Dani Abulhawa | داني ابوالهوى

Dani Abulhawa | داني ابوالهوى


I joined the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds in September 2021. Prior to this I worked for 9 years at Sheffield Hallam University, and 4 years at the University of Chester.

I obtained my Practice-as-Research PhD in 2015 from the University of Plymouth. My research explored the social conditions that inhibit women’s use of public urban space through the activity of public urban playing. This enquiry developed from my decades long skateboarding practice and the experiences I had as a woman playing on a skateboard in public urban spaces. Findings from my research have attracted interest from companies and organisations working on play and urban space design, and those looking to encourage women’s and girls’ use of public play facilities.

SkatePal: play and spatial politics in Palestine

In 2015 I began working with SkatePal, a charity who build skateparks and support practitioners’ skateboarding practice in the Occupied West Bank. I helped to build SkatePal’s second skatepark in Asira Al-Shamalyia, in the north of the West Bank, and began conducting a research project in collaboration with the charity. This was initially about exploring how the charity operate in relation to conventional applied sports and performance initiatives. In the years that followed I have made annual return visits to the skatepark to conduct ongoing fieldwork, exploring how the practice and social forum of the skatepark has impacted local people as well as SkatePal volunteers.

Skateboarding is a physically demanding and highly creative activity, it is practised by a diverse range of participants, and it often engages children and adults who do not feel drawn to traditional or competitive sports. In this way, skateboarding can play an important role in helping to get as many people as possible to be more physically active. Skateboarding is also a form of accessible expressive practice – akin to dance – which raises its potential to function beyond the scope of exercise, as a form of community-based somatic practice.

Skate Manchester: Physical culture of skateboarding

Closer to home, I am the co-director of community interest company, Skate Manchester. Our aims are to:

  • Advance the practice, culture, and heritage of skateboarding in Manchester and Greater Manchester through building a supportive and inclusive skateboarding community; and campaigning for the creation, restoration and maintenance of new and old free and open-to-all skate spots in the city.
  • Educating the wider public of Manchester about the health, social and community benefits of skateboarding in and around Manchester.
  • Promoting the democratic planning of public space in Manchester through dialogues with the local authority.

Expressive Movement Practice - Accumulations

Aside from skateboarding, my training is broadly located within contemporary performance, somatic practice and community-centred facilitation. I have completed training in the Creative Articulations Process, Laban Efforts, human-centred design for community working, and Six Viewpoints.

I am one of four co-founders of Accumulations, a community of dance and movement artists based in the North of England. We support movement artists to test and develop somatic and choreographic practice through access to our shared studio space in Manchester, or through peer-to-peer professional development activity. The four of us who founded Accumulations also collaborate on curatorial and choreographic projects together.

Plant Ecology Beyond Land: Coastal communities and seaweed cultivation

In response to biodiversity breakdown within the climate crisis, In 2019 I co-founded a community interest company called PEBL – Plant Ecology Beyond Land, in collaboration with Materials Scientist, Dr Christian Berger. PEBL is contributing to the development of a renewed aquaculture sector in Wales focused around the conservation and farming of seaweeds. I am passionate about interdisciplinary working and became involved in PEBL partly through my involvement in the performance activities of surfing and skateboarding, which have an intrinsic link with the sea.

Increased attention is being paid to seaweed aquaculture to reduce land-use for the production of protein, to increase biodiversity, and to provide new jobs within coastal communities. So far we have received three grants from Innovate UK to develop a hatchery, water quality and seafarm monitoring equipment, and to determine community engagement and social licensing needs for the sector. We built a facility at Penmon Point in Anglesey, which is powered entirely by solar energy. We have an open area between the two containers that we are offering to community groups to initiate and run performance and arts activities with a view that our ‘hatchery’ becomes a conceptual cultivation space, as much as it is a literal one.

The sector would benefit from greater public awareness of seaweed farming for food, fuel and bioplastics. Social licensing can be a barrier for seafarmers looking to create seafarms within coastal communities, and to gain licenses. The sector would also benefit from clearer pathways into seaweed farming that might encourage entry and democratise access for more diverse and local seafarmers. These are the aspect of PEBL’s work that I bring my skills and experience to as a creative practitioner.

Research interests

Girl Skateboarders: active girlhood, alternative sports and urban space

PI – Prof. Carrie Paechter, Nottingham Trent University; Co-Is – Dr Dani Abulhawa, Chris Lawton (Independent & Skateboard GB), Dr Michael Keenan (Nottingham Trent).

Funder: Leverhulme Trust (£101, 193); June 2021–February 2023.

The study examines:

  • the experiences of girl skateboarders as members of local skateboarding communities
  • the role of skateboarder identities in girl skateboarders’ lives and how these are related to other intersecting identities
  • incentives and barriers to participation for girls
  • how young women skateboarders use spaces in skateparks and wider urban areas
  • how we can improve girls physical activity levels by enhancing inclusive skateboarding provision

Our methods for this involve participant observation at three Northern English skateparks, spatial mapping, interviews, and with a smaller number of research participants, smart-phone diary keeping (photos, film and audio) analysed together between the research team and participants.

Planned outcomes from this project include refereed journal articles, a smart-phone-based audio artwork, reports with recommendations aimed at policy-makers, and the modelling of our spatial mapping tool used throughout the research.

Seeing and knowing the skateboarding body: Reflections on navigating the West Bank with reference to the SkatePal charity

Unfunded; Feb 2021–January 2022.

Skateboarding and skateboarder identities have undergone major shifts within the past decade as participants have begun to orient themselves in relation to wider social justice concerns (Beachy, 2018; Pappalardo, 2020). One standout development has been the increasing presence of skateboarding charities and philanthropic projects, which often bring skateboarders into direct contact with communities experiencing war or protracted conflict both within and outside of the West (O’Connor, 2016; Thorpe, 2016). The duration and persistence of skateboarding activity in specific sites and locales raises

its potential as a form of context-specific practice that can offer new insights on the relationship between body, place and movement. The research I propose delves into this enquiry by examining how skateboarding practice functions as a practice of knowing/seeing your own and other people’s bodies, and of knowing/seeing the embodiment of symbolic movement in specific geo-political contexts.

The questions driving this enquiry are:

  • How does skateboarding practice assist practitioners in gaining greater self-knowing?
  • What meanings and feelings are ascribed to seeing and experiencing skateboarding performances in the West Bank?
  • What descriptions do skateboarders in the West Bank use to understand their relationship to this specific geo-political context, as it is mediated through the performance of skateboarding movement and tricks?

SeaLens: Autonomous marine robot for seaweed and shellfish aquaculture

Lead: PEBL (CIC); Funder: UKRI (£28,711); April 2021–March 2022.

Near-shore coastal waters have highly dynamic physical, chemical and biological environments which can be subject to dramatic changes due to extreme weather, tidal currents and human activities. Monitoring this environment provides crucial information for the effective set-up and management of aquaculture operations. For example, when identifying new aquaculture locations it is essential to first characterise the local marine environment in order to comply with water quality standards, to establish effective mooring designs and to provide a baseline of the environmental conditions.

Typical monitoring programs rely on in-situ sampling, where data is temporally sparse and is often irregularly sampled (e.g. dependent on vessel access, weather and tides). On the other hand, semi-permanent monitoring instruments (e.g. on a buoy or mooring) that measure continuously over long periods of time are able to capture temporal variations. However, due to their high capital costs (\> £20k - 1M) few of them exist and the ones that do are almost exclusively used by large organisations (e.g. harbour authorities, research institutes or large scale aquaculture businesses).

Our project will develop an affordable (total cost < £2,000) autonomous monitoring system for small and medium sized aquaculture organisations. The system is modular in design and integrates sensors for monitoring various water quality parameters, such as seawater temperature, salinity and pH as well as recording video and images.

PEBL-Hatch: Modular, semi-automated high-value seaweed seed production system

Lead: PEBL (CIC); Funder: UKRI (£59,839); November 2020–April 2021.

This project aimed to design and implement a modular, semi-automated seaweed seed production system to incubate high-quality seaweed seed materials for marine aquaculture businesses across the UK. This system improved existing facilities;

  1. Facilities are optimised for culturing high-value seaweed seeds focusing on immunity-boosting food applications
  2. Through a modular, low-impact, semi-automated design that reduces operational cost, energy usage and environmental footprint whilst allowing for social distancing

This project translated sensor and automation technologies (specific to water quality measurement and control) to a new aquaculture protocol in view of creating a commercially viable seaweed seed production operation. This project resulted in the design and implementation of a modular, semi-automated seaweed seed production system to incubate high-quality seaweed seed materials for marine aquaculture businesses across the UK.

Native-Nori: UK-Native Seaweed (Nori) Aquaculture for Nutrient-Dense, Low Resource-Use Foods

Lead: PEBL (CIC); Collaborator: Pontus Research Ltd; Funder: UKRI (£29,857); May 2020–April 2021.

The proposal aims to conduct a feasibility study to cultivate a UK-native seaweed species, Porphyra Umbilicalis using a combination of low-cost and low-resource-use hatchery and intertidal aquaculture processes. This will be a transformative progression on previous seaweed aquaculture processes used in the UK and Europe, which primarily focus on Brown Kelp (Laminaria) species such as Laminaria Latissima. The key drivers for cultivating the Porphyra species are:

  1. high market value (especially in local markets) and reduced set-up and running costs;
  2. high-protein, mineral and vitamin content;
  3. low resource use for producing crop.

This project aimed to assess the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of implementing a novel aquaculture process. The outcome was a feasibility assessment providing operational plans, environmental impacts, and the financial viability to run such an operation over the long term.

Skateboarding in Palestine

Funded through research capability, Sheffield Hallam University; Annual periods throughout August 2015–October 2018.

Participant observation and interviews with SkatePal participants at the Asira Al-Shamalyia skatepark, Occupied West Bank. This study explored:

  • participants perspectives on skateboarding as a new activity within their local community
  • incentives and barriers to participation
  • benefits and drawbacks to participation in skateboarding and spending time at the skatepark

Outcomes from this project include two journal articles and two book chapters.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD, University of Plymouth, 2015
  • PGCert Learning & Teaching in HE, 2007
  • MA, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2006
  • BA (Hons), University of Northampton, 2005

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Student education

I teach primarily within the Applied Theatre and Intervention masters programme, as well as on the undergraduate Theatre and Performance programme.

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>