The highlight of the Dance Festival, for me, has been the workshop offered by Fearghus Ó Conchùir, Artistic Director of the National Dance Company Wales (NDCW). It was not only an opportunity for those like me, without dance training, to participate, but also a personal gift from an experienced and professional dancer to whoever wanted to be part of it. The workshop was open to all, with no financial or skills barrier, and it was led by Fearghus with an open attitude, making no impositions.
We began with some basic ballet moves. My lack of dance training meant that movements were like foreign words which I stumbled to pronounce. The repetition at the beginning helped me fix the plies that, judging by my aching legs, I used throughout the day.
After the initial ‘structured’ session, Fearghus told us that we would do ‘contact improv’ in couples and in group, an announcement which was met by a terrified expression on my face. Being used to intellectual work alone, having to focus on the body and make sense of it with others is daunting. In the dancing space, I can only express myself through my body. There is nowhere to hide.
I have done some ‘contact work’ before. This time, we began as couples where one touched the other’s body gently, while the other became attentive to their own body and then responded to the touch. A simple touch, an attentiveness to one’s body, and a response to touch formed the essential elements of our dance for the day. I quickly found myself in duets and in group in synergy with others without effort, so much that asked to improvise alone, I complain that I lost my partner.
The togetherness that Fearghus wanted us to explore requires listening to one another’s bodies and being in dialogue with one another. It is not achieved by putting aside differences, rather by working with them. Perhaps the most interesting exercise was one of imitation. We were all asked to dance a solo for one (very long) minute while observed by the rest of the group, who in turn had to replicate something of our movement.
Like impressionists, we tried to imitate, but soon became interpreters with our own bodies. We tried to extract the essence of a person’s movements and recreate it, but this process of analysis and reproduction soon became one of interpretation. Other people’s movements sat differently in our bodies. It was a beautiful exercise in discovering the other as well as oneself.
Outside competitions and professional performances, dance is a gift of one’s way of expressing oneself through movement. It makes one vulnerable. It makes one risk judgment and rejection; yet all giving is thus. A soulful gift is the giving of oneself with no expectation of reciprocity.
Tir Cyfreddin/Shared Ground Workshop was part of Cardiff Dance Festival.
(This article was first published on Groundwork Pro Blog)