Designing for Dance was a collaborative project between TOES FOR DANCE and DanceWorks, funded by the Metcalf Foundation that explored how Design Thinking approaches can activate new possibilities for public engagement with Toronto’s professional dance community. Our aim was to foster social relevance through a culture of learning and exchange. The project took place between September 2016 and June 2017.


We began this journey with a belief that through innovative participatory research practices we could better understand the needs of our community with the aim of creating experiences that are inclusive, accessible and meaningful. Our final prototype provided an opportunity to explore a platform, the “Book Club for Dance”, that aligns with our guiding principles.

These principles prioritize co-creation over control, transparency over mystery, inquiry over remedy and permission over authority. Exchange of information and experience is viewed as mutually beneficial and views expressed, equally valid, no matter how diverse or divergent. The act of experiencing a dance performance is viewed as protected time to reflect on our connection to self and to others through art. Art is viewed as a catalyst for change and discovery. Artist and audience are seen as interdependent and interpretation is informed by lived experience.

Engagement is like a good conversation; where listening and responsiveness are key factors. We learned that people are more likely to be engaged when they have both support and autonomy: the choice to participate as they wish, but with generous guidance and/or instruction. The challenge for arts organizations is to represent and support professional artists in a way that honours the complexity of the work, while meeting the audience by satisfying their need for social connection and discovery within the context of presentation.

Design Thinking and co-creation principles can reframe the problems of audience engagement into possibilities; proactively collecting and integrating feedback with an iterative approach that puts organizations into dialogue with both their stakeholders and potential future stakeholders.

There were a few very striking things about the `{`Designing for Dance prototype`}` eager everyone was to see the show employing the tools / approaches / prompts they had been offered, and had practiced before entering the theatre.
-Peggy Baker

Interested in learning more? We would be happy to share our final report and/or discuss our research with you! Email us at info<at>!