Reflections from a summer spent dancing

 Copyright: Pedro Machado 

Copyright: Pedro Machado 

After seven years of walking on prosthetic legs and playing around with how my body moves and looks with both my legs on and off and what this signifies to myself and others, I was excited at the prospect of engaging with different bodies, and my own, during Candoco’s International Summer Lab and re-connect with dance.

This year’s Lab was held at Rambert Dance Company’s studio on the beautiful South Bank in London, which is a thriving and creative artistic area. It would be the first time I had stepped back in to a professional dance studio since my days as an associate at Urdang Academyalmost ten years ago, so I was looking forward with a mild sense of trepidation, to being back in the environment of stretching and moving with other creative people in a respected and well-known dance space.

Each morning we had an hour’s class with a Candoco dancer and it was great to experience their differing personalities and see the thought processes behind their own dance styles and how they work. We were set different tasks each day including improvisation, touch, reaction and reproduction movements and massage (I could definitely feel muscles working that I haven’t been truly engaged with for a long time!). On the third day we were set the task of exploring each other’s bodies, of really touching and learning from the anatomy of our partners, lying still, eyes closed, in front of us. As I prodded at my partner’s spine and dug my fingers firmly into her vertebrae I was reminded of a teenage girl with spina bifida who said to me recently: “I feel as though people are scared of my body, they think it’s fragile and vulnerable because that’s what they’re taught to think, but it’s not. My spine holds my body exactly the way it’s supposed to be.”It was refreshing to touch, and be touched, to feel my partner running her hands over the joint between my leg and the prosthetic and interrogating how that feels and how later on in the day perhaps she could think about that as she was dancing herself. In that simple movement I was able to delve into deeper thoughts about the human body and anatomy and touch. The massage was certainly much appreciated after the hard work the day before too!

This was how Alex approached our sessions together too. Question why you are moving, think about how each movement feels and really respond to it. He introduced us to his creative thoughts by basing the week in theory – a framework of qualities of movement – which came to really operate as a framework throughout the week. If in doubt refer back to the framework and think about the distinction between the spatial and temporal and the sub sections of each – linear and ampitudinal, tensional and projectional. Alex has obviously thought deeply about this theory and how to apply one of its four categories to a certain, pinpointed part of the body, be it a slight movement of one finger, or a whole arm acting as a catalyst for the whole body running in a huge circle. He would notice if somebody was clearly going off track and would come around in his calm but clearly focused and determined manner and say: “Remember the framework”. His eyes would light up and a small smile would appear as soon as somebody demonstrated, through movement, that they had truly understood.

 Copyright: Pedro Machado

Copyright: Pedro Machado

I came to the Lab with my mind open, ready to learn and it was an approach that resonated around the room, and was clearly at the heart of everybody’s decision to attend. We were all there to learn, explore and challenge ourselves to create shapes, movements and feelings with each other. But the most important and rewarding aspect of the lab was the trust and comfort that emerged almost instantaneously when we walked through the door on the first day. It was clear that in this space we were free to move and discuss, away from any pre-conceptions and self-imposed limitations we may put on ourselves in other parts of our lives. We connected quickly on an artistic, intellectual and explorational way and it was great to see that the Candoco dancers were firmly at the heart of that bond too. Learning with them was a brilliant experience and I would find myself watching them move and interact with the Summer Lab participants thinking: I wonder what snippets of information you will piece together for the final performance and how much are we playing a part in that?

The Summer Lab gave me the confidence to continue dancing and seek out other people who want to explore the human body and the way it can move. It gave me ideas for personal artistic future ventures and left me with a burning desire to see Alex’s final creation in October.

View more photos from the Lab.

Note: Written summer 2015