The three dancers move beautifully across the stage. Suddenly, I see them coming towards me. I have no idea what will happen, but I know for a fact that I won’t be sitting still for much longer. One of the female dancers grabs my hand and pulls me up from the floor, the other female dancer turns me around while the male dancer puts his hands on my shoulder blades. Two seconds later, they lift me up in the air. After feeling a bit awkward at first, I throw my head backwards and surrender completely.
My flying experience happened during an interactive dance performance by Caleidos Dance Co., a Brazilian Contemporary dance company created in 1996 by Isabel Marques and now co-directed by her husband Fábio Brazil. A week before the performance, I met with Isabel at the Caleidos Institute, which is based in São Paulo, to talk about her work and her views on dance and education.
Isabel works as a choreographer, dance director, dance teacher and researcher. She has a PhD in Education, MA in Dance Studies (Laban) and a degree in Pedagogy. At the age of 24, she was already working as a dance education consultant for Sao Paulo City Secretary of Education and has worked with Paulo Freire, a very influential Brazilian Educator who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy. To me, Isabel seemed as impressive as her resume. A very powerful woman with a strong voice.
During her time at the Secretary of Education, dance was introduced in schools for the first time. There are over 20 million people living in the metro area of São Paulo so this was quite a challenge. They worked with a team of art educators, not to teach art to children, but to teach the school teachers. So Isabel has been giving teacher trainings for years. From workshops to weekly classes, she is an expert in her field. “Some of them (the teachers) feel they haven’t got enough knowledge,” she says, “and then they realize they can be creators themselves.”
During our talk, I notice her authentic, genuine openness. She tends to talk with her full body (as so many other dancers do!), which puts a lot of emphasis and passion in her words. Proudly, she shows me around the dance studio, which is very colorful and decorated with plants and flowers. There’s a beautiful open space on the roof terrace for gatherings as well. It seems more like a cultural center and community space than a dance school.
And dancing isn’t all they do at Caleidos. When Isabel teaches, she brings universal and current themes into the classes. The participants, which in this class are mostly all teachers themselves, first discuss these themes before they turn their words into movement. She enjoys diving fully into a topic and asks provocative questions to challenge her students. “We feel it, we do it, we talk and we experiment,” she says. So it’s more than just movement, but also more than just creative dance. And the participants take this way of teaching with them into their own classroom.
The subject personal space is an example of what she works with in her classes. One of the topics that is frequently talked about in movement classes about personal space is touch. It seems there is less and less human interaction because of changes in society, so you could say it’s good to work with touch. But in schools there is a possibility of working with children that have been abused. And they may not like to be touched. This is, according to Isabel, a very important conversation to have. The same goes for differences between men and women. “Why do we connect women with lightness? Why not men?”
Next to working with important themes of life, Isabel says that she often works with basic themes like respect and environment. She claims teachers can use dance in all subjects to teach children. “By dancing I have already transformed my actions. As I dance I learn to be generous, how to dialogue, learn that difference is good, my body learns and I realize there are more people like me.” She adds: “I believe in the French philosopher Foucault who says: Power is embedded in the body.”
We learn while we do. During the performance, children and adults are constantly moving from observing the performance to participating. The adults are hesitant at first, but quickly get over their awkwardness and, like me in my short flight, give in to the suggested movements of the dancers. I also see a huge difference between people from the Netherlands and Brazil. The embarrassment of moving seems much less present here than in my home country. One by one, dancers carry, lift, drag and pull people onto the stage until everyone is a part of the performance and there is nobody watching anymore. Slowly, without me really realizing it, my personal space has completely been invaded by my Brazilian co-dancers. It feels like we are all connected. It’s beautiful.
Ah, the power of dance.
In my next blog I will talk more about my meeting with Isabel and our inspiring visit to a public school in São Paulo.
|Caleidos Dance Co.
The companies aim is to encourage creative dance work that embraces and celebrates diversity: in age, social class, gender, religion, nationality, and sexual orientation; to conduct dance/education original research; to develop artistic productions that supports the emergence of critical and self-aware education. The company integrates dance/education through workshops and courses, teacher training programs, dance performances, seminars and publications. Through this blend of dance performances (meant as open invitations to participate) and social actions, the company has established a unique way to connect dance with education and with a wide range of social issues. With its deep commitment to interpersonal understanding, social awareness, and transformation, the company has brought these dance/education work throughout Brazil and abroad.