Jordan Beth Vincent is a dance historian and researcher in live performance and new technology. She is a Research Fellow at the Deakin Motion.Lab, Deakin’s commercial-grade motion capture facility and R&D team.
She has led multiple commercial research projects which have included the development of VFX and technology driven pipelines, and worked across motion capture projects, virtual reality, augmented reality, virtual productions, and pre-visualisation for film and television.
Her work encompasses traditional academic outputs, industry collaborations and commercial research projects.
I started off as a dancer and my background is as a dance historian. My PhD was in early 20th century Australian dance history, but there weren’t a lot of outlets for that. I'm still a dance historian, of course, but about six years ago I was offered a position at the Deakin Motion.Lab. My research area has shifted, and now is based around emerging technologies; I have covered two ends of a spectrum but both looking at movement.
My work ranges from giving a presentation on dance history, to managing a commercial research project that uses motion capture, to projects I’m working on with some colleagues evaluating the role of women in the creative industries.
In terms of outputs, most things I do are industry facing. For example, last year I was involved in the development of a process for real-time animation and applied that process with my team to a range of television shows, commercials, and movies including a production with the ABC.
I published on art that spans across different contexts, dance history and media studies, and co-curated a symposium on 1930s dance in Australia. I’m also dance critic for Fairfax, so I’ve been writing about dance and movement for The Age for ten years now.
Achievements and Impact
When I started managing my own projects at Deakin Motion.Lab, taking on some leadership within the team and successfully delivering those projects, that was great for me. I have a really terrific team of programmers, technical artists, and project coordinators. They don’t consider themselves research academics for the most part, but together we’re trying to solve the same research problems.
In terms of impact, I have a profile within the dance community here as a historian and critic. In terms of my academic legacy, I'm interested in the industry-research axis: taking research out of the academy and applying it out there is really what I want to do. People usually laugh when I say I have a PhD in dance history and I’m on a film set or whatever.
But my work is about how it feels to be in the environment, what it looks like, how it moves, you know, like all those type questions that are really based in moving bodies, and dance, and interactions between humans. When I'm applying for a grant or preparing a tender or proposal, that's the language I'm using to frame it. It comes from my dance background.
Defining myself nice and neatly has been a challenge: picking the right FoR code or the right CV for a particular project. I’ve got a CV if it’s around dance history. I’ve got a CV if its around production. I’m always just trying to figure out where I fit.
But the longer I’m doing this, the more comfortable I am at saying “Yeah, well, deal—maybe it’s ok not to fit”. I’m beginning to think about skills as transferrable rather than genre or discipline specific; when I’m managing a motion capture project or a dance history project or an evaluation project, it’s the same skillset.
Advice to Younger Women
I got stuck a lot of the time because I was nervous about asking people their advice. I didn't want to bother them so I'd find myself mired in these messes! When I started to talk to people, particularly more established women, I found them incredibly generous about saying, “You know, this is totally common. And this is how you get your way out.” The majority of people are really generous sharing what they know - and I certainly want to be generous in sharing what I've learned. If you're stuck, you should find someone you can trust and ask for advice. It’s rare that you’ll be the first one to find yourself in a particular situation.
I've benefited from a lot of unofficial and official mentoring relationships. The former director of the Motion.Lab, Kim Vincs, who's now at Swinburne, plucked me out of maternity leave and said, "I've got the job for you. Come work for me." And, probably I never would have applied, because it was a job in technology, and I would have looked at it and said, "I can't do that." But she said, "You can do this. This is fine." In the end, she was right—and I’ve been lucky that I get to have a career with such diverse and interesting projects.
There have been others, particularly women, who at different times in my career have provided good advice and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Mostly it’s been about confidence and confidence building. I didn't actually need them to solve the problem for me, but I needed to hear them say, “you can do this.” People have been really open with me about where they've gotten stuck in their own careers, and what to look out for. That's been very useful, and I want to pay that forward.