We were asked on Twitter recently, “Who are the #DancingPrincesses?”
Originally, the notion came from the book Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and its sequel The Principal: power and professionalism in FE; both published with the wonderful support of the publisher's inspirational founder, Dr Gillian Klein.
From the start, we identified ourselves as educators who refuse to be cynical. Critical, yes. Rejecting the shouting from the sidelines of comfort radicalism in favour of a joyful, dancing militancy, where joy is an activist energy fed by its relationships with others, a growing band of fellow travellers who identified around the hashtag #DancingPrincesses and an explicit, dialogic ethics of affirmation. We are not (all) the same, but we are all in this together, as Rosi Braidotti writes.
Background: Why we ban the C-word
Structure and hierarchy
Rhizomatically, like all folklore’s tendrils, tales of the #DancingPrincesses spread throughout the land. In the early days, we set up @tutorvoices: a democratic organisation but with the potential for structure and hierarchy. We learned instead to go where the energy was, encountering new princesses via social media, writing and events, spreading the practice through our teaching and training, no formal recruitment just a desire to combine energies around creative, activist projects.
We talked of creating spaces to dance, pushing back the creaky old chairs of FE’s hegemonic thinking and blocking out new steps with new people across the UK and internationally – including our Australian friends, the self-styled #DancingMatildas!
The dance is rooted in trade unionism but is non-sectarian; deeply radical but not party political. FE is too important to be a political football, or the plaything of Machiavellian or hubristic ministers. We celebrate those parliamentarians who fight its corner; including Robert Halfon, Angela Rayner and Vince Cable (whose impressive Strictly Come Dancing foxtrot came as no surprise to us).
There are secret dancers too in positions of influence in the Association of Colleges, preparing to flash mob Boris Johnson (whose Olympic lambada is best forgotten), after his likely prime ministerial coronation. We are reliably informed that of a Friday evening, after a glass or three with his ETF colleagues, David Russell is heard to say, “We goan to the dancin'?” Even in Ofsted, we hear the quiet tapping of HMI dancing feet, and FE’s greatest professorial emeriti have insinuated their wily ways into the castle, their glass slippers discretely hidden under dusty academic gowns. FE even has its own principled troubadour in Bedford College's Ian Pryce.
The dancing princesses have no royal power or prerogative, but we have forged alliances with FE’s sector grandees. We count as our friend Lynne Se.dgmore, whose astonishingly candid and heartfelt address gently admonishing the dirty dancing of some dark FE princes at the HudCRES launch of The Principal drew gasps, laughter and tears (and Lynne’s post conference Northern Soul grooves had to be seen to be believed). Also in attendance at that conference was Stephen Exley, who on his Tes appointment had decreed the banishment of the hackneyed and deeply gendered "C-word" – the dancing princesses' editorial prince had come.
So who are FE’s dancing princesses? To paraphrase the close of V for Vendetta: they are our bowed but unbeaten colleagues; our merry Nottingham College trade union comrades – now organising for serious strike action – and the increasingly influential FE graduates of the NUS. They are ethical FE managers and progressive Principals; and our wonderful, magical students. They are you. And they are us.
If the FE sector is to be Grimm, let it be so on our own terms. The dancing princesses are all of us. Dance with us, FE? We are asking...
Lou Mycroft wrote chapters for Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE. She is currently perfecting her fandango.
Joel Petrie is currently developing (with Maire Daley and Professor Kevin Orr) content for the third in the Dancing Princesses trilogy: Caliban’s Dance: FE after the Tempest. He cannot dance.