Community dance projects are integral to the growth and reach of the field, yet the work that’s being carried out is seldom written about. For that reason, we’re launching a Dance in the Community section. To start things off, we hear from acclaimed dance artist, researcher and educationalist, Bisakha Sarker, who shares fond memories of a project in Liverpool.
Connections made through dance are priceless gifts. Whether remembered or lost under layer upon layer of dusts of time, they remain fresh and alive. All of a sudden, I came across an old associate who resurfaced and flooded me with memories of the bonds we made many years back, while making and performing a dance in a community setting.
A colleague, Tina Reed, had invited musician Chris Davies and me to take part in an animation project at a resource centre for adults with physical disabilities in Liverpool. She was planning to make an animation film on the idea of freedom using an African theme and filming appropriate hand gestures. I was not comfortable with the idea of the service users only filming my hand gestures. I felt that it should be their own expressions and understanding of restrain and freedom from an individual and a more personal standpoint.
I was given the opportunity to develop the workshop using my own judgement. The levels of impairment and mobility varied from moderate to severe. Most of the participants were wheelchair users and a few had restricted upper body movement. All joined in the activity and contributed creatively. It was a revelation to see the deep joy people experience from movement. We were on a learning curve to see participants coming up with movements through engagement and conviction. It never looked strained, although it was quite plain that it took a lot of effort. The participants used movements of eyes, head, shoulder and wrists to respond.
The film-maker had hung a curtain supported by two ladders to create a makeshift dark plain background for filming hands in action. One by one, each person came to the screen and responded freely with the movements of my hands. It will be hard to list all the non-verbal communications that passed between these hands.
There was one participant in a low wheelchair. When it was her turn, I thought that if I can get to her eye level then we will be able to work better. To protect my old wobbly knee I grabbed a small cushion and knelt down. Just as we were about to start our eyes met and it stopped me in my tracks. I can’t explain what went through my mind. Almost in a trance, I asked: “I have danced with you before…haven’t I?” Her face lit up with a smile and she said: “I was wondering if you will remember.” Until that moment, I had not recognised her. I was treating her the same way as all other participants.
I had met Amanda twenty-five years back when I first started to work in community dance. John McGrath was leading AIM (Arts Integration Merseyside), a disability arts organisation. He sent me to do a taster session of Indian dance for this resource centre, which was quite unheard-of in those days. The session was well received and Amanda and her friends wanted to work on a performance piece. We made a dance and performed it at the official launch of AIM.
Community arts projects come and go; we move on in our own ways and leave behind the intimate memories of time shared. On that day, time stood still. Amanda and I were transported to the days when we had danced together.