Dancing Splints with Stopgap Dance

With a suitcase bulging with leg and arm splints, an array of shoe insoles, ankle supports and some rejected splints from my physio department, I arrived in Woking for a day of dancing splint explorations and some tasks to discover Elvis Presley’s movements!

Stopgap Dance had invited me to work with them after seeing my presentation of Unstrapped, my Unlimited R&D commission at the Southbank Centre back in September. My intention for the day was to satisfy my curiosity, to push the boundaries of my thinking around creating work with dancers and medical equipment, and to challenge some of my process that had develop from my R&D in the summer.

The day started with a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class. As a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement teacher, I’m completely interested and passionate about developing my Feldenkrais practice in the same way as my artistic practice; that is to be inclusive and accessible. I taught a lifting the head class in lying. The focus of the class was inviting the spine and ribs, along with the breath to become more involved in lifting the head, with the intention to look past the torso. Bringing awareness to how people lift their head using more of their skeleton can enable the neck muscles to do less, to relax and not work so hard.

With spines, heads, necks and breathing freer and easier we cracked on to moving to Elvis Presley! Moving like Elvis has been intriguing me for years, my blog from the summer explains more. Finding a similar quality of how Elvis moved – the rolling, shaky sometimes fluid sequences he develop that became his signature movement was what I used to get the dancers moving. They quickly moved through creative tasks and were asked not to hang-on to any sequences or routines. This was intentional as I was seeking out moments of light-heartedness to capture playful movements and laughter, which I could feed back into my work, as a way of breaking the heaviness of the medical stories that the splints hold. And dancing to Elvis is always a good way to warm up!

The suitcase was received with many curious comments and inquisitive looks! Following the playful qualities from the Elvis section the task was to pick a splint and explore it: what is it? How can it move? My collection of leg, arm and ankle splints is quite big, some were prototypes, others are the NHS’ finest masterpieces, some have a very prescribed way of wearing them, others are quite flexible and can be worn with imagination. Some of the Stopgap dancers had kindly brought along some of their gadgets, aids and equipment. Everyone played, followed their curiosity and found ways to interact, dance and be with their chosen object.

Asking the dancers to shift their intention while I was feeding in choreographic tasks and notes was part of my process. It was to challenge how I work with medical equipment and what they can offer in the evolution of my practice. I was looking for moments when splints and equipment came alive in different, unexpected ways and then questioning what is it about those moments that stand out and make me respond. Being outside of the material and tasks I had the opportunity to direct and explore the unique movements of the dancers and the medical equipment. After a while of watching I matched the splints with dancers and gave each dancer a brief history of the splint. The intention was to use the story and play with the restrict prescribed movements of what the splint offered, or play against it, pushing them to find new pathways of movement.

For me this was interesting! I was able to see the splints in new, undiscovered way, lots of splinted arms, legs, ankles, torso all moving together, each with their own new story. It was delightful! It gave me the opportunity to throw away some thoughts of how I work with splints and what I wanted to develop.

By now everyone was getting tired, the splints beginning to pull, rub and annoy. To use the opportunity and feeling of release and taking off the splints, I asked them quietly, individually to take off their splints, stop interacting with it and harvest the feeling of being free but carry on dancing. The part of the task was a pleasure to watch – in cannon each dancer stripped away their object. Immediately their quality changed and the sense of release that filled the room was one of relief. Movements became freer, easier and back to a light playful quality. Sighs and sounds of laugher began to grow, limbs were filling the space in with a feeling of freedom and it was time for a break!

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A whole day for dancing splint exploration enabled me to really challenge the process of how I make work and importantly how do I develop after the Unlimited R&D commission. My immediate response was: a curiosity for digging deeper into what the splints can offer, their aesthetic qualities, what more can be done with the objects on their own but also the stories behind them.

To end the day I taught another Feldenkrais class, this time it was around easier breathing.

Having a few weeks to process my R&D and this day with Stopgap Dance invited me to clarify what interests me now. It is not always seeing the splints moving but what else outside the dancing could the splints and equipment offer? Can I really challenge the perception not only of who can dance but also the perception of medical equipment. Can I hang them up? Put light bulbs in some? Challenge their form, intention in a playful way? The presence of finding the light-hearted, humorous side of my splints is intriguing me to push their aesthetic! Can I start moving with them to uncover my unique relationship with the stories behind them? My left and right sides, one side with labeled with cerebral palsy the other with nothing. Maybe this unique, sometimes invisible disability has numerous stories waiting to be developed.

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