Butterfly in the Big Apple

2016 in New York with the Lisa Ullman Scholarship, and connecting my learning to Cuba and Brazil. 

I have always loved the Maya Angelou quote ‘ We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’

This past 9 months has been a most incredible journey of personal growth… From the caterpillar to the butterfly. A lot of things have been tough this year, but they have prompted me to go on an amazing journey, to do some self reflection, and make changes for the better- including an amazing array of hairstyles.

The biggest opportunity has been the opportunity to travel and see the world. I have been to Brazil and Cuba as a WCMT Fellow, and am just back from New York as a recipient of the Lisa Ullman Scholarship, where I trained breaking, Salsa, Rocking and went to the Graham school for a month… and feeling so grateful for this incredible experience!

This year has really been about stepping into my own shoes. It has been about shedding doubt, insecurity, submission,and taking control of me. I have had some incredible opportunities to invest time and love on me, on more training, in learning exercises, truly dedicating myself inside out. It has been about learning to trust how much I know instinctively, and about working even harder so I can truly let go and just dance.

What I am most struck by is the global reaches of dance. It was wonderful in New York to confirm that Rocking evolved from Salsa, and see its connections to breaking. I also made connections from Graham and the contraction in almost all areas of dance from Brazil, Cuba… I am struck by the importance of the pelvis, the spine, the earth in all latin dances, and how much this can help and enrich my own technique class and choreography.

In Graham, the base principle, is ‘Contract, Release’, which made my body feel so strong and enabled me to master my movement and gain so much control.

I was helped to train my breaking with ‘progressions’ in order to build the strength and understand specific movements to move to each new step.

In Salsa I was able to use the techniques from Graham to find an immense feeling of freedom and flow in my dance.

I also think that Body MInd Centring- though I don’t know as much as I would like to about it, features in all of these dances- In breaking, where everything moves from centre out, and Salsa and Rumba where the yanvalou is an important focus. I have realised that this is at the core of my movement. As an  Embryo the spine forms first, and from here, the legs, the heart- so there is an alive, alertness in everything, and it all comes from the centre, the pelvis, the spine. the contraction.

I am so impressed by the strength working from the centre gives me and in how the intention of the movement comes alive when moving from here. When we dance from this point we are able to expand to a much greater potential. We are able to move from the eyes through to ears, fingertips, back of head. We become goddess like, and take on a bigger presence on stage. This also helped me with my breaking and my salsa to work more efficiently and move effectively with less effort.

I realised in NYC that in England I hold back when I dance, and this is a combination of not wanting to show off-a very English cultural inherited trait, and not truly trusting myself and my knowledge of the movement. In these techniques I let go of this outward focus on what I am doing and getting it right and took it internal both in terms of how I use my focus-looking to be watched, or not wanting to be watched, and in trusting my body to tell me rather than looking at others. Martha Graham is said to have once said to her students, ‘I am arrogant but I know it. A bit of arrogance is ok’.  I think I have needed more, and this opportunity allowed me to realise it is ok to be great, to expand, to be proud of my accomplishments, and to stop apologising in my movement. In New York, I learnt to love myself, to let go of my belief that I can’t, or haven’t had enough training, and be in the present in the way I dance. I learnt that only I know where I have come from and how hard I have worked to get here and so learnt to seek only to do my best not the best to win approval from someone else. This has fuelled me to make huge leaps as dancer and choreographer and leader of others.

There was something about training with the bboys & bgirls in NYC which was different. They were competitive but in a very real, raw & supportive way. The level was high but there was less snobbery or arrogance about their level, and more willingness to share.

I experienced some wonderful imagery in Graham class: a soft wave, a dark cave which you retreat into frightened- everything had an image and a story to go with it, and this helped me to grasp the depth of movement and how much more there is than just shapes in space when we build a story behind it. This again filtered into the way I moved as a Salsera, and in inspiring my imagination and performance qualities.

I have created a class which uses my background of Breaking, Graham and Yoga, Latin dance. The opportunity to train in these styles has allowed me to create the class very genuinely, instinctively and authentically. I am also able to talk with more confidence about all the elements within my class.

My recent work Ladylike focuses on Rumba and Salsa along with Breaking and Rocking from NYC. The experiences in New York mean I can draw from things I saw first hand and create the work with integrity and utmost respect for the art forms.

In one class, I was told that Leonard Davids (one of the company dancers) was hired when he fell over in class trying so hard-the teacher said Graham recognised his effort and this was why she hired him. She said, we need to go out of our comfort zone-with every bone in your body reaching to feel that. Otherwise we don’t improve. She said ‘Imagine you will have an audience of 3000 in 2yrs tine- they need to see every bone in your body reaching to be the best’. This really helped me to become an intelligent dancer and move tight to my extremities, and has helped me feel so alive when I dance.

The past two years I have turned my focus from touring and performing towards a choreographic and leadership career. If I am to be successful in this highly competitive field, the right mentoring opportunities are crucial- to refresh my choreographic ‘skillset’, develop my creative thinking and this opportunity pushed my capabilities. As a choreographer with a Company, my role as mentor is very important and this experience working with and being mentored by the first and second generation of breakers, rockers & salseras enhanced my knowledge and confidence as a teacher and mentor and also enabled me to become even more of an expert in these areas.

During my Contemporary training, I felt I wanted to bring more of my background into my dance. Having just created Arts Council Funded group piece ‘Ladylike’, I believe I have begun to find this, and that I am at a critical turning point in my career and movement development. This was the perfect time to travel to NYC, because it allowed me to make important connections in the dance styles, and I am really ready to push my companies in the artistic direction I envisaged. I also see that the scene both needs and is ready for it. There is a real currency and relevance in this research to my work as an emerging choreographer and through creating Ladylike I had begun to see how strong the links between the two styles are.

I believe to truly understand a culture, one must experience it first hand. I am passionate about passing the historic knowledge and philosophy from Salsa and Breaking to my dancers. I feel strongly that the development of a technique drawing on diasporic Latin dances with Hip Hop will benefit the practice, understanding and appreciation of Latin & Hip Hop dance in the UK. The Latin scene needs more opportunities and I would love to see the long-term improvement of the level of work produced. I feel I have gained confidence as a leader in this field, and stronger resolve on my long-term goal to bring greater recognition to the Latin dance sector, and building a following for Latin Hip Hop Dance Theatre.

What I am most struck by is the global reaches of dance. The connections of Graham and the contraction in both Cuba and Brazil. Talking to Denilson in Brazil about the contraction, and Martha Graham’s influence on the teaching of the dance, I was struck by the importance of the pelvis, the spine, the earth in these dances and understanding how to use that in my own technique class and choreography. In Cuban Contemporary the base principle, just as in Graham is ‘Contract, Release’, which made my body feel so strong and enabled me to master my movement and gain so much control.

I also feel that Body MInd Centring features in these dances- In Cuban Contemporary where everything moves from centre out, and Orixas in both where the contraction is the central focus. I have realised that this is at the core of my movement. As an  Embryo the spine forms first, and from here, the legs, the heart- so there is an alive, alertness in everything, and it all comes from the centre, the pelvis, the spine. 

I am very impressed by the strength working from the centre gives me and in how the intention of the movement comes alive when moving from here. The force and intention of each Orisha is so different but all come from this powerful gathering of energy at the centre. When we dance from this point we are able to expand to a much greater potential. We are able to move from the eyes through to ears, fingertips, back of head. We become a goddess like the Orisha, and take on a bigger presence on stage.

I realised in England I hold back when I dance, and this is a combination of not wanting to show off-a very English cultural inherited trait, and not truly trusting myself and my knowledge of the movement. In these techniques I let go of this outward focus on what I am doing and getting it right and took it internal both in terms of how I use my focus-looking to be watched, or not wanting to be watched, and in trusting my body to tell me rather than looking at others. Martha Graham is said to have once said to her students, ‘I am arrogant but I know it. A bit of arrogance is ok’.  I think I have needed more, and these opportunities allowed me to realise it is ok to be great, to expand, to be proud of my accomplishments, and to stop apologising in my movement. In Brazil & Cuba I learnt to love myself, to let go of my belief that I can’t, or haven’t had enough training, and be in the present in the way I dance. I learnt that only I know where I have come from and how hard I have worked to get here and so learnt to seek only to do my best not the best to win approval from someone else. This has fuelled me to make huge leaps as dancer and choreographer and leader of others.

I experienced some wonderful imagery in class: a soft wave, a dark cave which you retreat into frightened- everything had an image and each Orixa a story to go with it, and this helped me to grasp the depth of movement and how much more there is than just shapes in space when we build a story behind it. 

In both Cuba and Brazil it is almost a sin to be out of time. I have always had a great connection to music and the live music was my freedom. I would get lost on the beat of the drums as if they were speaking to me and the dance being channelled from somewhere I knew long ago and movement that was already instinctive.

The discussions around the Chakra and classical Indian dance and postures were fascinating to me, and I believe there is some truth in this which I hope one day I will have the opportunity to research further.

Leonard Davids one of the Graham company dancers was hired when he fell over in class trying so hard-I will always remember this: we need to go out of our comfort zone-every bone in our body reaching to feel it.

The company have worked harder than ever to put together a new piece Ladylike, which will preview on the 28th October. I have been very blessed with the opportunity as a fellow of the Bench: Thank you! This year I have been given a very honest account of myself, through mentor opportunities, and that has helped me to woman up, fix up, and charge forwards. I have also had some incredible travel experiences this year. I was awarded two scholarships- which sent me on three incredible trips of growth and expansion… Thank you! All this has contributed to birth of Ella Borboleta!

 

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