Interview with the Provocative Performance Maker Dan Daw

Dan is an Australian “Crip” (disabled) performance maker living in the UK. He’s funny, charming, smart, sexy, Queer, and into BDSM. Dan’s latest production, The Dan Daw Show, is provocative, sensitive, erotic and humorous. It focuses on the beauty and power of a kink dynamic through Dom and sub play between Dan and collaborator Christopher Owen.

With or without sexuality, this type of dynamic typically relies on care, respect, honesty and emotion; something that is unparalleled outside of an intimate context but is coming through in this moving performance. Through vulnerability, strength and pointed physical expression, Dan’s show forces us to think about our biases and ableism, while providing the aesthetics of power play between two sexy men.  

WINGS had the opportunity to see The Dan Daw Show and ask this talented performer a few questions about his project and his personal story.

You’ve been dancing since you were a teen. How did you get into dancing and how do you describe your dance style for the folks who haven’t seen it before?

“I grew up in South Australia, in a small outback city called Whyalla. My desire to dance was unlocked when Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre came to Whyalla. The company is a contemporary dance company for young artists with and without disabilities, and it opened up a whole world of possibilities for me. The first time I saw them perform was transformative because I saw myself reflected onstage. I was like, ‘Ok, that’s that then, I am going to perform.’ I joined the company in 2002, while already in drama school, and it’s my time at Restless Dance Theater that laid the foundations of my ongoing artistic practice.”

You identify as a Queer Crip. Can you explain this term and how best to use or not use it?  

“Crip is a reclaiming of the word “Cripple” and provides me with the armour and power I need to navigate in an ableist world. Identifying as Crip empowers me because it doesn’t compare my body against the ideal. It frees me up to dance to my own groove. Crip is essentially a queering of disability, and the strength I get from that is immense. In terms of how to use it, it’s simple. Those who do not identify as Crip could say, ‘they identify as Crip’ when they describe me, but they should never say, ‘they are Crip’. There is a difference. The term is a source of empowerment and freedom within the Crip community, which is why it isn’t able to be used carte blanche.”

Language is very powerful. Are there other terms you prefer folks use when speaking about disabled or non-disabled people? And do you have other tips on how to avoid ableist language?  

“When speaking about a disabled person, we must ask that person how they identify. Disability politics is incredibly personal and nuanced and based on people’s lived experiences. We often use ableist language to describe when something is either bad or beyond our comprehension. ‘Oh, that was lame’, ‘How could I be so blind?’, ‘That’s insane/mental/crazy’. Don’t even get me started on the R-word. We rattle off these sayings without having the consciousness of what they actually imply, so it’s key we get better at finding other words to describe how bad things are, without using this ableist language. In our house, we use the word wild instead. You can have that one!”

The Dan Daw Show is a mix of emotions, from horny to scared to empowered. Can you explain the inspiration and the process of creating it? 

“In making this show, we’ve realised that my Cripness and my experiences of kink are very closely linked. During the process, we talked a lot about instances where I’ve been made to feel powerless and it felt important for us to make a work that I, and the creative team, felt empowered by.

Whenever I’m engaging in kink practices or when I’m performing, I’m unapologetic in the way I navigate space and inhabit my body. However, outside of these worlds, finding this freedom is much harder because I’m living in a world that isn’t designed with my disabled body in mind. This is essentially what this piece examines, the question ‘what if I could feel this free all of the time?’

The Dan Daw Show is a duet – performed with my awesome collaborator Christopher Owen – about me finally finding the strength of self to overcome the burden of shame to step into my power. We use the holding device of kink which allows us to talk about the nuances of care, internalised ableism, and interdependence, while at the same time it celebrates my “messy body” in a way that nothing else can. It is a work about me no longer being apologetic to take up space. It is a work that acknowledges that “mess” needs to be celebrated.

In the performance, I celebrate my newfound sense of self by being dominated, on my own terms, throughout a play session. By doing this publicly, I’m finally able to own my body in a way I never have before.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling shame about my body and feeling shame about what I’m into when it comes to fucking and playing. So we needed to make a piece that acknowledges the never-ending work of what it means to achieve, through interdependence, the feeling of freedom in a world that places no value on Queer, Crip bodies.”

I love the power play between the Dom and sub within the performance, you and Chris moving together. You express the nuances of this practice and relationship dynamic, highlighting both its nurturing and interdependent components. What is the significance of this theme for the show and your life? 

“I guess you could say I’m dipping my toe back into the murky depths of the kink scene after taking time away. I stepped away because I lost sight of who I was and I struggled a lot with owning my body in club spaces. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going out, dancing and fucking, and I have every intention to get back in that pool, but these were often spaces where physical access wasn’t (and still isn’t) a priority. So I didn’t see myself represented and it felt like I didn’t belong. There is still a lot of work to be done; if you’re reading this and you are involved in running a club, you should be making your club spaces as accessible as they possibly can be. I’d love to hear from you, let’s chat!

It turns out that this show has been incredibly significant in my kink journey because it was a vehicle to create the ideal Dom/sub relationship. A relationship I think I’ve always wanted for myself, but never quite had the courage, sense of self, or even the know-how, to go out and get. Until now. I’ve finally reached the point where I love my body and where I do feel sexy, and because of this, I feel ready to start exploring a relationship with a Dom for real. As I think about the exciting potential of this, it’s comforting to clock the pride outweighing the shame. This comfort is a very new sensation.”

You did some control play with the rubber vacuum cube in this show, where you remained on your knees for some time. Do you enjoy other BDSM practices as well?

“I do enjoy other kink practices. I’ve never been the kind of person to rattle off a menu of the things I enjoy because there are so many, and it depends on who I’m doing it with and how much I know and trust them. At work, leading Dan Daw Creative Projects, I often have to make a lot of big decisions, so when I play, I’m happier being led, relinquishing responsibility and momentarily giving ownership of my body to the Dom.

I’m interested in power dynamics, in the negotiation of terms, and there’s nothing better than the feeling I get from finding ways to use my body and/or my body being used to please the person or people I’m with. I’m always looking to take things further, and I’m interested in extremes and exploring where the edges are during play. Violence/pain doesn’t excite me a huge amount, but I’m up for exploring pretty much anything else given the opportunity. If it’s sexy, safe and consensual, I’m in!”

I love the humour in the show. The joke in the beginning about having Chris there so the audience could ‘see themselves represented’ in a non-disabled performer was brilliant. Where does your sense of humour come from?
“It comes from my experience of living in the world. You wouldn’t believe the amount of casual and overt ableism I encounter daily, and I use humour as armour to protect myself. I learned this from an early age. I pick my battles though. For example, when I’m buying a coke at a train station store,  and I’m being infantilized by serving staff, I don’t want to educate them; it shouldn’t be my job, and I don’t have the time. I just want my coke and board my train. But then I do text  my Queer family: ‘Guess what Debbie just did?’ Debbie is the name we attribute to anybody making ableist, racist, homophobic, transphobic comments. ‘Fuck off, Debbie!’ is a very common turn of phrase in our family.”

You’ve been vocal about ableism and some of the subtle ways it slips into our daily lives, like when someone tells you that you are inspirational for doing what you do. Can you explain how you feel about this backhanded compliment?
“We started The Dan Daw Show journey five years ago by looking at the idea of inspiration porn (a term coined by Australian disability activist Stella Young) and why non-disabled people are inspired by the disabled body. In the past, I’d come off stage and be called things like ‘brave’ and I’d be cried on by audience members.

The motivation for The Dan Daw Show was to gently unpick and unravel the motives behind this inspiration. I became fascinated by the given that if I took the stairs, I’d be an inspiration, but if I took the lift, I wouldn’t be. When we see the disabled body doing something a normative body can do, why do we make a big deal out of it? The annoying thing is that the moment a disabled body does something a disabled person does, it’s an inconvenience. This perception is definitely fucked up, and that’s why I thought, let’s talk about it!

I’m not saying being inspired by another human being is wrong, but I wanted to examine it because I increasingly became aware of the burden and weight I felt in having to be an inspiration to non-disabled people. As my friend – and disability activist – Caroline Bowditch points out when talking about her work: ‘It’s OK that I inspire you. You just need to take that inspiration and do something with it.’ Over the years, Caroline has shown me how to use the anger I feel when non-disabled people react to my body, to power the work that I do.

It’s interesting to see how my work has moved on from looking at how I inspire others, to a work that looks at how I inspire myself after a lifetime of feeling the pressure to inspire others.”

The show is running for some time and I am sure it’s all-consuming, but do you already have goals in mind for the future?

“There are always other plates spinning. Over the past eighteen months, I’ve been working with StudioThreeSixty to develop a project called Reimagined Futures. It is essentially turning into a capital build project looking at improving the architecture of, and working culture within, arts venues to make them the best that they can be. Rather than entering existing buildings and untying the many knots, they’ve tied over the years, so we can attempt ‘to queer’ those spaces, we’ve decided to start from scratch by designing and building an accessible performance venue of our own.”

Can’t wait! But for now, where can folks get more info or tickets to your show?

“The Dan Daw Show is touring the UK in spring 2022, but more tour dates will be added. So please keep an eye on our website www.dandawcreative.com.” And of course, come and find me on Instagram (@dandawcreative), Twitter (@dandawcp) or Recon (RubberCripPig)”

 


What is ableism and ableist language?

Ableism is rooted in the idea that folks without disabilities are superior and those with disabilities need to be ‘fixed’. It’s found in the words, actions and practices that discriminate against those who have any of a variety of possible (dis)abilities. It can be intentional or unintentional, but either way, it’s a form of oppression.

Examples of ableism in our daily lives are buildings that don’t have accessibility incorporated into their design, casting a non-disabled actor to play a disabled character, or framing your news or media story to hold the disabled person as inspirational or tragic. Many disabilities aren’t visible, so it’s always helpful to be aware that some people may have different needs from you. We are also likely to hear and use ableist language daily and not always recognize it.

Abled or non-disabled privilege refers to the ways folks without disabilities have unearned benefits in daily life. It could be something as obvious as not having to find the elevator or escalator at an event, or when neurodivergent students are placed in separate classes and schools (neurodivergent refers to someone who has less than typical cognitive function such as ADHD, autism or dyslexia).

To find out more about ableism, check out this resource: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-ableism-5200530

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