In July Multicultural Cumbria organised a number of Dance Carousel sessions as part of the Artful Ways project. Dance Carousel is a project which brings people together in person to learn dances from around the world. The project provides a female only environment to encourage women from Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups and of all backgrounds to get involved. Tina from Multicultural Cumbria gave us an update on how the sessions went…
Sometimes you have those days when everything feels like it is happening organically – where everything comes together and it all flows ‘perfectly.’ Now, ‘perfect’ is not a word I use often or lightly and it came as something of a very pleasant surprise to be using it in relation to this project which, ironically, had started out a little less than perfectly only two weeks previously!
Two weeks ago, we had stood in the glorious sunshine amongst the Chinese and Italian Gardens in Rickerby Park, Carlisle, ready to take our planned walk to Bitts Park, on a slight detour; the weather had been predicted to break with 90% chance of rain within the hour, where we were due to start our Dance Carousel session to create our creative response to the Artful Ways project. I felt slightly foolish announcing to everyone that we would have to go to our backup indoor venue instead and the looks on the participants’ faces was not encouraging – this was not what they had signed up to do! Several people were nervous about dancing indoors in this still uncertain time of Covid presence, a couple of ladies dropped out, understandably worried, but thankfully most of them stayed and agreed to wear masks and give it a go. And when a huge dynamic downpour splattered down on the glass roof above our heads in the studio, we all breathed a massive sigh of relief – phew! I’d made the right call!! Dancing on soggy wet grass in soaking wet clothes and weighing down a dripping wet body is not good practise, and for once, my risk assessment had been put into action and saved us! Yet despite things not going to plan, we had an amazing dance session with the wonderful Bollywood Dance teacher, Shweta Ajay and I received some of the most beautiful feedback following the session. One lady texted me later:
“Today was just what I needed, a lovely walk, company, interaction, dancing and seeing friends. I was nervous to dance inside but everyone was so kind and understanding, it made me feel safe, calm and happier than I’ve been in a long time and it is great to be back!”
Week Two was bad weather once again but on the third and final week, we finally got to Dance in Bitts Park and yes, it really was, just perfect. We finally got our sunshine! We were finally able to dance outside amongst the glorious backdrop of lush green grass, gorgeous trees and stunning, colourful flowers.
The fabulous Elaine Bromley, started us off with her signature warm up, mobilizing our joints and building us up to a lively pulse raiser – wow, could we sustain this level of energy, in this heat? Regular pauses for water and brief shaded intervals would keep us going for the next two hours! Elaine’s attention to detail never ceases to impress me; she carefully customises her warm ups to prepare us for each of the specific dance styles we are about to participate in. She is a trained dance and exercise teacher, so she understands the importance of both of the elements I am passionate about, equally: looking after the body, making sure our posture is correct and applying injury prevention techniques; whilst also supporting the Dance tutors, all of whom have varying levels of teaching experience. This enables us to provide a fully rounded and quality Dance experience. Today was no exception – Elaine introduced neck isolations to enable us to lubricate these delicate joints ready for our upcoming Indian head movements.
So then we began with Shweta’s beautiful Bollywood Dance. Shweta took inspiration from our walk on our first day, suitably depicting the rain with rippling hands and the flowing water with sweeping arm movements! It was a lively number with strong beats and it was clear that everyone was enjoying it. Throughout the final session, Mike (my husband who also does Technical and Production Management at Culture Bazaar) was running around taking photos and filming footage to be used to create a film for the Artful Ways exhibition. And alongside this, we were also graced with the presence of Border TV who were filming footage for a piece for South Asian Heritage Month. So the dancers had to repeat the routines several times for the camera and were incredibly grateful for their shaded water stops!
Up next, we had Jayashree, who taught us the most exquisite Indian Classical-Bharatanatyam dance. Again, taking inspiration from nature, Jayashree included delicate hand movements that symbolised birds, deer and peacocks and soft flowing arms that depicted trees swaying in the breeze. Bharatanatyam is one of my favourite dance styles, that I had the pleasure of learning during my own Dance training and performing days early on in my career and it’s gentleness always takes my breath away, leaving me with a sense of calm and serenity. Ahhhhhhh!
This was soon, pleasantly interrupted by the wonderful and vibrant choreography from Joy Dale. Joy’s African Dance is a firm favourite with many of our ladies but today, she also managed to weave in some sexy Salsa moves to celebrate the summer sunshine – together, we really brought the party atmosphere to Bitts Park and attracted some attention from many curious passers by! This rounded the day off ‘perfectly’ for me, as it was also my birthday and Joy had everyone dancing around me, in the centre of a circle and with a birthday chant!
Much fun, sweat and energy was exuded by all, before I, in somewhat breathless desperation, said: “Elaine, please cool us down!” So, Elaine gradually brought our heart rate back down, as we released any tension and ironed out a few creases with some gentle and soothing reaching and stretching. Namaste.
Naturally, our typical Dance Carousel ritual followed this, as the ladies stole themselves away from the space to chat; thanking the tutors, complimenting fellow participants, exchanging phone numbers and of course, asking when the next Dance Carousel session will be happening (Autumn 2021!) Always friendly and ever supportive of each other, our Dance Carousel ladies then took their sun kissed and now, artful bodies home.
Although I can no longer Dance to the extent I used to, with the constant reminder of my Hypermobility Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) getting in the way of that, preventing me from putting too much pressure on my joints, Dance Carousel allows me to still ‘dip my toe in’ now and again; I can join in with some parts, as long as I am careful not to overdo it (which is easier said than done!) But the real pleasure for me now, is in witnessing this holistic experience, this truly inclusive and authentic cultural sharing. Dance Carousel keeps moving around, in ever continuing circles, as it’s namesake suggests….how privileged am I to be a part of it?
And now it has the chance to be even greater than the sum of its parts by developing it’s components into a film for Artful Ways. I can’t wait to share the film with you!
Photographs by Multicultural Cumbria