Identity and belonging a response to National Dance Forum 2015

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My response to NDF2015 is one of identity and belonging.

I was a ballet dancer, gymnast and athlete before I lost my leg to bone cancer at age 17. It made sense to me then that as I could not move like a dancer anymore, I had to put that whole part of me away. So I did. I tried to bury it and deny it. For more than twenty years. But I could not bury the ache that came from my soul when I heard music that caused my body to want to respond to it.

Four years ago I joined Weave Movement Theatre, an inclusive performance company in Melbourne. I began to become 're-acquainted' with the landscape of my body, and its vocabulary. I began to discover the amazing things I can do, and I have remembered what it is about movement and dance that I love. I have come home.

There were two main highlights for me over the NDF2015 weekend. I offer them to you as representative of the sense of belonging I found amongst the Australian dance community.

First dance: I am, as you are—connection to others

A group of us created a movement response that arose from the panel ‘Contemporary dance happens here: dance in regional settings’ (Chair: Annette Carmichael, Speakers: Jacob Boehme, Britt Guy, Lesley Graham, Julian Louis).

Jacob stood at the edge of the space, facing out to the audience. He introduced himself and told the story of his indigenous ancestry. He then stood silently. One by one, we stepped out slowly from the audience. As we moved, we imagined our deceased grandparents or ancestors walking behind us, in solidarity, reminding us who we are. As we approached the dance space, we took off our shoes and found a place to stand behind Jacob. The shape we formed as a group fanned out behind him like the V of flying geese. Silently we broke out and re-formed into a large circle, facing inwards. We all removed our forum name tags, placing them face down. This gesture removed our names and labels and served to unite us and connect us as one. I am as you are.

Open Space session movement response by participants of the session 'Contemporary dance happens here: dance in regional settings’. Images: Will Taylor, Australia Council 2015

Second dance: I am, as I am—connection to self

At the final Open Space session on Sunday, Andrew Morrish facilitated a reflective movement response to the Forum. We were invited to come out to the dance space in the centre of the room to offer a gesture that represented our personal experience of the weekend. In response, others were invited to acknowledge this by coming down to repeat the gesture. This was mine:

The dance floor is empty
She steps out into void
Courageous. Naked.
A boldness of existence.
She trusts her body will know what to say
She breathes.
In. And out.
In the truth of this moment
She is present.

I stood, one-legged on the dance space. I was joined by Frankie, who stood in front of me and lifted her leg up behind her to stand on one leg. More and more people came down and stood around in the space, on one leg. Finally, a dancer slid on his back under Frankie and me and lay on his back. He reached up and supported our missing limbs with his hands.

Thank you NDF2015.

A dancer stands one-legged on the dance space. Other dancers stand in front of her, each lifting one leg up behind them to stand on one leg. They are surrounded by a watching audience, some seated while others sit cross-legged on the floor.Final Open Space session—a reflective movement response to the Forum. Photo: Roslyn Dundas 

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