choreographers.

Working and performing at Carriage Works. The space alone is inspirational!

Working with our stylist Sean, Steve our lighting technician, and Scott for music – brought the performance to life!

The questions and answers at the end. I feel this is abundantly important for the awareness and advocacy of integrated dance. It is wonderful to give those with disabilities a voice in the arts.

The professionalism of Accessible Arts and facilitation/vision of Sarah-Vyne Vassallo. We have a lot to be grateful for in her dedicated work. Thank you.

Apart from all of the points I made above, I think the other great benefit that was achieved from this workshop was the opportunity to bring a variety of dancers , support staff and educators together from many regions in NSW in the one place. This really enabled the establishment of strong connections, networks and mutual support within the Community and will continue to be a valuable resource we can all keep drawing upon.

I really loved how everything came together so seamlessly for or performance of Second Skin. It was great to see familiar faces again.
I feel like I got a bit or star attention, which I’m not at all used to, but it was a nice feeling.

Would you like to comment on, or make any suggestions regarding the organisation of the workshop and future events?

I loved all 3 Catalyst workshops and cant wait for more! Thank you Sarah-Vyne and everybody.

That it should definitely happen again in 2013.

Simply: let me know how I can be involved all the more, as the future unfolds!

Just deep gratitude to Sarah-Vyne for her vision and commitment to make this happen and to all the workshop leaders for their valuable contributions. One suggestion for next time… If the theme for the final performance was set early on… each of the workshops could begin to work with ideas so that there could be more continuity between them…. and could be built upon for the final performance.

I feel that the entire organization was very good. Sarah was always available for information and guidance and if not available at the time of phoning, always phoned back in a very supportive and friendly manner. Thank you, Sarah.

I liked the way the costuming of the “showing” was organized. It was such a simple idea for all to bring and share and it looked great. Thanks costume people.

I liked the idea of people contributing to the workshop, rather than just having things done for them. It’s normal and it’s inclusive.

I liked the idea that people with a disability can work within a time schedule, even all day, like other people and be expected to rise to the occasion. How exciting is that for the dancers to take responsibility and deliver the goods just like everybody else. Well done.


What was it like working with Philip?

I had a great time and learnt lots of things.

Working with Philip Channells was great. Philip had a great idea on what the show should look like. He had the idea and used his practical knowledge to expand the idea. The workshop was well structured.

It was good he(‘s) so funny.

I loved working with Philip. He teaches me a lot. He is kind and nice to me.

What did you learn?


I learnt how to incorporate all of the other practitioners and dancers ideas and movement patterns in a way that makes the show more interesting.

Philip made it very easy for the group to work together and to coordinate all of our ideas or the vision he had for the show.

Dancing – happiness – makes me feel happy and good.

I learnt to dance closer with others. To feel more grown up. Talking to new people.

What was challenging?


The biggest challenge for me was how Philip Channells worked with us. Sometimes when Philip asked a group to do something and then he would ask us to modify it.


Nothing really.

It was different to be touched by a new person through dance. I loved it though, it was just different.

What will you remember the most?

I loved dancing with Ashley.

The thing that I remember most is the message we give to the audience. We did this by using our body and movement in dance. It was a tremendous effort from everyone. They gave us the opportunity to express our ideas into a phenomenal show.

Making new friends – a new way to dance – nice people – lots of nice memories.

My favourite part was the boxes. I was talking with my feet and legs. I liked solo better than group or duet work.


Sarah-Vyne was so pretty. I wish I had more time to hang around Philip.

For me the costuming was a very important addition. I actually again offered up my yellow dress in case Sean wanted to put it on someone like Zahra. But by the end of the first day he had decided it belonged on me. SO I felt like I had kind of earned it. I really had a fabulous time dancing and acting with everyone, I really crave those sorts of experiences.

Dancing with others. The performance. Feeling important.

Would you like to be involved in future workshops?

Yes – I would love to do this again.

I will love to be involved in future workshop.


I would love to come to future workshops. I love to dance with new and old friends. I love having these workshops to come too.

Photo: Hayley Rose Photography  /  Dancers: Julie Geeti Rogers & Chris Bunton