Thousands of academics in social sciences and humanities meet at UBC

Salamander is a workshop/participatory performance for disabled people and their allies led by Petra Kuppers. Kuppers is giving a Salamander workshop in the water at the Aquatic Centre at Congress 2019 of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of B.C.


Academics from across the country aren’t going to jump in a lake at the University of B.C. but they’re going to do the next best thing: they’re going to jump into the pool.

They’ll be doing that as part of what’s called a Salamander workshop at Congress 2019.

Petra Kuppers, a disability performance scholar, has led the water-based events since 2013 in public pools and other bodies of water around the world to challenge ableism and celebrate the full diversity of human experience and embodiment.

“In the water, interesting intimacies happen,” Kuppers said. “People get to see one another in very open and vulnerable way.”

Public pools can be fraught with anxiety for many people, she said. If they’re a transgender person, it can be over what change room to use. If someone is disabled or has a body that’s different or is missing a limb, it can be about the difficulty of negotiating stairs.

One of the exercises Kuppers uses to build community is what dancers call ‘fish swish.’ It involves one person gently pulling another person’s feet from side to side.

“It’s a beautiful release for the lower back and lovely care we can give each other,” she said by phone.

Kuppers said she first started doing Salamander in Berkeley, California with the performance artist Neil Marcus.

Salamander is being organized as part of the meeting of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research at Congress 2019, the 88th annual meeting of Canadian academics in humanities and social sciences.

The event is one of several open to the public at the congress. Salamander is from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, June 3 at the Aquatic Centre which is a fully accessible pool. To take part, members of the public have to register with the Congress and for the event at Eventbrite. There is no charge for Salamander.

About 450 members of the public have registered for a free pass for the Congress.

Kuppers said she loves doing Salamander in public because of the reaction it provokes. She said people often notice what’s going on in a workshop and wonder: Why are they having such a good time?

“It doesn’t look like straight exercising or therapy. It look like people doing magical stuff together,” she said.

“I love when people get drawn in and it often happens. They get incorporated into it.”

On Sunday, 9,910 academics and researchers were registered to attend the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. About 5,000 academics from 73 scholarly associations are presenting papers at the congress which is the largest gathering of its kind in the country. The congress ends Friday.

Events open to the public include those in the Big Thinking Speaker Series which are in the Frederic Wood Theatre:

• David Suzuki and Ian Mauro, the co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre, will screen their latest film Beyond Climate which links climate change with the human activities that are creating heat waves, melting glaciers and burning forest. Tuesday, June 4, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

• Indigenous storytelling in theatre features a panel discussion with Sylvia Cloutier, Margo Kane, Lindsay Lachance and Corey Payette. They’ll talk about a variety of issues, including using personal experiences in their work, identity and cultural practices. Wednesday, June 5, 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Stan Douglas, visual artist, will talk about what it means to recreate moments from history and recording them with a camera. Douglas, one of the country’s leading artists, explores the boundaries of narrative and photography in his work. Thursday, June 5, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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