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The body talks! Embracing the uniqueness of oneself and others, becoming freer and more complete

The body talks!  Embracing the uniqueness of oneself and others, becoming freer and more complete

Author|Gwen Hsin-Yi Chang

Recollections of the body movement series part II:

During the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, the Dance South project initiated by three cities in Taiwan and Spain made a change of plans by turning to the Internet, where it conducted online exchanges on dance choreography creation and adopted a new model of learning to deepen the connection between artists and institutions from different countries.


In the post-pandemic world, the efforts of countries around the globe in implementing vaccination plans and adjusting pandemic measures in real time effectively prevented the pandemic from spreading, and alongside the effects of pandemic prevention and vaccination, helped to get people's lives back on track. Under this new protective umbrella, Dance South was finally free from border restrictions, and in December 2021 Weiwuying and Chiayi Performing Arts Center together invited dance artist LIN Yen-Ching, a near 20-year resident of the UK, to fly out to Madrid from London to serve as the instructor of the 16-day "body tour" beginning on November 28th.


Understanding, believing, accepting, and acknowledging the uniqueness of body culture


Yen-Ching's body tour in Madrid started with a 5-day body seminar and ended with a solo exhibition/performance at the closing ceremony of Certamen Coreográfico de Madrid. Every December, Certamen Coreográfico de Madrid opens with the body seminar and the Writing About Dance Workshop, for which Artistic Director Laura Kumin invites indie artists whose performances/works touch on gender-related issues and topics to participate.


The theme of the seminar this year was Dancing Queerness, which had Spanish dance artist Javier Vaquero (pronoun: she/her) as its mentor. Every day from 10 am to 3 pm, she would lead brainstorming and sharing sessions on artistic creation along with ten dance artists, including Gal Levinson, Andrea El Ameri, Félix A. Arjona, Sara Coelho, Diego Rosental, Lucía Montes, Mado Dallery, Sergio R. Suárez, M. J. Minguez, and Yen-Chin.


Through a steady group life that ran uninhibited for 5 hours every day, combined with mentor Javier Vaquero's systematic mentoring, active listening, and self-less sharing of experiences, a comfortable learning environment was naturally created for the participants. The dance artists felt mutual acceptance and understanding and thus were willing to trust and support each other. As they went on to finish assignments, they experienced the changes and new ways of thinking engendered by original, artificial, and heterogeneous bodies, while during the back and forth discussions they were able to overcome the barriers of language and culture and gain a better understanding of the queer cultures that exist under different social structures.


Throughout the duration of the seminar, from the individual questions and writings and group discussions to the individual and group thematic improvisation projects during the final two days, both mentor and participants learned how to respect the heterogeneity of life through engaging in practices on empathy, needs awareness, and perspective taking in the process of getting to know one another. These dance artists broadened the scope of their works through self and group conversations; they not only became more courageous, but made sure that, as indie artists that perform with their own bodies, their own bodies were the best vehicle for communicating with the public and expressing their ideas and attitudes.


Empowering communities through altruism and the pursuit of common good


With Performing Gender - Dancing in Your Shoes as its official name, this gender body seminar targeting creators was first held in 2013. The seminar is held once every three years and is sponsored by Creative Europe, a major cultural project of the EU.


Under the framework of European dance promotion structures, the project focuses on gender issues, emphasizes audience cultivation and development, and encourages performing artists and dancers to actively converse with local communities. The project has the following four core values: local communities, dance makers, research, and partners.


Members of the project are from eight different countries, including Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK, and eleven institutions, including dance festivals, LGBTQI gender equality associations, universities, international organizations, and theater production centers. These partners and local communities believe that through using dance as an innovative communication tool and the means of openness, empathy, and a willingness to understand, an autonomic community can be formed and a consensus can be reached in regards to the designing of courses on creation communication and research empowerment that are suitable for local communities and cross-cultural groups.


A safe space for performers and creators to freely explore and grow


One of the facilitators of the above project, the non-government organization Certamen Coreográfico de Madrid (Madrid Choreography Platform) was founded by private dance and cultural education institution Paso a 2 in 1987 for the purpose of cultivating and supporting artists in Spanish-speaking countries/regions and has collaborated with performance/exhibition venues such as Condeduquez Centre of Contemporary Culture and Teatros del CANAL - Centro Coreográfico over the years. The platform's founder and director Laura Kumin was a founding member of Aerowaves, a choreography network for young people in Europe, and was trained as a dancer and teacher in the United States, where she took on the role of curator for dance shows at a local theater and produced contemporary flamenco shows. Laura is actively facilitating and supporting new contemporary dance works in Spain, other Spanish-speaking countries, and other European countries. 


Throughout the past 35 years, through accepting invitations to participate in international panels, giving awards, and holding choreography accompanied workshops and residency programs, the platform has discovered many dance talents, with one of such award winners including Spanish choreographer Marina MASCARELL, a long-time collaborator of Nederlands Dans Theater and Dance Forum Taipei. Under the influence of Laura KUMIN's cross-cultural background and exceptional listening ability, Certamen Coreográfico de Madrid continues to develop the voices of up and coming choreographers, facilitate exchange between artists and local communities (school and community center), and explore the possibilities of directly communicating with the public through dance.


When speaking of Laura, many participating artists had similar things to say, "In Madrid, wherever there's dance, there's Laura. She'd make every effort to attend even a private presentation in a small rehearsal room to see choreographers/dancers' works or research development. In addition to understanding how they are doing, Laura often offers to help; whenever someone needs a rehearsal space or residency/touring opportunity, she's always open about it and would try to arrange collaborations so that their works could be understood by the public and receive invitations from other dance professionals to give performances."


My body, my culture


On the famous Taiwanese working people's exchange platform Cheers, in the articles series Life Lessons, author Askats YANG spoke of American psychologist Daniel GOLEMAN's description in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence that in regard to emotional intelligence, the ability to handle relationships is based on empathy. By starting with being aware of the needs, paying attention to the viewpoints, and assisting in the personal development of others, one is able to more effectively understand the views, acknowledge the emotions, and respond to the feelings of others, all the while developing their own empathy.


To apply the above to my time in Madrid, this is what I observed at the gender and body seminar this year: the mentor and ten artists that were originally unfamiliar with each other started off by having conversations and group thinkings/discussions. Then were then able to gradually gather a consensus, and in the end present group improvisations, listen to one another, and grant each other the deepest trust of a creator. This process taught them to respect the eccentricities of living beings and also demonstrated the existence of human empathy. Empathy—that which allows people to be aware of others' needs, understand and trust each other, and respond to each other's feelings.


Therefore, I saw in this safe space how a confident and warm group demonstrated the purest beauty of life and soul-shaking power. In a space without language, where one could hear only the sound of breathing, ten bodies, ten cultures, and ten souls freely and open-mindedly explored the infinite, fearlessly opened their bodies, learned from each other, grew together, and valued the difference of each other's body.


On the path of life, "performing gender" exemplifies the possibilities of artistic creation through life.


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