Describing Dance: invite to collab on collective access

Dear disability, dance and media arts communities,

The InterdepenDance Collective is looking for volunteers to help increase access to dance. 

Currently there are very few audio described dance videos on the internet, even among dance companies who aim to be inclusive and accessible.

We invite you to learn to create (amateur) audio descriptions for (fantastic!) dance video excerpts.

Do you have at least 6 hours available sometime in 2020? We’re looking for people to record audio descriptions of key visual elements of dance videos sometime this year. As we are collaborating online, colleagues beyond the island are warmly invited, and encouraged, to join in.

Descriptions can be created collaboratively – within a team there would need to be someone who is sighted, someone who is hearing, and someone who speaks or uses a communication device with audio output. Raising funds to hire consultants from local blind and disability communities is encouraged.

Here’s a draft web page with links to video excerpts to choose from for creating descriptions – please keep the draft web page secret for now!

To sign up to help out with creating audio descriptions, send an email to Joanne, who will add your email to the collaborative describing email list.


Below on this page:
Describing dance options
Details for how to contribute a basic audio description
Resources – examples of described dance


Describing dance options

There are different approaches available for describing dance. Some examples are: narrating physical actions, metaphor, poetry, storytelling, multiple people’s voices to each represent a different dancer, soundscapes, layering of different styles, and option of tactile describing (in person at events). There are examples from Kinetic Light, as well as All Bodies Dance Project and VocalEye’s Translations project, of different describing techniques in the resources section below.

Each person or team creating a description can use the style/s that seem to fit with a particular video, or that they are most comfortable with.

Here is an ideal context for adding audio description to videos:

  • Choose a video that resonates with the experiences, identities or art practices of the people describing. A few examples: an Indigenous dancer describing Indigenous dancers’ work, a queer dancer who uses mobility tools describing a piece by a queer dancer who uses mobility tools, and a flamenco dancer describing a flamenco piece.
  • Raise funds to hire the video’s main artist or dancer, as well as artistic consultants from blind and disability communities, to co-create the audio description.
  • If this is not possible, could collaborate in pairs or as a small group on a draft audio description, and pay consultants to review and recommend edits to the description.
  • If funds are not available to pay consultants, then create a draft audio description and share it with the collaborative describing email list inviting feedback.

How to contribute:

Details for creating a basic audio description:

  1. Be in touch to have your email added to the collaborative describing email list and online “Describing videos” folder, which includes a “Describing videos sign-up” document (that shows which videos don’t have anyone signed up yet for describing), and a shared “Describing ideas” document.
  2. Watch a few videos that don’t have anyone signed up yet, then pick which video/s you’re comfortable creating a description for. (Please note the video excerpt start and end times.)
  3. Let the group know which video excerpt you’re going to describe:
    -either add your name next to the name of the video on the “Describing videos sign-up” google-document, or send a note to the email list (or contact Joanne).
  4. Prepare:
    -Watch the video a few times.
    -If you are new to describing cross-disability dance and dancers using mobility tools and using gender-neutral language when pronouns aren’t known, then please draft the description first (either a written script or audio draft) to share with the collaborative describing email list for any suggested edits.
    -To find out how an artist describes themself and what pronouns the dancers use, please look up the artist’s website, a recent interview, or under the video title select the down arrow to see what they wrote in their video description.
    -If you have financial resources, hire artistic consultants from local blind and disability communities to collaborate.
    -Do a test of using your audio recording program (and microphone if not built-in to the device), test the volume of your voice when recorded, and check if the recording gets saved as an mp3 or m4a file.
  5. Possibly record an audio introduction to the video excerpt:
    -IF providing context prior to the video excerpt seems important (such as for a quick or busy video or group piece), create a short audio introducing the video: read out any text from the start of the video (such as video title and artist name); if relevant could include a one-sentence bio from the company or artist’s website or artist statement about the piece; and “set the stage” by briefly describing the setting and introducing the dancers and theme.
    -Name this file with the Video Name – audio intro. (for example: Musa Motha – audio intro.mp3)
  6. Record an audio description of the video excerpt:
    -In between dialogue and important audio, describe the visual elements of the video, such as key movements, relationships, body language, tone, setting, costumes or regalia, and scene changes. Also read out on-screen text such as important captions that have not been spoken, and video credits.
    -Please try to start the video excerpt playing and the audio recording at the same time if possible – could have someone assist if this is tricky.
    -for recording if video is on YouTube:
    Either record your verbal description without the video audio in the background (listen to video with headphones) and name this file Video Name – description (for example: Musa Motha – description.mp3), OR, add the audio description directly to YouDescribe.
    -for recording if video is on Vimeo:
    play the video excerpt on one device (e.g. computer) with video audio playing in the background, and on another device (e.g. smartphone) record audio of you verbally describing the video. Name this file with the Video Name – video description (for example: Musa Motha – video description.mp3). Or if tech-savvy, record and save as two audio tracks then also save a combined version.
    -(Totally optional: If you’re feeling ambitious, you could choose to create an audio description for the whole video instead of just the excerpt. This is potentially more useful to the artist.)
  7. Upload the file:
    -Save the files as mp3 (or .m4a) audio files and upload it to the collaborative “Describing videos” online folder (or email it to Joanne).

If anyone has tips, suggestions, concerns or ideas, please do be in touch!

Once audio descriptions for video excerpts are ready, it will be uploaded to a resource web page alongside video excerpt links. (We hope to also have a transcript of captioning from the January 25th event available afterwards, in case anyone would like to learn to create captions for uncaptioned videos, such as through the Amara website.)


Resources – examples of described dance:

From Kinetic Light’s website about the Audimance app they are developing: “What if your audio description experience offered you choices—different styles of description, soundscapes, poetry, prose? What if you could listen to dance as an aural artistic experience and not just someone’s description of the experience?”

All Bodies Dance Project- Translations Part 2 video has examples of various styles – tactile describing, narrating body movements, metaphor, story, layering of styles.

DESCENT by Kinetic Light audio described teaser

Dancing Disability 2019 Short Doc [Audio Described] – example of traditional audio description, for a documentary with describing between spoken dialogue, and excerpts of dancing

Bangarra Dance Theatre Education Resource (with Audio Description) –  describer allows pauses and a sense of rhythm between describing, but please note that this description is very binary gendered – unless you know the specific pronouns that a dancer uses, please use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/ them/ their.

Article by Naomi Brand – Translations: A research project for blind and partially sighted viewers

Otherwise by Danielle Peers and Lindsay Eales (described and captioned) – example of embedded poetic audio description, that goes for a crip aesthetic practice of audio description

Unspoken Spoken – a dance film from Candoco Dance Company (Audio Described version)

Article by Maribel Steel: Why Go to See Live Theatre if You are Blind?

Article: This is what accessibility sounds like (James Dinneen: Brooklyn Rail, Sept 2019), which includes an example of a tone poem.

There is an example of a text description of INCLINATIONS after the Teaser Video on Alice’s page about the film.

Article by Ria Andriani: I love theatre and I’m blind. Here’s how that works.

Samples of Audio Description (not of dance) from the Audio Description Project

If you come across examples of audio described disability-focused dance videos, feel free to send the link.

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