‘I’m celebrating my body for the first time’: Dan Daw’s kink dance show

The Australian dancer allows himself to be dominated on his own terms in a duet bursting with pride – and he’s never felt more free

‘I grew up being told my body was wrong,” says Dan Daw. “And being told by medical professionals that my body had to be fixed. I was told I wouldn’t be able to be a dancer.” But that wasn’t true at all.

Born disabled – he identifies as “crip”, reclaiming the word, and prefers not to detail his condition – Daw, 38, grew up in an outback town in South Australia and showed a talent for performing from a young age (his grandmother was a dance teacher). During a drama degree in Adelaide, Daw discovered that working with his body was what made him buzz, which led him to dance, to the UK, to Candoco dance company and then to making his own honest and autobiographical performances, the latest of which is The Dan Daw Show.

Despite his certainty that his body was his best creative tool, Daw has been on a real journey with it. “I’ve had to pull apart and rebuild the relationship I had with my body,” he says, “and I’m only in the past couple of years starting to really find the joy in my body, because I still felt an immense amount of shame.” The Dan Daw Show is about him finding a way to own what he calls his “messy” body, “and finding my crip joy inside that”.

The medium Daw uses to illustrate this joy is kink. You might know it as BDSM, a term for sexual practices that go beyond vanilla and are often misunderstood. What kink absolutely isn’t is Fifty Shades of Grey, says director Mark Maughan, who created the show with Daw (whom he calls a “rare talent” of great integrity, humour and generosity of spirit). “I think people associate it with violence, pain, trauma,” he says, whereas in reality kink practices are about “care, interdependence and communication”. “Kink is about asking for what you need and not being ashamed of that, celebrating the things that we know we desire. That level of connection and communication with another human being is pretty special,” says Maughan. “When you feel that, it’s something incredible.”

Dan Daw and Christopher Owen in rehearsals.
Dan Daw and Christopher Owen in rehearsals. Photograph: Freddy Griffiths

In the case of The Dan Daw Show, this is illustrated in a duet with the non-disabled dancer Christopher Owen, where Daw allows himself to be dominated completely on his own terms. It’s about Daw being able to drop his armour, since in the outside world he never lets himself be seen as vulnerable. “My guard is up all the time,” he says. “Is someone going to point and laugh at me, or try and trip me up? Am I going to be infantilised today? Is someone going to speak really loudly at me? Is somebody going to invite me to come to their church because god can heal me? I even get people asking me if I’m homeless. The pity look. What have you got for me today, world?!”

Only really on stage, and during sex, can Daw be unapologetic about inhabiting his body, he says. It’s easier for him to ask for, and get, what he needs in the bedroom than in the outside world. “There’s a line in the show where I say, ‘I wish I could feel this free all of the time’,” says Daw. “The level of care involved in kink practices is beautiful. If we could have that same level of care and respect and consent with each other when we’re on the rush-hour tube in the morning we could build ourselves an incredible world.”

Performing is also a space where Daw can rewrite the power dynamic between himself and a mostly non-disabled audience. “You can look at me, stare at me, but at the end you’re going to clap, you’re going to love me,” he says, smiling at the idea of “people enjoying my body and paying money to see my body”. “Here in my space I’m consenting to Chris dominating me in a way that gives me pleasure and sets my body free, and there’s a real power in that,” he says. “I’m using a non-disabled body to give me what I need, so it speaks to allyship in a brilliant way, and that there’s more that non-disabled people can be doing for disabled people in the world.”

When Daw is in control of the narrative in the theatre, some of that long-held shame can be overcome and turned into power and pride. “After years of hating my body and rejecting my body, with this show I’m celebrating my body for the first time,” he says, “and it’s liberating in the most spectacular way.”

  • The Dan Daw Show is at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 30 September-1 October.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Candoco Dance Company review – it all just works, beautifully
Fascinating in its form, enigmatic in its meaning, this double bill is full of delights

Sanjoy Roy

17, Oct, 2021 @11:01 PM

Article image
Sting and Police classics to feature in hip-hop dance show
Kate Prince’s ZooNation commissioned to create ‘uplifting story’ called Message in a Bottle

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

29, Jan, 2019 @2:02 PM

Article image
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre review – swirling tales from Taiwan
Cheng Tsung-lung’s 13 Tongues circles and flows, while Lin Hwai-min’s Dust is a slow slide into the dark

Lyndsey Winship

27, Feb, 2020 @12:06 PM

Article image
Body shock: Suspiria’s Damien Jalet unleashes his headless dancers
The horror-film choreographer’s new show, Vessel, weaves spells with writhing limbs, menacing ritual figures and a cauldron of gloop. He explains its origins

Chris Wiegand

08, Apr, 2019 @1:06 PM

Article image
Jasmin Vardimon: Pinocchio review – joyous new levels of dance invention
Vardimon’s choreography is superbly performed and complemented by artful stage illusions, but this family show’s over-moralising tone slows down the story

Judith Mackrell

25, Oct, 2016 @1:45 PM

Article image
Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell review – raise a glass to this dazzling dance

A zany array of characters gather in a 1930s pub for a poignant, chilling and understated portrait of love, lust and longing

Lyndsey Winship

07, Oct, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
Just keep moving: the top 10 dance shows of 2020
The year started with sparkling ballet and dazzling premieres, then came lockdown. But the dance world didn’t stand still and kept delivering innovative and urgent creations

Lyndsey Winship

22, Dec, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
'The body lights up': stroke survivors find their footing through dance
After fresh and funny takes on Shakespeare and Paradise Lost, Ben Duke brings together five people who have had a stroke to tell their stories – and help them reconnect with their bodies

Lyndsey Winship

15, Oct, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Spring review – jugglers join dancers for joyfully hypnotic show
Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley’s collaboration is full of simple pleasures and intricate skill

Lyndsey Winship

01, Feb, 2019 @2:11 PM

Article image
Sick! festival review – a funny, heartfelt poke at the biggest taboos
From dance to comedy to video, this series of events confronts illness, grief and death with uplifting candour

Catherine Love

20, Sep, 2019 @7:00 PM