I attended the Dance For World Community - TALKABOUTDANCE Event in February in Cambridge, MA. The talk focused on how to use dance to affect social change. In light of recent tragic and traumatic events in Boston, I am reflecting on dance and community healing and transformation. I reflect also on my own past choreography dealing directly with traumatic events. One such is a chemical plant explosion in Durban, South Africa, which I am brought to with the recent fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, another tragic and deadly event. Dance is more than performance; it is integral to life in all its manifestations and is a means towards designing and expressing our lives. I wanted to share some notes and reflections from the presentations with you.
ABOUT THE EVENT
Here is more information about the event from the Facebook event page: TALKABOUTDANCE is a biannual DWC event that brings together Greater Boston dance artists, activists, enthusiasts, experts and general public. One of the area’s most socially vibrant settings for dance-related learning,discussion and exchange of ideas, TALKABOUTDANCE offers a unique opportunity to meet with new people, reconnect with old friends and contribute to the ongoing dialogue about repositioning the role of dance in our community. At this event, TAD introduceed the new DANCE FOR WORLD COMMUNITY CONSORTIUM,a group of local writers, scholars, social scientists and other experts who have come together to serve the area’s dance community, the social change advocacy sector and the general public.
Four members of the DWC Consortium shared their inspiring work and experience, each demonstrating new and different ways in which dance is contributing to the education, enrichment, political empowerment and social uplift of communities locally and beyond.
Mariah Steele - Director, Quicksilver Dance - “Dance and Peacebuilding”
Mariah Steele of Quicksilver Dance presented a case study on "Fall and Recover". "Fall and Recover" is a dance created with 14 survivors of torture in Ireland. The process of creating a dance performance was used for trauma healing, to break psychological cycles of fear, strengthen positive memories, engender, self respect, discipline, and trust in themselves and others. For dancers, lifting people up in the air and weight sharing is one example of the choreography facilitating this. Being seen and heard in itself can be transformative. Similar to dance therapy but different in the sense as the project has a primary goal of experiencing the creative process towards performance and high level of artistry. Rigorous artistic practice and all the good things that came about were byproducts of that main focus.
For audience members, the performance was an opportunity to connect with the other in a safe space and feel a sense of shared humanity and hope which opens up the imagination towards a different future, changes opinions and changes the dominant narrative and story. To read more about the performance, here is a NY Times Review.
Some of the questions that came up in discussion were: Is this Victim Art? How can you be both rigorous and inclusive? How to be rigorous with whoever is in the room? Find strengths within your dancers and draw them out; shape movement that comes from the dancers. Rigor does not have to mean virtuosity or a perceived level of technical excellence.
Keith Powers - Dance Critic, The Boston Herald - “So, What did you Think?”
Keith asked us to consider how do we talk about what we see? With dance as a 'more democratic form of art for the viewer to talk about', there is tension between technique and more esoteric issues. What do we want to know when we talk about dance? It is superficial to talk about 'who you know' or history and facts we know to impress others. More real and honest to talk about what we witness, the experience.
Celeste Radosevich - M.A., Brandeis University “Dancing Like Them: Salsa Dancing among Latin/o Americans”
Celeste discussed aesthetic systems, focusing on social dance in Latin/o American communities, through which identity is negotiated and resistance can be articulated. She also discussed ownership and attachment to specific dance forms by communities as they are commodified through commercialization to the general public.
Doris Sommer - Director, Cultural Agents Initiative
“Pre-Texts for Dance”From their website: "Pre-Texts develops avid and creative readers by using classic literature as an excuse for making art. It is a flexible approach to teaching that while counts on a community’s aspirations and existing resources; and it integrates three areas of development: literacy, a range of sustainable arts, and civic values . Beginning with popular practices learned from Latin American resourcefulness, which turns the tobacco factory into an academy and recycles used cardboard into beautiful books, participants add local arts and a love of learning."
“World-Café”-Style Conversations (Wine & Cheese)
After the panel, the program continued into extended conversations in small groups, responding to statements and questions posted by a facilitator of what was called the "World-Cafe" over wine and cheese. I met new people and discussed many of the thoughts I've shared above, and was overwhelmed by the shared vibe in the room.
After this week, I am breathing a sigh of relief, yet thinking often about how the work I do can create positivity, respond to change and trauma, and heal us as a company and our audiences.