Life in Lockdown is a blog series initiated by Greenwich Dance which features community and professional arists close to the organisation sharing how they are staying creative during these isolating times.
MOVEMENT & NATURE
After three months of strict confinement in Rome, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to the seaside, to stay at my grandmother’s house. The joy of having a garden where I could chill, breathe fresh air, do Yoga, and improvising has been a great release. It made me realise even more the importance of outdoor spaces and – most importantly – the role that nature plays in my wellbeing; how much it grounds and inspires me to create. Have you ever asked yourself what inspires you to move, and how do you keep feeding your practice / your dancing, in order to continuously develop yourself as an artist?
I think dance / movement is an ‘inside job’ (even if it manifests externally). By that, I mean: whatever information your body receives, from both internal and external stimuli, you will have to make sense of it by overcoming this duality. It is this ‘making sense’ – through improvising, free-styling and choreographing – that shapes the millions of different ways in which we approach movement, in which we express ourselves.
Today I went to the beach. I sat on the sand with waves touching my legs. I looked at the colour of the sky, and the shapes of the rocks; I climbed them feeling the softness of their surface. I felt grounded and powerful. I felt one with my surroundings. I remember all the times thinking about water has helped me reach fluidity; when imagining my body filled with sand has guided me through feelings of heaviness; when walking on rocks gave me the opportunity to truly connect to my feet, and how amazing it feels to ground myself.
Today I opened my Facebook page, at the top of my news feed there was a flyer advertising a dance workshop led by a friend of mine, here in Italy. She is like me, a movement artist born and raised in Italy, who has been studying and developing her career in London and decided to go back to her native country during the pandemic. The flyer had a striking picture of her beautiful face, and on top, the title; DECOLONISING BODY AND MIND.
There it was, an Italian woman like me, a movement artist like me, wanting to open up conversations about race, like me, about the role of our bodies and minds in this processes of learning history, culture, empathy, togetherness and unlearning stereotypes, prejudices and privileges: like me. But what really made me think, from the moment I saw this striking flyer, was that one thing was fundamentally different between us two: she is a black woman and I am not.
Maybe some of you will ask yourselves why this made such an impact on me, and why this makes such a huge difference. I am a white woman working in the dance and movement field. I have studied a variety of dance styles, somatic practices, movement approaches, but my work in the past 6 years has been mainly focused on the development of a practice that embraces African and Caribbean movement languages and rhythms as foundational to the movement work. I have been taught how to recognise and deconstruct movement principles and how to integrate them within a contemporary lens. The dance theatre company and practice I have been developing are called ‘MOVEMENT DECO’. When I first created the name, DECO’ stood for decolonisation, but after a couple of years this concept developed and became an intersection of two concepts: deconstruction and decolonisation.
When I enter a space as a movement facilitator or as a dance teacher presenting my practice, I explain the roots of the name, what it stands for, why it is there, and why it is important to me. But after seeing that striking flyer, my head started spinning and I began to think; Do I have the right to speak about decolonising the body? Do I have the tools to facilitate a space in which the body, mind and soul will be placed in a process of experiential ‘decolonisation’, and what does that exactly mean? It is fundamentally different when a black person talks about decolonisation compared to when a white person does, and that is because our experiences in this world are fundamentally different based on the race in which we belong.
So, my question is: how can I talk and propose a physical experience towards decolonisation in a way that it is not only helpful but also respectful? I acknowledge the privilege that I hold not only in walking through life as a white woman. I acknowledge the privilege I have in regards to the opportunities I have been given to study traditional African and Caribbean forms and Afro contemporary, to talk about these topics as well as using those languages as choreographic and teaching tools.
When I first started my company I wanted to present work that used those languages, because I was tired of the hierarchy in the dance and movement scene. I wanted my dancers to go through that decolonising process together with me and I wanted people to see my work and think “where are those beautiful movements coming from?” I thought, if only someone could become fascinated by the movement, they could become fascinated by the people, by the cultures, and that, I thought, could have been the first step towards decolonising oneself. In light of my personal decolonising process, and the acknowledgment of my privileges in this society, it is vital for me to understand my role as a movement practitioner and how my heritage, my skin colour, my appearance and my persona will impact not only the delivery of this type of class but also and, most importantly, how people will feel about it.
So what does it mean to participate in a class facilitated by me, when I present the movement work as an experiential form of decolonisation? It means to enter in a space where you consciously know you will be challenged to do an ‘inside’ job. Where the movement presented is not only aesthetic but it is functional to that process, and that process will be partly personal, because it encourages a conversation with your inner self but also as a collective, because it strives for a communal engagement; for a global awakening, for a shared experience. I cannot enter in a space and pretend to know what black people have been experiencing, and therefore pretend to know how to approach physical decolonisation from that perspective. But I do know what inside job I have been doing, the challenges and resistances I have been facing in the acceptance of my position and of my ignorance.
African and Caribbean dance and music forms, in all of their nuances and developments have allowed me to get in touch with a deeper self, to accept and celebrate me for who I am as well as helping me to shape a better version of myself. If my teaching approach can encourage your body to walk and talk differently through the integration of movements and rhythms that aren’t familiar, if it can help you to reconnect to a forgotten heritage, if it can create a safe space, but simultaneously bring you to a place of discomfort and challenge that makes you question, if it allows you to reach a place where you are able to listen and learn, to let go, to acknowledge and accept, to fight trauma, to feel empowered and aware…
I would feel that my role as a practitioner has shifted to a more conscious and active place, where my practice can hopefully elevate black people and black culture, as well as help white people engage with their own biases, questioning society and colonisation – through movement and rhythm – in a conscious and critical manner.