I’m not sure where dance sits – is it art or exercise? I didn’t realise something could be both. I know that people pay to go and see dance in theatres, that people train to be dancers. I also know that you get out of breath and sweaty while doing it.
I feel silly for thinking these things, because I work in dance. Not as a dancer – I’m too asthmatic, dyspraxic and ungainly for that. But I work for a venue that produces dance, and have managed to get away for too long with knowingly embarrassingly little about dance.
I’ve watched some great dance, and some bad dance, and a lot of in-between dance. But I know I don’t get dance in the way I get theatre. All this is compounded by the fact that I’ve never got up and really moved my body, really let it fly free.
I join the first New Adventures workshop on the first day of NSDF and put my back into it. We stretch, and look at costumes from Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker, pretend to be sweets and chocolate bars, and practice a routine. My legs feel sore for the rest of the day.
On the second day of NSDF I fuck up and miss the session. My legs still feel sore from the day before.
But day by day I get into the swing of waking up and dancing in front of a group of people I have never met. It becomes routine: laptop, inhaler, water bottle. I can’t keep up with everyone else, but I do my best. I feel like I’m flailing in freefall, not doing quite what I’m supposed to, moving slightly out of pace. I feel disconnected from everybody else and everybody else’s bodies, like theirs can move in ways mine can’t.
I dance like Edward Scissorhands, I try to be a big pair of scissors. Chop chop chop. We look at pictures from Bourne’s Scissorhands and try to understand how the movements you make with your body tell a story. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any dance that tells a story before: I’ve seen a lot of weird shit where naked people with long hair roll around on the floor for an hour to some heavy sound design, and I’m wondering if that has given me a warped sense of what dance is.
I fall over once and hope no one else on the Zoom has noticed. I lie on the ground, panting, trying to catch my breath for a moment before I get back up. I haven’t exercised, properly, like this, since I was at school.
The last time I ran, really ran, was probably at NSDF or the Edinburgh festivals, sprinting between buildings to try and catch a show.
The last time I danced, really danced – was probably when I was small. I think back to dancing I’ve done at clubs and parties and I’m not sure it was dancing. It’s been more awkwardly bobbing my body in a way that won’t get me noticed. Once I sent a friend a video of me dancing to the Carl Douglas song ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ as a joke, and she thought it was really funny. The idea of expressing myself earnestly using my body feels alien.
Throughout the week I get better at it. I get used to the smell of my own sweat, the sound of my bare feet sticking to my sister’s old yoga mat, and swigging from a bottle of water during a break, which I only do because everyone else does. I wonder if I’m missing something, if there’s some secret part of it that everyone else can see that is locked to me. I get frustrated when my hands won’t do the thing I want them to, or my feet and arms can’t keep pace with each other.
Nothing sticks in the way that it should: I feel like I’m doing something right only to look up at the screen and see my body doing something different to everyone else’s.I feel conscious as I watch everyone else that I’m never going to be able to move quite like them, stretch quite like them, hit the count of eight quite like them.
During the week I take a break from NSDF to log in to a work meeting, and a programmer announces they’ve got the premiere of a new [choreographer’s name redacted ] piece. Everyone in the meeting coos with pleasure and gets excited. I’ve never heard of them, and have to Google the name later on.
But then the next day during the Zoom workshop I jiggle a part of my leg that I didn’t even know could move, and feel strangely proud that at least I can do that, even if I don’t know all the words for what we’re doing. My body feels sore, like a jammed-up Slinky, and the lampshade in my room is a bit worse for wear after a collision with my arm. But later that day I find myself listening to a Sondheim cast recording and for the first time, I get up and dance to it. I move my body knowing that no one (not even me) can see it, and that makes all the difference.