Blog 6

June 2016: Brazil WCMT

2015 Churchill Travelling Fellowship: Brazil Blog and reflections on Cuba

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Dates of journey: 17th January to 1st March 2016

Where: Salvador, Brazil

Favourite food: Aipim com Queijo (Cassava with cheese)/ Acerola com Laranja (A fruit which was juiced with Orange- apparently with the highest Vitamin C content in the world/ Abaré (An Afro-Brazilian dish from Bahia made from baking a paste of mashed black-eyed peas.)

Most inspiring person/people I met: Denilson Olawufemi, Pia Love, Karina Christie, Leda Maria Ornellas.

Greatest moments: A visit to Denilson’s home studio for a private dance session in his dance studio, swim and lunch with his family. Parading in Salvador Carnival, watching Ile Aye

Visiting Guarantingueta to train Capoeira training with my Mestre in the UK’s father. As there was no other distraction, I was able to focus 100% on Capoeira

The hardest thing: The fear of being constantly told it is dangerous & learning how to relax in a city on edge. 

The best thing: There is music and dance everywhere! It is a city full of energy, soul, music and history.

Smells like: Every smell good and bad within very short intervals

Feels like: A city rich with history, culture and magic and there is an amazing energy and weight-you can feel the history, & also that Salvador has so much African influence. 

Looks like: Beautiful cobbled streets, colourful buildings, colonial buildings, terrain, lush vegetation.

Sounds like: So much music at all hours of the day… Drums Drums Drums



Associação Artistica e Cultural Diáspora – Diáspora Art Center:ção-Artistica-e-Cultural-Diáspora-Diáspora-Art-Center

Bloco Kizumba

Espaço Cronopios:

Capoeira Mojuba (at the end of my trip), Guarantingueta:

The Teachers:


At Funceb I was able to devise my own program of dance classes including Orixás classes with Jaguaracy Santos Mojegbe, Denilson Olawufemi, Contemporary using Afro Brasilian with Paco Gomes and the Silvestre school including Vera Passos and Rosangela Silvestre.

Particularly poignant for me was studying the work of Denilson Owalufemi, looking at the body as a spiritual vessel and his research into the gut as a sacred centre and another ‘brain’ giving equal importance to the rotation, and the contraction or head and tail connection. I also found his ideas in about the connections to the Orixás and Graham technique very enlghtening. These insights, gained in country through opportunities to ask questions, conduct interviews and learn about the cultural influences were invaluable.

Associação Artistica e Cultural Diáspora

Nem Brito’s classes were very direct and to the point. In his small centre, he held drumming classes and dance classes on the Orixa, Samba de Roda and Samba Caboclo. He used a Contemporary warm up followed by his unique teaching approach, which meant we travelled across the space in lines.

Espaço Cronopios

Leda Maria Ornelas taugh Afro Brazilian and Alongamento in this beautiful space in Santo Antonio- Salvador. Her classes featured live drums and often would fuse Contemporary and Afro Brazilian styles.


I paraded in Carnival in Salvador with Bloco Kizumba. It was a very different scale to Rio carnival. I loved this bloco and enjoyed seeing the dances I had been studying feature in modern day movement.

My reason for travelling to Brazil:

To learn more about the dances of the Orixá. 

I travelled to Cuba and Brazil to refresh and further my dance skills and build confidence in my knowledge around the dances of the Orixàs/Orishas, and most of all, to experience the culture and dances first hand

I wanted to question the connections between Brazil and Cuban dances of the Orishas/Orixàs, and ask questions about the dances and the history of these techniques.

I wanted to see how Latin Dance features in the theatre in Brazil and Cuba to inspire my work and to better facilitate my role as Dramaturgy and mentor for Roots of Rumba.

Diary from Brazil

Day 1 at Funceb

Paco Gomes Orixàs class: Studying Nana- the earth mother who is upset with the world and humans for their maltreatment of mother nature.

Also Omolu-who is said to be  unattractive-the story in this class is that he was attacked by crabs- and he is fighting back at the way he is treated, saying ‘you can bully me, but I can see, hear, think, do’. 

Vania Orixàs class: Studying Oya- who represents the butterfly (my quote of the year) She represents birth death change. She lives intensely. This class was to live drums and the atmosphere was just beautiful 

Night time-I fear the zombies come out- I have been given so many warnings so decided to have a chilled and quiet dinner and bed… Quiet was not possible though being on a main street of Pelourinho 

Day 2 

Jaguaracy Orixàs Class: 9-1  which included a singing class and the dance section. He is ‘reinterpreting’ the Orixàs and even used some ‘Krump’

Silvestre Orixàs class

Noise of my home is difficult- I am needing to wear ear plugs the whole time 

Day 3

Stretch-Alongamento class with Leda

Orixàs Class with Denilson: We began singing and studying the Yoruba language. He broke down each Orixà in a simple way and gave detailed links between Cuba and Brazil

Meeting: Bale foclorico- I have organized to take class in three weeks time.

SilvestreOrixàs Class: Luciane: We studied Xango (I was excited at the links to Chango from Cuba!) There was one step so similar to chachalocafou (Chango in Cuba) but with lots of distinctions too. 

I am realising I would love to do a Phd in this.

Today I felt quite emotional connecting samba and the dances of the Orixàs. I began to wonder if the real reasons I fell for Samba at the beginning of my career was to do with the earthy footwork and this inate human movement and calling from the drums.

I watched an incredible Afro Brazilian Performance

Day 4

Alongamento class with Leda

Orixàs Class with Denilson

Bale foclorico meeting two with my letter from Jean Salomao

Silvestre Orixàs Class 

Day 5

Alongamento Class: Leda

Orixàs Class: Denilson: I felt really moved by Denilson’s theory about capoeira and the body. He said that we can see the body as symmetrical in that we have two head- the top half- where the arms, brain and mouth are. The bottom half where the legs, intestine anus are. He said we should respect live and think more spiritually about the bottom half as it is a sacred place. He said they are of equal importance and gave  importance to the rotation and to our balance in being upside down sometimes.

He made connections to the Orixàs and Graham technique.

We began with very Contemporary exercises to work on Contraction, and whilst doing a Cat and cow yoga type exercise, Denilson noticed my  scoliosis and clicked it mid class! Which probably made me feel a bit emotional.

As the very Graham class continued he began linking Graham to Brazilian and African dance. I felt really moved by this. Graham has always been my favouriteContemporary style, and I felt quite moved to hear there were connections to Orixà movement.  I was so excited about the connections, and that it confirmed something about my intuition in my choices of dances that are connected across continents. 

When we began to look at Orixà technique we focused on Iansa,  Ogum and Xango.

Orixà Class: Paco Gomes: We learnt material for Nana, Oya, Oxum, Ogum, Oxossi, Xango

I also did an interview for  Pia- a wonderful woman who was in Brazil shooting for a documentary around the world. Previously she had been in Nigeria where she visited the Oxum river. She asked me and another dancer about our personal connection to Orixàs. 

Tomorrow I will take part in an Orixà ceremony. There is just an unbelievable amount of energy in Salvador. It is a non stop city. I will sleep through the party ready for tomorrow.

Day 6

I had a very interesting Orixàs reading before heading to my Carnival rehearsal.

I also practised and revised everything I had learnt so far.

Day 9

Alongamento Class: Leda

Orixàs Class: Paco Gomes: This was my favourite class of the day focusing on the male Orixàs

Orixàs Class: Denilson

Day 10

Today I had an injury not from dance but the hills and wearing flipflops, and I am covered in mosquitos which I am allergic to!

This morning’s class with Jaguaracy covered Omolu, Nana, Xango & Oxum

And then I was invited to an Ensaio to parade in carnival with an Afro Brazilian bloco, though on my way they called to say it was cancelled.

Instead I went to watch and a local dance show where we were asked to pay our entry with tins of with food. The most memorable shows included a Samba piece based on Iansa, an all male cast of around 20 which seemed to be about city life, and a topless duet about Iansa and Oxum using contemporary dance and  Afro Brazilian. 

Day 11

Today in Denilson’s Orixàs class I started to understand the Yoruba language and connect the songs to their meanings for each Orixàs. Then we studied the dance of 

Yemanya. He said on Friday we will start learning Oxala (Obatala in Cuba). I am really looking forward to that. 

The second Orixàs class was with Vera, and we studied Ossain- who doesn’t feature in Cuba as far as I know, and I don’t know much about

This evening I watched the show of Bale Foclorico who I will train with in a few weeks. They showcased many Orixàs- including Omolu, Ogun, Iemanya, Oxossi. They also showcased Maractu with some incredible tricks, and Capoeira-which got me excited about my training in Capoeira which I will do toward the end of the trip as my own personal investment and research. Then finally they showcased Samba de Roda- which was exciting for me as I found a class today- which I will take on Friday. 

I feel like things are starting to make sense here. Today there was a bateria playing in the street, and as I swayed to the music, I realized I am starting to dance Bahia style- my go to movements to these rhythms are helping me to make sense of allthe training.

I also met a percussionist today, who was giving me some lessons which was nice.

It is so crazy here and so full on. I also discovered an amazing Vegetarian food today called Abara. It is a food like Acaraje, which is often linked to the Orixàs, but can be made vegetarian and is baked rather than fried in Dende oil. It is so delicious!

Day 14

Today there was a lot of rehearsals for the Carnival happening. It was so noisy walking back from rehearsals, and I heard a Samba rhythm coming from one building so I went to have a look. And there I found a beautiful Samba de roda!

Today I did a private with Denilson and was able to ask him loads of questions. He says so much which rings true to me. I have arranged to have tomorrow focusing in particular on the rhythms and dances. I think Denilsonhasan amazing intelligence and understanding of thebody and mind connection. He helped me to see the connection to contemporary dance and the Orixàs. We talked a lot about the history of Orixàs and he told me about Katherine Dunham’s visits to Salvador. She was an important influence in the scene because she set up a company with her husband here in Bahia, and began to train in the Orixàs in the 70s. Of course the Orixà have been here since the beginning of time but, she began to ‘formulate’ what she was learning into a technique. Maybe this is why there are links to Graham here? I wonder if this is similar with Cuba and Cuban Contemporary that is certainly a mixture of Afro Cuban and Graham technique. 

Today I also tried Silvestre technique. I discovered that this style is not for me. It is a beautiful contemporary style but that I don’t feel it is a part of my journey.

I also took a class with Vera where we covered every Orixà.

Day 15 

Today was the last Orixà class at Funceb. I took another private with Denilson. Today we broke down the movements and made more links to Graham, Horton and Limon techniques, and connecting these exercises and Orixà exercises which Denilson uses. I finally was able to ask about the shoulder isolations which had been confusing me as there doesn’t seem to be a set way or technique as there is in Cuba and from what I could tell there was much less movement of the solar plexus.

Next I took Denilson’s last class, and then a class with Paco Gomes.

At the Samba de Roda class I realised I have learnt lotsofthe style already, but it was great to formulate all of this.

Finally this evening I went to a barber’s to shave the sides of my head as I was over heating. And there I ended up meeting the ex Director and Choreographer of Bale Foclorico! I love how small the world is because it turns out he is the father of a friend of mine based in London. Finally I watched some live Samba in my very noisy street! 

Day 16

Today I was filming all day-dancing Oxum with the wonderful Pia who is out here also doing research. We went to a very famous sacred beach in the Candomblereligion, and filmed there and in the water with assistance from Nem Brito- a famous choreographer here in Bahia.

Day 17

Today I went to visit the Orixàs do Dique- a lake with sculptures of all the Orixàs on it, and then I went to the Igreja do Bomfim- a church in Bonfim which is a Chritstian church where there is alos a syncretism of the Candomble religion. Our Lord of Bonfim is associated Oxala,the father of Orixàs and creator of humankind. When I came back I went to watch some of the Carnival celebrations.

Day 18

Today I took another private with Denilson this time in a beautiful area of Bahia at the studio next door to his home. Again I was able to asked many questions, and we trained Ogun, Oxossi, Oxumare, Oxum, Iemanja, Iansa, Oxala along with his partner. I feel much more confident that I know this and will be going back with somethingstrong. In the evening I went with Pia to watch Ile Aye- an Afro Bloco who have been quite political in their parades and who it is said only allow black or mixed race people to perform with them.

Day 19

Today I paraded in the Carnival! It was incredible! By coincidence, the leader of our Bloco (called) was Denilson! The parade was very long and we were dressed in yellow and white (my two favourite colours). We paraded aroung the hole of Pelourinho, using all of the movements of the Orixàs! It was an incredible finale to the course and a dream come true to be a part of. I was even interviewed for the television!

Day 20

Today was Frustrating!

Alongamento: I got up early to take Leda’s class, but noone was there. I messaged her and she said she was running late so we finally took class, and then she said they would have another class after which I could join, but as I had organized to start my Bale Focloricotraining, I turned it down. I ran to the Bale Focloricobuilding and waited a long time, and eventually was told it was cancelled as it was carnival. Finally I went home to prepare then for another rehearsal which I had been invited to at the parade. It is quite hard for me to understand everything in Portuguese on the phone, and everytime he gave me the directions to get there I struggled. I kept on asking if he could send me the address written down so I could look up how to get there, and every time he called me back and said it again! Then finally he called again to say that actually the rehearsal was cancelled due to carnival which was disappointing. 

Finally I went down to Funceb where the security let me in to practice. I began outing together a new Class using everything I had learnt in Cuba and here in Brazil- whichwas really productive!

Day 21

Today there have been many more carnival cancellations! The security explained to me that ‘After carnival noone hads energy’ I was hoping to go to Bale Foclorico then an Orixàs with Nem Brito and percussion, but instead I ended up staying in revising, creating and writing ready for tomorrow.

Day 26

After a third day with no Bale Foclorico, I decided to take a trip outside of Salvador which was great. I have been doing quite a bit of self training over everything and realising how much I have learnt. I have really enjoyed making a new Company Class which is a mixture of everything I was doing already but also using all these new influences… Including a section on the hips and free improvisation. I have a feeling that this class is very important in finding a free and natural way to move and am starting to wonder if the whole world and ways of moving are connected- for example the healing quailitiesof Gaga, the strenghth in the Centre, the links to Graham and Afro Cuban and Afro Brazilian. Today I came back and took a wonderful class with Nem Brito on the dances of the Orixas- focusing on Ogum, and also a percussion class with Bira Santos, whom it turns out is a friend of my friends John and Marica- a couple now based in Scotland whom I helped to communicate when they met many years ago and John was not yet able to speak Portuguese. 

Day 27

Today I had my second Orixà reading. It was very different to my first- and felt much more right to me. I will take a cleansing with this Mae de Santos the day I fly to Rio for the end of my trip.

Day 28

This morning I took a class wth Leda- another Alongamento class. I am strating to feel very strong and supple from this class. It is wonderful to already be warm when class starts! I also took a private with Denilsoncontinuing to discuss the links to Graham and Horton, and this time also looking at the modern day dances of Brazil and how the Orixàs  feature in these. In the evening I visited Terreiro: the celebrations went on for over 4 hours, and was in a beautiful building. It was wonderful to see all the Orixàs in elaborate costumes and to be a part of this very special ceremony and celebration of Xango.

Day 29

Sadly today there were more cancellations- Bale Foclorico, and a private I had set up with Nem Brito inSamba caboclo- a section linked to Oxossi some say in the Candomble religion. I met with Denilson to ask him lots of my own inner questions about race, racism in Brazil and with regards to the traveller- if is this a new form of colonisation? Despoite the cancellations, I have learnt so so much, and I had an amazing trip. I know I will come back again, as my story here is not quite finished, and I know the Orixas will continue to feature in my path. I am so interested in the links and importance in the religion to listening to our intuition, to our spirit guides, and to the importance of the drums. On this trip, I have learnt so much abot my self, the power of my intuition, and the importance of putting all of me and all of my emotions into my movement. I love dancing the Orixàs because each one can reflect different sides to my personality and tell different versions of me. I have grown so much in confidence over the time here as I realize how much I have learnt, and as I realize that I know so much about this. At the same time I am excited to continue to learn.

The learning and the experience of a trip with the WCMT:

I embarked on this journey to learn more about Afro Cuban & Brazilian traditional dances. I took a course in Cuba: Havana & a course in Brazil: Salvador as professional research towards developing a style using Afro Cuban & Afro Brazilian- in particular the Orishas/Orixàs & Cuban/Brazilian Contemporary techniques. 

My goal is to bring these back to the UK, both for the theatre & as a teaching system using these styles alongside the elements as a teaching method & ethos. 

My mission is to promote the first Latin dances, the Afro Latin dances, and the true roots of Salsa and Samba in the UK and to push the scene so that eventually we will see many more Contemporary Latin Companies, and Latin dance Theatre on the mainstage.

In learning all I aimed to, I am actually just scratching the surface. There is so much to learn about these dances, the religion, the music, the language, that I know I will come back again. I know the Orixàs will continue to feature in my path and my passion for Afro Cuban and Afro Brazilian dance has intensified. I feel my story in these two countries and building links to the UK is just beginning. 

I feel I have not only refreshed my skills, but learnt much more deeply.  I have furthered my skills, technique and knowledge which has given me a  strengthened confidence, conviction and sense of identity in my role in the UK.

In both countries I covered the dances of:










And in Brazil




I discovered many connections between Brazilian and Cuban dances of the Orishas/Orixàs as well as links to Graham and Contemporary techniques both within the techniques and the way in which the techniques enrich Contemporary styles in both countries.

I found it interesting to see how the dances and practises of these religions evolved in the two countries and the differences and similarities in the dances and the countries as a whole. Long term I would like to further compare Cuba and Brazil and eventually visit Africa to further understand. I am sure that eventually I will look into PHD opportunities to further this research.

The Cuban techniques seem to me to have more complicated rhythms often dancing to the off beat, and I woukd like to further research into whether this is the case or if it is because Brazilian rhythms fit more naturally on my body. In both countries the drums and the dance change together-the dance can dictate the drum rhythm, or the rhythm can dictate the dance. 

In both countries, music is present everywhere, and this I think contributes to two incredible execution of each movement. I am increasingly interested in the links and importance in the religion to listening to our intuition, and to the importance of the drums.

In Brazil, I found the Orixàs to be much more openly present in everyday life. 

Seeing how Latin Dance features in the theatre in Brazil and Cuba has inspired me to make more theatrical work, and I feel will strengthening my mentoring and Dramaturgical abilities with artists taking part in Roots of Rumba. In some ways, I felt that theatre in dance performances was less developed in terms of concept and content than in the UK, but in both countries the level and execution of technique, understanding of the movement and emotion behind each movement is phenomenal. Again I feel this needs further research to be truly understood.

The opportunity to research in both countries has allowed me to extend my practise and incorporate the Orixàs/Orishas, along with their Elements and emotions into my theatrical work. It has driven home the importance of putting all of me, and all of my emotions into my movement, and helped me to pass this on to my dancers and mentees. I love that in dancing these dances, one can reflect different sides to a personality and tell different versions of oneself. I feel this experience has enabled me to bring more heart and more soul to my performance. By experiencing these countries, and experiencing things first hand, I am able to make a deeper connection to the music, the movement and to belonging to it. I also understand that visiting somewhere else is not the same as growing up there, and this I understand more deeply. I also appreciate that it takes a certain kind of person to be able to travel, learn openly and who does not seperate and recognises we are all one-which was my favourite graffiti in Cuba.

Seeing Contemporary dance used alongside Afro Cuban and Afro Brazilian has helped me to devise a Company Class for Ella Mesma Company to take into schools and as a technique class for professionals.

Particularly poignant for me was studying the work of Denilson Owalufemi looking at the body as a spiritual vessel and his research into the gut as a sacred centre and another ‘brain’ giving equal importance to the rotation, and the contraction or head and tail connection. I also found his ideas in an interview about the connections to the Orixás and Graham technique very insightful. The opportunity to ask questions, conduct interviews and learn the cultural things about these styles that I am not able to grasp in the UK was invaluable.

My understanding of the culture was furthered by being in both countries and experiencing other elements of these dance forms first hand. Seeing the Orixás/Orishas in context was also invaluable.

Experiencing life in these wonderful and complicated countries, I am able to understand more about aspects which at first confused my western mind. I slowly relaxed, grew more patient and came to appreciate a different pace of life. 

I found myself delving into the history and politics of both countries and recognising the importance of Africa in these dance styles. All of these styles trace back to Africa, and so colonialism has to hold some accountability for that. There was an element of culpability as a Britain who is three quarters white for that. I understood how important it is to talk about it and acknowledge history and what has happened that is unjust, and what is still happening that is unjust. How important in our role as teachers, mentors and leaders it is to approach these subjects and to ask questions.

I asked many questions about race, racism in Brazil, in Cuba and in the UK and in particular with regards to the traveller and the traveller historically. On my travels I really understood the importance, devestation and relevance of slavery in the migration of these dances, which lead me to ask many morality questions around responsibility, cultural appropriation and the correct passing on of this work. One of my biggest questions-which I also asked some of my teachers was around whether cultural appropriation has any echoes of colonisation, is it perhaps stealing and profiting from another culture? Can anyone teach these styles? Practise these styles? And to understand the relevance of Ile Aye’s decision not to have white performers in their bloco. I feel the most important in these issues of morality is paying our respects to our teachers and those who share their knowledge and want to share with visitors. In Cuba in particular, I was struck by people’s warmth and generosity in sharing their stories and culture with others. There was a pride and a respect for the greater good in sharing.

My own roots also became important on this research trip. Knowing that I too would not be here if it weren’t for slavery- this devastating and pivotal event in history worldwide. It is very important to me it is that I know more about my roots, my identity and this year more than ever, I appreciate the importance in claiming that. 

On this trip, I have learnt so much abot my self, about the power of my intuition, and I have grown so much in confidence over the time here as I realize how much I have learnt as a dancer, creator and mentor. I am also excited to continue this learning and my journey as an artist.

What has happened since?

Creation of Schools package: Orixas project including theatre show (Ajé), School workshops on Cuban and Brazilian dances of the Orisha/Orixàs, Performance opportunities for schools. I have sent this workshop out to schools in London and Yorkshire

Theatrical work: Using elements from Afro Cuban amd Afro Brazilian to enhance tje technique and the stories behind my theatrical work. I have reworked Ajé and am currently producing Ladylike- an hour long piece using Afro Cuban dance.

A teaching system: I have been using these styles alongside the elements as a teaching method & ethos. I have developed an hour and a half class using technical exercises, emotional starting points and rhythms from Cuba and Brazil.

Specialist Dance Workshops: This year I will be choreographing the Commisao da Frente (Front Commission) for the London School of Samba. The theme is Oxumare, the rainbow and the dances of the Orixás. I will be using the skills I have gained in Brazil and Cuba along with Contemporary Dance to create an impactful dance performance, whilst also passing on my knowledge of the dance techniques and the history.

To promote more Contemporary Latin Companies, and Latin dance Theatre on the mainstage: By providing a platform: Roots of Rumba- for Brazilian, Cuban and Latin dance theatre to push the Latin Scene in the UK, I am promoting and supporting Latin American artists. I have begun offering dramaturgical support for Roots of Rumba artists, and giving feedback on their work to improve and push the level.

Promoting the first Latin dances, the Afro Latin dances, and the true roots of Salsa and Samba in the UK: Through my own performance work, education projects, blog, and event Roots of Rumba

Mentoring: I have offered mentoring support through Roots of Rumba and to company members as well as through Global Grooves.

Why Orixa?

I first found out about the Orixás aged 7. I recently moved out of my house and did a massive clear out. I found one of my first school projects, which was about the Caribbean. I had written about different carnivals, foods and religions including Santeria in Cuba.

Again during my A Levels studying Spanish, I did further research into Santeria, but it wasn’t until 2004 in Brazil that I first learnt about the dances of the Orixa and experienced it first hand. I began my dance training with Salsa and had been dancing Salsa, and a little Rumba around two years by 2004. Samba was my new love, and I had been training for around a year when I travelled with a good friend to Brazil for two months. I studied Samba in Rio, and we attended our first Candomble ceremony in Salvador where I also visited the Igreja do Bomfim when my mum was ill in the UK.

I travelled back to Salvador in 2005 as part of a project with the ABC Trust and Circo Picolino. This was where I first learnt the specific dances of the Orixa and was given the part of Oxum in a Circus performance. When I returned I set up a Samba group called Samba D’Oxum

In 2006 I stayed for 3 months in Rio and learnt more about the goddess Oxum. Upon my return I changed the name of the Company to Element Arts and designed a logo which made reference to the different characteristics of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. All the pieces I made with the company would focus on a specific Orixa or element.

In 2011 I visited Cuba for the first time and began my journey studying the dances of the Orishas, which I continued in the UK with my teacher Miguel Gonzalez.

In 2012 I worked with Global Grooves in Manchester as a group leader on their Journey of the Orixás carnival project and it was here I began to realise how much more I wanted to learn about the dances of Cuba and Brazil. Classes in London were limited, but I nonetheless realised that this was where I wanted to shift my focus.

I first began to create different versions of a piece based on the different Orixás between 2012 and 2014. This took various forms from an Afro-Brazilian House piece to a contemporary dance version commissioned by Billingham Festival.

In 2015 I decided to develop the Orixa piece and was successful in getting Arts Council funding to research and develop my ideas. I officially identified my contemporary work as Ella Mesma Company and we created the 20 minute piece performing at The Place, Circomedia, Yorkshire Dance and The Chelsea Theatre.

The History

The ancestry of the indigenous people of Brazil is known to date back at least 8,000 years. There are as many as 2000 different tribes including Jiquabu tribes and speakers of the Tupi-Guarini language. Many were semi nomadic tribes and hunted, fished and gathered.

Europeans invaded Brazil at the opening of the 16th century. There is some dispute over who was ‘first’, but in April 1500, Brazil was claimed for Portugal by Pedro Álvares Cabral. Miscegenation of the population began right away. Diseases from the West also wiped out tens of thousands of indigenous people as did murder and slavery.

The Portuguese ruled from the 16th to the early 19th century with invasions from the Dutch and French. The Portuguese began to impose Christianity on the indigenous people, believing they would be ‘saved’.

The biggest export during ‘colonisation’ was a tree that traders and colonists called pau-Brasil, which was nearly wiped out as a result of overexploitation. Others were coffee, sugar, rubber and gold.

Starting in the 16th century, sugarcane grown along the northeast coast (Brazil’s Nordeste) became the base of Brazilian economy and society. Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Brazil.

Invaders began to import millions of slaves from Africa. Mortality rates were very high. Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country. 4.9 million slaves from Africa came to Brazil, most forced to embark at West Central African ports, especially in Luanda (present-day Angola), and Congo, Nigeria. In the 1690s slaves started being imported from Central Africa and the Mina coast to mining camps in enormous numbers.

Cattle ranching and foodstuff production proliferated after the population growth, both of which relied heavily on slave labor. 1.7 million slaves were imported to Brazil from Africa from 1700 to 1800, and the rise of coffee in the 1830s meant further expansion of the slave trade.

Although the average African slave lived to only be twenty-three years old due to terrible work conditions, this was still about four years longer than Indigenous slaves, which was a big contribution to high price of African slaves.

By 1819 the population of Brazil was 3.6 million, and at least one third were African slaves. By 1825 the figure may have been as high as 56%.

There were relatively few large revolts in Brazil for much of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, most likely because running away into the expansive interior presented an attractive alternative to the dangers of revolt. In the years after the Haitian Revolution, ideals of liberty and freedom had spread to Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro in 1805, “soldiers of African descent wore medallion portraits of the emperor Dessalines.” Jean-Jacques Dessalines was one of the African leaders of the Haitian Revolution that inspired blacks throughout the world to fight for their rights as humans to live and die free.

After the defeat of the French in Haiti, demand for sugar continued to increase and without the consistent production of sugar in Haiti the world turned to Brazil as the next largest exporter. African slaves continued to be imported and were concentrated in the north eastern region of Bahia. African slaves recently brought to Brazil were less likely to accept their condition and eventually were able to create coalitions with the purpose of overthrowing their masters. From 1807 to 1835, these groups instigated numerous slave revolts in Bahia.

In Brazil, escaped slaves formed quilombos- the most famous being Quilombo dos Palmares. Here escaped slaves, army deserters, ‘mulattos’, and indigenous flocked to participate in an underground society. Quilombos reflected the people’s will and soon the governing and social bodies of Palamares mirrored Central African political models. From 1605 to 1694, Palmares grew and attracted thousands from across Brazil. Though Palmares was eventually defeated and its inhabitants dispersed among the country, the formative period allowed for continuation of African traditions and helped create a distinct African culture in Brazil.

The mixture of African religions that survived throughout slavery and Catholicism includes Candomblé. In Bahia, statues of African gods called Orishas pay homage to the unique African presence in the nation’s largest Afro-Brazilian state. Not only are these Orishas direct links to their past ancestry, but also reminders to the cultures the Brazilian people come from. Candomblé and the Orishas serve as an ever present reminder that African slaves were brought to Brazil. Though their lives were different in Brazil, their culture has been preserved and evolved to a unique practice in Brazil.

Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. By the time it was abolished, in 1888, an estimated four million slaves had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of slaves brought to the Americas.

Obtaining freedom was not a guarantee of escape from poverty or from many aspects of slave life. Frequently legal freedom did not come with a change in occupation for the ex-slave. However, there was increased opportunity for both sexes to become involved in wage earning. Women ex-slaves largely dominated market places selling food and goods in urban areas like Salvador, while a significant percent of African-born men freed from slavery became employed as skilled artisans, including work as sculptors, carpenters, and jewelers.

It was during Brazil’s military dictatorship, defined by many as Brazil’s darkest period, when a group called Ilê Aiyê came together to protest black exclusion within the majority black state of Bahia. There had been a series of protests at the beginning of the 1970s that raised awareness for black unification but they were met with severe suppression. Prior to 1974, Carnival was exclusive, and Afro-Bahians would leave their houses with only religious figurines to celebrate Carnival. Though under increased scrutiny attributed to the military dictatorship, Ilê Aiyê succeeded in creating a black only bloco, that manifested the ideals of the Brazilian Black Movement. Their purpose was to unite the Afro-Brazilians affected by the oppressive government, and politically organize so that there could be lasting change among their community.

Ilê Aiyê’s success has continued ever since and their numbers have grown into the thousands. Today, the black only bloco continues to exclude others because of their skin color. They do this by advertising exclusive parties and benefits for members. Combined with the influence of Olodum in Salvador, musical protest and representation as a product of slavery and black consciousness has slowly grown into a more powerful force. Musical representation of problems and issues have long been part of Brazil’s history, and Ilê Aiyê and Olodum both produce creative ways to remain relevant and popular.

Since the 1990s, despite the increasing public attention given to slavery through national and international initiatives like UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, Brazil has mounted very few initiatives commemorating and memorializing slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. In the last decade Brazil has begun engaging in several initiatives underscoring its slave past and the importance of African heritage. Gradually, all over the country, statues celebrating Zumbi, the leader of Palmares were unveiled. Capital cities like Rio de Janeiro and even Porto Alegre created permanent markers commemorating heritage sites of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade.

One of Brazil’s most severe problems today is its highly unequal distribution of wealth and income. By the 1990s, more than one out of four Brazilians continued to survive on less than one dollar a day. Though much progress has been made since abolition, unequal representation in all levels of society perpetuates ongoing racial prejudice. Most obvious are the stark contrasts between white and black Brazilians in media, education, government, and private business. Brazil continues to grow and succeed economically, yet its poorest regions and neighborhood slums (favelas), occupied by majority Afro-Brazilians, are shunned and forgotten.[57] Large developments within cities displace poor Afro-Brazilians and the government relocates them conveniently to the periphery of the city. It has been argued that most Afro-Brazilians live as second-class citizens, working in service industries that perpetuate their relative poorness while their white counterparts are afforded opportunities through education and work because of their skin color.

In 2012, Brazil passed an affirmative action law in an attempt to directly fight the legacy of slavery. Through it Brazilian policy makers have forced state universities, regarded very highly because it is free and of high quality, to have a certain quota of Afro-Brazilians. The percentage of Afro-Brazilians to be admitted, as high as 30% in some states, has caused some social discontent, that some argue furthers racial tensions. It is argued that these high quotas are needed because of the unequal opportunities available to Afro-Brazilians. In 2012 Brazil’s Supreme Court unanimously held the law constitutional. Such legislation should see improved overall quality of life, greater opportunities, and better political representation for Afro-Brazilians but the issue of slavery and its legacy may forever be felt in all facets of Brazilian life.


Samba de Roda: The original form of Samba from Salvador danced in a circle, often all in White with big skirts.

Samba Caboclo: A dance and practice from the Indigenous people of Brazil, also a part of Candomble

Dramaturgy: A form of dance mentoring to help an artist to get the best out of their work and study the meaning and intention behind it.

Bloco: Carnival parade group

Yoruba: The Yoruba are an African tribes people, but Yoruba is also a language, culture, religion, belief system and way of life. Yoruba has influenced many varied practices across America and the Caribbean including Santeria (Cuba), Candomble and Candomble Ketu (Brazil), Trinidad Orisha, Umbanda (Brazil).

Practitioners of Yoruba religions believe that a good and successful life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s ori. 

Ori: The head, but in spiritual matters a portion of the soul determining personal destiny and success.

Ashe: The life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate, and the power to make things happen’. It is an affirmation used in greetings and prayers as well as a concept of spiritual growth. Orisha devotees strive to obtain Ashe, and in turn experience the ori, or ‘inner peace’ and satisfaction with life. Ashe is divine energy that comes from Olodumare, the creator and is manifested through Olorun, who rules the heavens and is associated with the sun. Without the sun, no life could exist, just as life cannot exist without some degree of ashe.

Candomble: The word Candomblé means ritual dancing or gathering in honor of god. Candomble is the evolution of Yoruba practices in Brazil.


Orixás as spelt in Brazil or Orishas from Cuba are gods of African origin. There are a total of 401 in Yoruba mythology. Each represents manifestations of the Supreme God/ the All Father.

Many Orishas have left traceable impact across the world as a result of slavery and colonisation.

Each Orisha has individual attributes and skills connected to natural phenomena and associated with specific rituals. Each also has their own colour, personality, rhythm, offerings and dance.

Some of the Orishas:

Exu/Elegua opens the ways. His colours are black and red. In Cuba he is represented as a child (Elegua). In Brazil he is a very sexual man.

Xango/Chango: This Orisha represents masculinity, fertility and strength. In both Cuba and Brazil, his colour is red and his element is fire. He represents lightning.

Iansa/Oya is a female warrior who represents the element of air. She is headstrong and fiery. In Cuba she wears all the colours of the rainbow. In Brazil she wears red and is represented by the butterfly.

Oxum/Ochun represents femininity, sexuality and fertility. In both Cuba and Brazil her colours are Yellow and gold. Ochun represents the fresh or sweet waters. She has a mirror and is vain, and beautiful. Those wishing to conceive pray to her.

Iemanja/Yemanya represents the sea. She is the mother Orisha and her colour is blue

Oxossi/Ochosi Ochosi is the hunter. His colour is green and he represents the Earth.

Ogum/Ogun is the warrior brother of Oxossi. His element is metal. In Brazil his colour is Blue and in Cuba green and purple. He fights for justice.

Omolu/Babalu-Aye: This deity covers himself entirely in sackcloth and raffia. Some stories say he is blindingly beautiful and a light shines from him; others say he is disformed or disfigured from disease. He is a healer.

Oxala/Obatala: Obatala is father of all the Orisha. He is older and wiser. His colour is white.

Nana: Nana (Brazil) is the grandmother. She wears purple. Her element is Earth. She tries to heal the environment from all the wrong doing of humankind. She is a protector.

Ossain: Ossain (Brazil) the herbalist and healer dresses in green.

Oxumare: Oxumare is half man half woman. He can take the form of a snake and has come to represent gay pride.


Blog 5

May 2016: The Bench

From Caterpillar to Butterfly: 9 Months with The Bench, Roots of Rumba 2016 and other projects…

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This year I really flew. I always felt it was in me and there was more to come, and in this project, like 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.” I feel like I really realised how far I have come and allowed myself the permission to blossom. These 9 months include:

Brazil with the Winston Churchill Travelling Scholarship (Blog coming soon)

Ladylike funded by Arts Council of England (March 2016-May 2016)

Ajé (Orixas) with Chelsea Theatre and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (March 2016-May 2016)

Roots of Rumba at Richmix funded by Arts Council of England (April 11th & 12th 2016)

And it all began when I returned from Cuba with The Bench.

The Bench with 2Faced Dance Company Director Tamsin Fitzgerald (November 2015-May 2016)

The Bench is a new programme this year, where 5 female choreographers (Jennifer Essex, Rachel Erdos, Rebecca Evans, Lee Griffiths and myself), working within the UK Arts sector, are given an opportunity to participate in a 9 month programme of training, discussion, debate and mentoring all within a bespoke and creative framework. I found out when I was in Cuba with The Winston Churchill Scholarship that I had been successful with my application, and was so happy- this really did feel like my big break.

The Bench was very special in that it was a direct response to the evidence (Some examples below) around female choreographers having less opportunities. 

‘We need to see female choreographers given the same opportunities as their male colleagues. Not “for the sake of it”, but because it’s time for dance to shed its institutionalised sexism, to rid itself of the whiff of privileged boys’ clubs and backstairs deals and join the artistic mainstream. It’s time for the lions to have their say.’ Luke Jennings- The Guardian

I had never recognised it as discrimination, but I had noticed my male counterparts having much more luck, much more quickly with regards to meetings with big venues, programming and supported opportunities. The most dissappointing rejection for me was being told I was overqualified for a choreography project and then seeing the line up of those selected and realising how much more qualified or experienced the male choreographers on that list were. Still I have never let that put me off or give up, because I had already taken so many risks and made sacrifices to become a dancer. But the journey is not always easy and those knock backs affect us all, so, when someone does believe in you and you are given the opportunity to do what you love, you will always step up a level. Having The Bench believe in me was one of those opportunities. I have stepped up and so much has changed in this 9 months.

The Bench set out to:

  • Raise the profile of female choreographers in the UK and Internationally.
  • Provide bespoke talent development/training for female choreographers working within the UK Arts sector.
  • Change and influence current behaviour within the UK contemporary dance sector towards female choreographers.
  • Build a network of venues and producers both in the UK and abroad who will promote the work of female choreographers and support educational initiatives which encourage girls to make dance.

What Is The BENCH? from 2Faced Dance Company on Vimeo.

The process for me was a challenge at first. I came to the project at quite a difficult time, and also had a lot of self doubt. 

The first session was with Sharon Watson and we had to pitch to her to make a piece of work. I have always been very shy to speak in public, and true to my experiences I closed up and began to desperately grasp at reasons to prove my worth. We were told that in 9 months time we would pitch at The Bench conference in Birmingham Hippodrome, and every time I thought of it my heart would start pounding.

Next we worked with Rosie Kay, and again we were pitching. It was less intimidating and I enjoyed creating the choreographic work she set us. Over the next sessions we worked with Charlotte Vincent, Isabelle Mortimer, Kate Flatt and many more. With each workshop I felt I shed a little more of my past and gained a little more in confidence. I experienced so much support, amazing workshops and such honesty from my mentor and Bench fellows, that I was really able to look at myself and realise what was and wasn’t working, how I was not helping myself, and make changes in the way I approached my work, relationships and business for the better.

Working with Charlotte was a wonderful experience, her honesty and integrity was so inspiring. I had wanted to work with her since 2009 reading about her experiences as a female choreographer in the Guardian, and since then have loved her very real approach, her appreciation of Black feminist writers and her work. She helped me to ‘cut out the crap’ and really focus on my goals.

The Bench culminated on May 17th with the Bench event in Birmingham at The Hippodrome. The first panel I took part in after a quick rehearsal was about the experience of being on The Bench, and I felt nervous, but as I began to speak I realised how passionate I was about this experience, how far I had come and inspired in the future of the Bench. We listened to many talks. Some of my favourite speakers were Hannah Williams, Seeta Patel and Luke Jennings. 

Finally our Pitch time arrived and I danced around in the way my body knew to prepare itself to be in public, then began to focus my mind on the talk. As people entered suddenly I felt an excited calm that I knew it would be ok, that I had so much to share with this very giving audience, and I began to relax into my talk-even giving a demo of the dry mouth smile effect when you do a salsa or samba show and your lips get stuck! The whole pitch went really well, Emma Houston did a great sharing of her solo in Ladylike, and I felt happy that I had delivered my vision and way of working to the participants.

The Bench finished with the launch of the manifesto which has been signed up to by the organisations present

I am very proud of all the Bench artists who were involved, all of us have come a long way. Particular congratulations to Rebecca Evans who recieved this years Commission and a massive thanks to Tamsin Fitzgerald and Lisa Sullivan of 2Faced for making this happen and to my mentor Charlotte Vincent. I am particularly excited about the Bench Manifesto and seeing how that impacts on the future of dance in the UK.

Ladylike funded by Arts Council of England (March 2016-May 2016)

After the first part of the project in November 2015, I secured one more week funding through Arts Council of England to fine tune and solidify Ladylike into a 55 minute show. We began, only a few days after my return from Brazil with the Winston Churchill travelling scholarship, with getting ready to perform an extract of Ladylike in Leeds on the Sketch program at Yorkshire Dance.

Yorkshire Dance have also been an incredibly supportive institution, both in believeing in my work even though it is very different to the typical aesthetic of the instituion, and in giving the Company support through the Sketch program. We spent two glorious days with the amazing Peggy Olislaegers as Dramaturgy, who introduced me to the term ‘Dance Activism’.

In true Mariposa style (my nickname from school), I was so full of new ideas and inspiration that I tried to cram all my 55 minutes of ideas to the 20 minute time slot to see my vision on stage. We actually had very positive comments from the sharing, and the choreography had grown,  but I knew I hadn’t done the work justice by showing it like this, and I swore not to do that again. I realised that it is much better to show less, be patient, clear and well rehearsed and do it well.

We further rehearsed Ladylike and had two days in Leeds, and then a final day in Brighton with Charlotte Vincent as part of The Bench program, in which we finalised the structure for the full production. It was an amazing time working with Charlotte- truly transformational- it cemented my understanding of how to structure and how important taking my time is in doing something well. I hope to work with her more in the future.

The full cast- Anna Alvarez, Emma Houston and Lianett Rodrigues and myself filmed the full production of Ladylike on May 23rd at Richmix, and are now preparing to move into a Production period with the work in September and working hard at organising a UK tour (dates and venues to be announced) and finalising and rehearsing the full 55 minute show. Ladylike has been quoted as: ‘An absolutely stunning and provocative piece.’

I have learnt so much making this piece. I have released myself from the pressures I have felt as a woman to be ‘pretty’ or ‘quiet’ or behave in anyway unnatural to me in that moment. I have asked questions about my sex and race, and let go of the need to know answers, which I hadn’t realised were holding me back. I have learnt how to hold a space. I have developed in the way I work with other artists, and in how to deal with each issue we face. I feel I have grown up, become a woman, and discovered who I am. I have also discovered an amazing way to move and how to pass this on to others. I have worked with four incredible artists, and we have laughed, cried and grown together. All of us have become less inhibited, and have developed as artists. We have also become such a tight working unit and this has deepened the work and cemented us as a company.

Ladylike Snippets Bench1min from Ella Mesma on Vimeo.

Ajé (Orixas) with Chelsea Theatre and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (March 2016-May 2016)

In mid March, we held an audition to find a new cast for Orixas. Working with the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Chelsea Theatre, the project would include re-working the pece and working with local schools. Mariana Camiloti and Gabriela Montgomery Solano joined our team for rehearsals and Company class, which each day developed the concept of Latin Dance Theatre, and the blending of Latin and Breaking further. I learnt how much potential there is in this fusion of styles and gained confidence in my skills as a creator, teacher, and in my vision of the piece and how to work with individuals and inspire others on their own journeys.

During the process, we decided to change the name of the piece Orixas, to Ajé. Ajé in Yoruba is said to be ‘both a spiritual power as well as the humans who use that power.’ I like the word because both men and women can have Aje, however it’s owners and controllers are women. I felt that this term captured the essence of my piece well as it is said to be the concept of ‘creation as well as the force of justice and retribution, a balance that completes pairs, this force can create/destroy, harm/heal’. 

We first performed Ajé in the Chelsea Theatre to students from local schools, with a question and answer session. Children at the question and answer session said: “I liked the bit where you were warriors’, ‘I liked the handstands’, I like the Egyptian dresses’. The following week, two of the team- Ama Rouge and Gabriela Montgomery Solano began teaching in two local schools ready for the performance in May. I discovered this was a really great event to collaborate with all of the talented individuals involved. The classes continued over the next month, creating dance performances by two company members. We also filmed and took interviews of the process.

Finally on May 19th, we performed alongside the two schools inviting the local community to watch the show. The Chelsea theatre was full, and the work was very well received.

Roots of Rumba at Richmix funded by Arts Council of England (April 11th & 12th 2016)

Roots of Rumba preparations began immediately upon my return from Brazil, with contracts,  promotion of the event, flyers, a panel selecting the artists to perform and setting up the crowd funder campaign. The selected artists were Luanda Pau (Cuba/France), Myriam Gadri (USA), East London Capoeira, Erika Vanessa Gil (Colombia/UK), Pexava (Mexico, UK), Tierra Morena (Sweden), Aneta ‘Modelo’ Zwierzyńska (Poland), Yuvel Soria (Bolivia, UK), Anna Alvarez (Argentina, UK) and Incendium Dance Company. The event was promoted in the press, by various support groups, as well as through the facebook event and pages on a daily basis. I learnt a lot about promotion, and it was promising to see how interested the public were by the concept. I have also arranged to review the ways I was marketing the event with Roots of Rumba.

The crowd funder and promotional trailer did well. Class at the Place was another opportunity to promote Roots of Rumba. Again I learnt how important the development of this work is and that we already have a following.

We organised a week of Dramaturgy and rehearsal space for the Roots of Rumba artists with Daniel Goldman of Casa Latin American Theatre Festival. It greatly improved the level of those works who attended. Having the opportunity to work with mentors & dramaturgy’s  is an important development for Latin Dance Theatre, and anyone involved in performance.

The activity proved successful in developing Latin Dance Theatre audiences through direct engagement, workshops and the performances. On the first day of Roots of Rumba, we sold 87 tickets, and day two sold 90, plus 30 in the classes throughout the day. The afterparty, featuring one of my first teachers of Latin music, DJ Lubi, was also well attended- and from feedback after, there was a real positive buzz about the event.

I always wanted to see more Latin dance in the spotlight. I knew I wanted to see Latin dance given the same respect as ballet or contemporary or more recently hiphop. My vision is to put work with Afro Brazilian and Afro Cuban at its core on the stage and it was incredible to see that happen at Roots of Rumba. I am excited about being a part of the journey to push Latin Dance Theatre forwards whilst maintaining the respect, technique and of history of these dances which all trace back through migration and slavery to Africa.

This was the third year of Roots of Rumba and we are already International. We had Brazil, Cuba Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, a team from Sweden, a dancer based in New York, and we had people from the North, South, East, West of England and London! Roots of Rumba is already global, and the start of something long term. It is about celebrating some of the most incredible dances on the planet, and pushing this scene to see where it can go.

Here are some quotes from the event: ‘Genius, vulnerable, beautiful’, ‘PURE DANCE’, ‘More please’, ‘We love Rumba’, ‘Fantastic day of dance’, ‘Amazing teachers’.

We also gave all artists involved ten high resolution images and footage of their show. Artists said:’Would love to take part again’ ’10/10′ ‘What an honour’.

The Future

One of the major things I remembered this year was how to have fun… I was so busy worrying about making it all happen I had forgotten to enjoy each moment. The future is unsure… And the only constant is change… But I feel it is going to be bright. 

I have been made an Associate Dance Artist at Dance City in Newcastle so I plan to spend quite a bit of time there. I hope to continue my relationship with Yorkshire Dance, and I also hope to build more connections in London.

In July I will travel to NYC with The Lisa Ullman scholarship to continue my research into Breaking and its connections to Latin dance. I know travel and migration is an important part of my work. I am even more determined this year to dance my way and continue developing a movement language which combines the dances of Cuba and Brazil with the vocabulary of Breaking and Contemporary. I feel it is important to talk about and research the migration of these dances around the world, how connected they all are and how they have spread and diversified. 

I will continue to push Latin Dance Theatre which I am passionate about seeing more on stage. Latin dance is seen much more in clubs and bars and is seen with small outfits and big smiles. There is so much more to these styles which have as much worth to be on stage as Ballet, Contemporary and HipHop, and I am excited about continually pushing that with Roots of Rumba, and empowering other Latin artists moving in this direction.

As a B-Girl, again only a few weeks ago I was told to ‘stop dancing like a girl’ and with this ammunition I am determined to dance just like a B-Girl. It has never felt natural to me to try to be like a guy- because I am not one, but I do love breaking and figuring out how it works best on my own body. I am excited in my quest for my own way to break, which I am sure will have Latin dance at its core. 

I have learnt how I like to make work, and I recognise my strengths. I love to work with these styles-for me this is pure dance. It is strong, beautiful, powerful, vulnerable. I love to show contrasts and juxtapositions in my work- to show the power of the individual- their story, strength and also their beauty through vulnerability. I like to make bold statements in my work-Dance Activism (as in the words of Peggy Olislaegers). I like to shake up an idea, and to juxtapose that to really make an impact. Next, perhaps I will work on a mixed cast of men, women, ethnicities, cultures, continuing to explore bold topics and this movement language. Underneath everything, at my core, and underlying all my work and activism is the belief in empowerment, in protest and in equality, because no matter how beautiful we are as individuals, deep down I believe we are all the same, we are all connected, and we are all capable of greatness.

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Photos by Sara Teresa, Angelika Bendt and Roger Barnes

Blog 4

 December 2015: Ladylike R&D

Ladylike: A blog all about creating my piece Ladylike and thereafter.


The Ella Mesma Company guide: How to be a lady… or  choose not to… 

Ladylike is a concept I initially developed as a solo in 2012. I first heard the term ‘ladylike’ aged 4, when I was criticized for being ‘unladylike’ or too boisterous when playing. As anadult I have experiencedthe weight of gender expectations in dance.  As a Salsa dancer I am expected to smile,look sexy and be submissive, whereas when Breaking (Breakdance) I am required to be bold, aggressive, and I have on occasion been told I should

“act more like a guy”. 

I have often pondered this idea, feeling a sense of inner confusion both on a small scale in relation to dance styles but also in relation to how gender expectations influence our behaviours in the wider world. I knew that I wanted to explore this further through Latin and Breaking. 

Breaking, created in New York, had a huge Latino influence, and I can see the links to Salsa in so many of the steps. Since starting Breaking I have been fascinated by this, by latin breaks which is where my heart lies, and how the two are linked. I also wanted to investigate putting the undulations and hips of Salsa into Breaking movement vocabulary to create a movement language that made sense to me. As Latin dances were my first, these have always made the most sense to me. At dance school, I felt restricted when told to keep my hips still and isolate my torso sideways in Contemporary classes like Cunningham technique, rather than undulating. Creating this movement language from a blend of all my styles has been liberating in terms of understanding the inherent way in which I move.

I have often in my life felt pressures to conform, be responsible, successful, have a family, have long hair… behave according to societalor gender roles. Both male and female friends have felt this way too. Ladylike is about women but also about men. I want it to speak to the audience about equality and our universal right to live with respect and dignity, without being judged. I introduce it as:

“Madonna? Mistress? Witch? Exotic Other? Ladylike is an exploration of gender stereotypes through the voices of 5 female artists. Using Ella Mesma’s unique movement language, the Company have combined Rumba, Afro Cuban, Salsa and elements of Breaking, Rocking and Capoeira to create a visually striking & awkwardly provocative work.”

 I was sure that I wanted to work with women on Ladylike, but that I wanted the piece to speak to both men and women. I am hopeful that the piece will reach out and touch hearts. It is about personal experiences, but it is also universal. There is a lot of juxtaposition and contradiction to make the audience ask questions both during and after the performance.

I began collecting images such as the one below, reading lots of material as research and making notes and asking questions to inform the future piece as early as 2012. It was so exciting to hear I had been awarded an Arts Council Grant to make the work. I really believe this was the right time for me to make ‘Ladylike’, as I had the opportunity to work with The Bench, as well as going through changes in my personal life, and the presence of the hot topic of feminism in the media. Then I found an amazing team of Artists who believed in my vision too. 


These four wonderful artists are: Rita Vilhena, a capoeirista and contemporary dancer from Portugal; Anna Alvarez – An Anglo-Argentine with lots of experience in partner work. She has just finished an apprenticeship with VertigoDance Company in Israel; Lianett Rodrigues, an ex Ballet Revolution dancer from Cuba with a wealth of knowledge in Rumba and Afro Cuban; Emma Houston, a Scottish B-girl and contemporary dancer. It was by chance that we happen to look quite similar, but became an important part of the piece, as we could represent the many elements of one person. It was also nice because we conducted our rehearsals in a mixture of English, Spanish and Portuguese. 

“I think at first I started writing from a very judgmental position towards men and woman in general, or about what are their expectations towards me were, but then I realized that was not what wasmost important. I started listening to more stories, reading more, look at images about the theme, having my body reflecting on memories about past situations and I started writing in more open reflection about my expectations about my self and not feeling so much pressure.” Rita Vilhena, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

All four dancers brought their own experiences of, and responses to the pressures of societal norms. Each had a very individual character and style which they brought to the piece, but we also had something similar about us, and a passion for the project which I liked. It was almost as if each of us were different parts of the same character. 

“When something is created with pure intentions and the Search to know oneself and the world in a deeper and more proactive way, then the work cannot fail, and it means we can all act as true ambassadors for the message we would like to relay to our audience. Communication can be clear. Art can make people think, reconsider, think again. We have the power to evoke something, to say something about convention in an unconventional way.” Emma Houston, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

We read some excellent books and articles exploring the theme. ‘Sex, Lies and Revolution’ by Laurie Penny was particularly pertinent. 

We began the work as soon as we found out we had the grant followed by a sharing at Richmix for Casa Festival. After 4 days of putting together a piece with the expertise of Gael Le Cornec and Daniel Goldman, we performed to an audience of 100. This process, though rushed, was invaluable in preparing me to create the work and the project. The experience also united the dancers as a team, and helped me realise the strengths we had as a group.

We began the Arts Council project in Leeds, as part of the Sketch program, where we worked with the wonderful Peggy Olislaegers. We showed some sections which I had created for the Richmix Casa International Festival, in particular one called ‘Tierra’ exploring the exoticism and power of the female body. We also showed a section from ‘Ladylike’ exploring the Adam and Eve story and my physical reaction to the term ‘ladylike’. Peggy Olislaeger’s feedback and questions led me to rethink various aspects of the work including completely re-working the finale. The audience was around 25 artists, producers and choreographers as well as members of the Yorkshire Dance Team.

The following week we headed to Newcastle to continue developing the piece. With such an incredible supportive team of artists we were able to work fast. We created an introduction focused on six different states of ‘being’: aggressive, submissive, pretty, arrogant, open and coy. I decided to use these ‘states’ with a Reggaeton track to provide the backdrop as the audience enters the theatre.

We created a Rumba Breaking section using my movement language with tasks to develop the fusion. I decided to rework my old solo ‘Evol’ looking at it this time through the eyes of a woman. Previously, although beautiful, I think it lacked depth and I wanted to strip it of its romanticism. We also developed two sections, one called ‘Frustration’ looking at where we are the objects of catcalls plus a beautiful introduction, inspired by Emma’s movement called ‘Cocoons’

Dance City invited us to teach a company class which was well attended. We had very positive feedback about the structure and unique movement language we were using. 

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An audience of 35 attended a sharing at the end of the week; a large proportion were B-boys, including some international artists. It was great to hear their feedback invited through the Liz Lurman technique. Their responses included words such as 

“Rhythm, Authority, Oppression, Recrimination, Power, Strength, Identity, Tease, Light, Society, Sex, Control.” 

It was interesting and helpful to use their feedback to consider what I wanted the audience to experience, and how to bridge the gap in understanding between performers and the audience. 

Next, we were very honoured and fortunate to be invited to participate in a residency in Portugal and came up with a duet in response to the solo ‘Evol’, and another very long, beautiful and sad duet, which I have named ‘Tango’, which explores partnerships. ‘Tango’ was my exploration of relationships, a sense of saying goodbye to the past and embracing those that last and carry us through, the friendships that help us deal with break ups, or negative relationships and the pressures of society that test and can diminish us. 

“The experience of living, sleeping, eating, training and creating together was a very rich experience and I believe one in which the piece grew enormously as well as us as a team and company.” Anna Alvarez, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

We also created a section in response to the immense pressure I feel to conform, to appear happy, to say ‘Yes’ to opportunities and to give to others regardless of any internal sense of conflict. We put this to a Reggaeton track, because as a woman, I am far from comfortable with the over sexualized, misogynistic and sometimes violent lyrics of Reggaeton tracks, or songs in general today.

We gave professional classes every day in Portugal and, at the end, shared these new sections of our work. We were also invited back for further residencies in the future.

“Each rehearsal and research session would bring a light of issues, experiences and contrasting views of the term Ladylike and what this meant to each of us. The creative process was also very driven by this, the use of emotions, visual and literary sources from which the structure gradually built.” Anna Alvarez, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

In our London week, we began to put together the transitions and experiment with different possible sequences for the piece. We also started to mount the finale to our communal experience, working directly with Sabio, the composer. We explored the emotions we uncovered through the process, and the dramaturgy experiences with Peggy Olislaegers. I wanted the finale to have a positive message of hope for the future. I wanted to ‘make the personal political’, to uncover a truth about friendship and show how experiences both positive and negative leave us stronger, wiser and with the potential for change. In the final image, we invite the audience to accept each side of us. The audience will always judge, select those they connect with and decide how they perceive a character due to their performance. The ending is about asking the audience to see these 5 women as many layered individuals, to see the beauty in their individuality, and that we are also all the same. With the finale I wanted both to present the chaos of life and the fight for hope that we are all capable of.

Right up until the last day we were working on a duet with two dancers exploring the pressure of body image that we are constantly fed through films, magazines and advertising based upon the ‘perfect woman’. As the piece evolved we began to use Breaking and elements of Rocking along with Rumba to explore this external pressure on how we see ourselves. I wanted to explore how we can find freedom of expression and beauty through our own individuality to celebrate difference. 

We had Tim Ward in for most of the week documenting the process, and welcomed a photographer, Alexander Yip, into the process too. It was a pleasure to have Shelley Maxwell as an external eye in the studio towards the end of the week. She offered a wealth of insight into the piece, offering ideas for the audience to get involved, and helping to dig deeper into the meaning behind each scene. She said 

“It’s a very interesting work. I really enjoyed what I was seeing develop. For a work of the calibre that you are doing one needs to dig deep to deliver it in a truthful and impactful way. Well done you.” Shelley Maxwell.

It was also in this week that we had Sabio in the studio with us working on the music, and we finally arranged the lighting for the piece. The costume designer attended the sharing and is now working on the final designs, which will emphasise that we are, in a sense, all the same many-layered character.

For the sharing we invited promoters and photographers including Mark Neal and Roger Barnes and a professional editor, Alex Not, who is now making a video edit of the work. 

There were over 35 audience members at The Tabernacle, including ADAD and the feedback was very positive: 

“A powerful display of timeless and current issues that women continue to face everyday” Audience member- The Tabernacle-London November 2015.

“Completely engaged- enthralling, emotional, inspiring and grounding work” Audience member- The Tabernacle- London November 2015.

The following week we performed extracts of the piece in a local school to 150 students at an all girls comprehensive, and then gave a workshop to 60 of those young girls. We discussed how they feel society and family pressures influence their behaviours and choices and developed this into their own dance work. We then led a question and answer session about the work and our careers, which was incredibly moving and rewarding. 

 “Students were awed by the physical expertise of Ella Mesma Company, combined with well created dance motifs was very exciting. The question and answer session was a real eye opener- very focused and intense. All 150 students engaged fully thought the time. Excellent. Well done.” Subassa Lewis, Plashet School.

Reflection: I feel like this is just the beginning of a new chapter, an epic chapter, a beautiful chapter, an exploration of truth. This piece feels like the strongest piece of work I have made so far. The piece, and its message, are deeply important to me. In the words of Jonzi D of Breakin’ Convention (who said it to Ivan Blackstock of Birdgang, who said it to me),

“We have a role as artists to make work that reflects our time and has the potential to create change”, Jonzi D, Breakin’ Convention. 

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Ladylike is about looking to the future, to tomorrow’s reality, and speaking up for the right to decide for ourselves how we behave. It is about helping to give young people the tools they need to make autonomous decisions. It is about the world we live in and choosing our own pathway rather than just accepting the status quo and doing as we are told. As long as we understand why we are making those choices, then it is ok. 

“Basically I never felt like one of those “ladies.” But it’s a confusing word that has the power to be used in a positive or negative light. It was a word I had previously found controversial, nonetheless. Although now, I feel differently about it. I can take ownership of the word. Being ladylike can mean anything now. I feel like the project has shown the word in a different, more natural light.” Emma Houston, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

 As Malala said,

“If a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can’t she also wear everything?”, Malala.

It is about embracing our fears and those that society tells us we should have, overcoming them and taking control. 

There was something about growing up through this project… Keeping the childlike but losing the childish… Embracing myself as a woman. Emerging as a butterfly and enjoying that journey. 

“Don’t get older just to get wiser. If you get older, you will be wiser, I believe that – if you dare. But get older because it’s fun!”, Maya Angelou.

Ladylike has helped me to make sense of my worlds and the society we live in, to accept all elements of me rather than feeling that to be a woman I must hide parts of myself. The message for the audience of Ladylike is about learning to love all of ourselves, and make positive and conscientious changes for our own and our children’s futures. 

In January we will finish the final part of R&D working as part of Sketch at Yorkshire Dance. I am very excited to work with Charlotte Vincent, my mentor from the Bench and Adad for a day and a half, and with Peggy Olislaeger’s with a live audience to dramaturge and explore the concepts and movement material within the piece. Finally we will begin to plan the tour and rehearsal schedule for the piece in Autumn 2016.

The learning curve on this project has been steep. Working with such incredible artists who have been so generous with their time, thoughts and energy has been invaluable. Their willingness to share their personal stories with me has been deeply rewarding, and the process has had an element of therapy to it for all of the team. This openness to grow, share and recognise our own stories is a part of the piece’s richness and has enabled the piece to reach people on quite a profound level.

I am still astounded by how quickly the making process went and how much material we have generated. I have deepened my understanding of how I work as a choreographer and how to bring out the best in other people. There were many sections or scenes which I wrote as text first and then we developed the work from this.  

Sometimes the process started with a simple movement that I hooked onto and was able to expand and, sometimes it was something more complex. I have been struck by the flow of creativity and how everything came together, almost as if it was predetermined and I just needed to channel it onto the stage. 

Through Ladylike, I have begun to find a deeper understanding of my movement language, and will take this forward into future projects. As the only company in the UK to specialise in Latin Dance Theatre, I have learnt how to talk about my work, and found that I work best when I draw from Contemporary, Afro-Latin plus Hip Hop dance and culture to explore social and cultural identity in the UK. It was particularly exciting both creating the Tango duet, which used elements of Tango, Bachata and Salsa within a Contemporary framework, and beginning to research Rumba and Breaking and the links they have to one another.

“The process of the piece has made me reflect a great deal on what it means to be a woman and how personal/individual Ladylike is. It has changed from being a term that I associated negatively with (from childhood being told I was not ladylike and that was something to aspire to) to now being more about self-control, assertion and the power of being a woman in the society I live.” Anna Alvarez, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

Now I am looking forward to having some time to reflect and to further develop my movement research in Brazil on my scholarship as a Winston Churchill Fellow. I will be spending just over 6 weeks in Brazil where I will be focusing particularly on Afro Brazilian and the dances of the Orixas.

I have realised how important it is to take time to make sure I have clearly expressed all my understandings to the performers and to perfect the execution of my movement language.  

I am aware of how much creating Ladylike has changed me. Being so absorbed by it has affected me both personally and professionally. It has led me to question more, from my Latin dance styles, to challenging sexist comments.

“I have never seen work that deals with the issues included in the piece at this level. The piece is inclusive, reflective, soft, sexy, questioning, funny and ironic. It questions how we act in society, why, and how this affects us as people and in the relationships we develop.” Anna Alvarez, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

Ladylike has encompassed my whole world. Certainly the whirlwind nature of the task has helped me both to make a wonderful piece and to make sense of the challenges I face at this stage in my life. Working from a difficult place and putting my heart and soul into the work has meant that it truly reflects me, and with the contribution from the dancers working collaboratively, it represents all of us. For me it is raw, real, honest, sad, funny and beautiful. 

“I Felt vulnerable at times…. I felt exposed at times… I realised things about myself that I thought I already knew. And all of those feelings that happened are okay, and they were necessary. Art goes to uncomfortable places. From the discomfort comes a new awareness, something that can be grasped and then moulded into intangible vapour in our hands, something we can let go of and lighten ourselves as a result. Something that becomes our power to empower others through our own explorations. Art is a healer. This piece has been healing for all of us, I think. But it is not a selfish endeavour. For it’s purpose is bigger than ourselves, but of course it’s okay to be selfish in healing, if no harm is done.” Emma Houston, Dance Artist, Ladylike.

I am very excited about this footage and to have invested in a proper edit, and so grateful to all the contributors who have played apart in creating this work. 

A massive thanks to all those who have supported the process: Photographers and Videographers – Alexander Yip, Roger Barnes, Timothy Ward, Alex Not and Judita Kuniskyte; Lighting Designer – Ciaran Cunningham and the incredible Composer Sabio Janiak; Venues – Chelsea Theatre, Yorkshire Dance and Sketch, Dance City, ADAP Portugal, ADAD and Richmix; My friends and family who have been there; Shelley Maxwell, and Charlotte Vincent my mentor; Peggy Olislaegers; The Bench and Tamsin Fitzgerald. Most of all I must thank the wonderful dancer artists Anna Alvarez, Lianett Rodrigues Gonzalez, Emma Houston and Rita Vilhena.  Also a massive thanks to British Council for believeing me and bringing me to Edinburgh Festival this summer where I was exposed to so much art!

Thanks also to everyone who attended the sharing and to those who haven’t seen it yet, get ready to see a sample on April 9th at Richmix before we preview the full piece there on October 28th 2016. 

A massive thank you to Arts Council of England for making this possible. 

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Photographs by Roger Barnes, Alexander Yip and Tim Ward.

Blog 3

October 2015: Cuba WCMT

My Cuba: Travelling with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

Dates of journey: 30th July-20th August 2015

Who with: Just me myself and I

Where: Havana, Cuba

Favourite food: Mango juice/Tostones

Most inspiring person/people you met: Aleida De La Serna: Yoerlis Brunet: Joya Powell from NYC

Greatest place you saw: Havana: Ballet National de Cuba, Matanzas: Museo De Esclavos

Smells like: Thick air, bread fruit, cassava, earth and mangos

Feels like: All your favourite old things that you will never throw away even when they stop working or serving their purpose

Sounds like: Loud, loud, loud: Loud music, raised voices, cars beeping … and at the same time a comfortable calm!

My Cuba

Landing in Cuba, disembarking and gulping thick hot air; an excited heart, a nervous flutter, the sight of a blue expansive sky combined with the sheer delight about three blissful weeks of dance ahead of me…

I have always been best in heat… Cold brings out a furrowed brow and a rolling tongue (my signal for distress even as a baby). So I woke the next morning, warm and happy from a restful sleep and excited about my first full day in Cuba and thrilled that I could put on summer clothes!

My beautiful family- Suzette, Ernesto and their children were very welcoming, and had made me a nourishing breakfast of papaya, mango, banana and guava. I always feel a bit uncomfortable about being seen as the rich westerner, I suppose because this contradicts my lifestyle in the UK as a dance artist. So here I feel mixed emotions; impatience to dispel the myth that everyone in England is wealthy; guilt that I am comparatively rich and so lucky to have this scholarship … this incredible opportunity!

Having lots of connections in Cuba, I was able to make some calls and quickly find some entertainment for my first day. I would be joining a trip of tourists with an American friend and tour guide from Meta Movements, to the outskirts of Havana and a beautiful beach. I joined a group discourse on Orishas, ate a delicious lunch of Frijoles and salad, and took my first dance lesson – dancing the Orisha Iemanja, goddess of the sea…and even better…it happened in sea water. It felt like the perfect start to my dance journey; with stunning views and warm turquoise sea.

After sitting on the beach, playing guitar and chatting, we headed back to central Havana to watch Obini Bata. Obini Bata are an all female Bata group who perform the dances of the Orishas, play instruments and sing. Their work is powerful and slick with a strong sense of unity and sisterhood. It is very traditional and performed to a very high level with beautiful costumes, and dancers who are fierce in their movement and technique. I couldn’t help wondering how much exploration away from the traditional form happens in Cuba. I saw the influence of the large tourist audience on the group’s perception of what tourists want to see. I found myself cringe as they invited Europeans up to attempt each Orisha.

My next very special experience was the following day:  A sharing with Cheveredance company set up by Meta Movements. I taught them my latest Element Arts samba show for both male and female dancers. They brought an exquisite Cuban ‘Sabor’ (flavour) to the piece.

We were rehearsing on the roof of a house. It was so hot and we were working up a sweat and running out of drinkable water (well I was- being the only non Cuban meant I wasn’t able to drink the Cuban tap water). As we rehearsed the clouds began to look heavy and threatening and the air became muggy and thick. As we sang ‘happy birthday’ to the birthday boy amongst the dancers, and the girls did some kind of slightly uncomfortable birthday dance on him, and then the rain came down… the kind of rain that you only find in a tropical country, huge drops of unrelenting rain… then came the thunder… then the floods.

My lovely Cuban family had loaned me a mobile phone, and they called and offered to come to the rescue as they were close by in their 25 year old Russian car. We drove through the flooded streets somehow enduring, like a half-submerged submarine through the flood. Something that struck me that day talking to my Cuban family was that there is a place for each and every item in Cuba, and an appreciation of its value. There is no throwing out as there is in the UK because of a desire for an upgrade. There is appreciation so that everything is fixed or darned it right until it really cannot be used again. Of course this happens out of a necessity, but I also saw the beauty in this attitude and appreciation in a way that perhaps in the UK we need to relearn.

Starting the course at Cuba Danza, I felt a huge sigh of relief to be really moving again and to be feeling the pain of a new technique. Yoerlis, the teacher, was just amazing, like a Greek sculpture and simultaneously inspiring and scary. I began to realise that my posture is completely wrong, and to crave more of this style.

It was very special to meet other people on the course and discover more about all of their countries. We had dancers from Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Italy, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, America all there to study Cuban Contemporary and Afro Cuban. My absolute favourite was my first Yanvalou. It felt wonderful to be doing them in a class, feeling my way, taking on board corrections and growing in this style I love so much. And I was suprised to learn that in Cuba they don’t know the term Yanvalou! I loved the classes and relished in this lively atmosphere. I have always loved the acceptance I feel in this kind of group, as a Spanish speaker, as a person of mixed heritage, somehow finding a home in this diversity, in knowing I am in a country where I look like I might belong.

On the breaks we would buy 30 centavos pastries and sit in the sun, or practise windmills and swipes with my French friend, or go over moves from class together or share fresh fruits.

On the Tuesday I took a course of Rumba with the amazing Yohan Corioso. Yohan specializes in Rumba, and travels worldwide teaching. His class was great; He didn’t assume that I was a novice because I came from Europe and gave me exciting and challenging steps like Sha sha elo ke fou. For the first time since I arrived in Cuba I had that magic feeling where your life just makes sense because the movement feels as if it is what you were born to do. Bliss. After the private I rehearsed with Chevere learning their new Rumba/ Casino piece and picking up some tips on my rusty Cuban style Salsa, before walking home through Havana Vieja and along the Malecon to my home.

The next night after college, the beautiful Aleida, a course mate and wonderful dancer from Cuba, invited us to a club – La Gruta, where we finally got down with some salsa. There was a competition and a Cuban didn’t have a partner so I jumped in. And this Gringa (me) was very happy to come 2nd place! So perhaps those tips from Chevere had actually paid off!

Exactly a week after I arrived in Havana, I knew three weeks just wasn’t enough. I was just beginning to find my flow, to understand how things work, to fall even more deeply in love with Cuban Contemporary, Casino, Rumba, Folclore, and to realize how much I needed this time away for reflection. in London, I feel constantly frustrated that I don’t get the time to just think, reflect, enjoy. I feel a constant guilt, disappointment and frustration at all the things I haven’t managed to achieve. It was strange to have this freedom to reflect. I realized just how wonderful an opportunity this is and how it contributes to my growth in other ways. Travelling is so special for the perspective it gives you on your own life.

Talking to my Cuban family, I learnt so many positives, as well as negative sides to being Cuban. They showed me their monthly rations of food – given to every household in Cuba – of rice, beans, oil for cooking, matches and more (amazing!) They explained the Cuban NHS system- reputably the best system in the world (amazing!); The policy on unaccompanied young people and how the police will call their parents if kids are found to be out in the park after 11pm (amazing!);The struggles caused by being paid in Cuban Pesos when most merchandise (shoes, electronics, clothing, some foods) can only be bought in CUC (the exchange rate), making it impossible to be able to afford to buy anything without finding other ways of earning money in CUC (not so amazing!).

I was impressed by the Cuban education system and by what Suzette said about housing (there are no homeless people here). I began to wonder why this model of Communism was seen as such a threat by so many. But what I could also see was the difficulty and divide in these two currencies. I could see that the currency for tourists would bring more wealth into the country – but also exclude Cubans from participating in the simple things we take for granted: going to a swimming pool, going to listen to a live concert or club; eating out.

Cuba also taught me a humility and appreciation for all things mundane. For example, my first experience of going to the supermarket:  I was able to buy pasta, tomato sauce, crisps and juice all in one place and figured because it was late they just didn’t have everything in stock. As time went on, I discovered there was another shop to buy fruit (in pesos), another for bread, another for eggs, and another (not that I wanted to buy it) for meat. So to buy a full shop could essentially take up a full day. Then, for example, one day there was no water in any of the shops in our area, which certainly taught me gratitude for the simple things in life.

Likewise the cost and amount of patience necessary to get online meant that I really did switch off for the first time in years. My internet addiction (which I wasn’t even aware of until I got to Cuba) was curbed. There was a hotel nearby my casa where I could buy an internet card for £9 for two hours of internet use, and, as I was in the middle of writing a funding application, I knew I was going to spend a small fortune if I didn’t find an alternative. A friend had told me about a much cheaper card which I could use in the hotels, so on my third day in Cuba, I headed out on a mission to find the source of Etesca government Internet cards. My friend had told me I would find them on La Rampa, opposite Coppelia. Once there, asking around I was told to go somewhere else, then somewhere else.

After two hours of wandering from place to place I finally found a building where I was told I could buy a card but there was a huge queue so, tired and hungry, I almost abandoned the mission. Logic took over though and I joined the queue. Finally, thirty plus minutes later, I emerged with three cards. The next challenge was to locate one of four hotels where I could use the card. This took a good 40 minutes more, (I’m not the best at directions), and as I clambered excitedly inside, I was disappointed to be told I couldn’t come inside unless I was a guest. I asked where I should sit to use my card, and he gestured outside in the street, where there were around 20-30 Cubans dotted along the hotel walls engrossed in their phones. I went and joined them on the curb and began the tedious process of trying to log on despite server failures, which took about 20 minutes. Finally I quickly collected my emails (I didn’t fancy staying sitting in the street much longer by then), then took another 20 minutes to log back off. Whilst work messages and my funding application came high on my priority list, and WhatsApp was a close third, I quickly learnt to minimize my internet time. I only went on Facebook once the whole trip, so refreshing, for me that hard time getting online was a blessing in disguise!

There was a wonderful wide-ranging debate on Cuban television about the pros and cons of wifi; whether they should have only one currency; young people’s music such as Reggaeton; interest in western brands and the effects of tourism. It was refreshing to see a debate, in a country where so few people use the internet, focusing on its negative effects and to understand how, without this access to the worldwide web and the world outside of Cuba, tourism might be seen as having a negative effect.

At the Cuban Contemporary School, there was a man who must have been in his 80s or 90s who had a big smile and everytime I saw him he made me smile too. I had the feeling I knew him and we would always stop to say ‘hello’ to one another. It turned out he is the Director of the Folclore School and a Rumberoand I was so excited when he invited me to the Palacio de la Rumba.

I had always struggled with jetes, but by the end of week one I reconnected with that glorious feeling of flying through the air in a jete. My body was getting stronger in a way appropriate to the technique. I was able to hold my leg up higher and easier and beginning to grasp the torso curves and contractions, the use of my ‘ingles’ (groins) and most of all, I was loving the live music everyday. In the afternoon we would study Afro Cuban with Yoerlis, where I would always try to position myself behind Aleida who had such a beautiful way of moving, or there would be a class of a hybrid of ballet barre specific to Cuban Contemporary. The classes were beginning to feel good (perhaps apart from Barre class).

I began to ease into the way of life that week, finally beginning to understand how to get around, realizing how safe Cuba really is and, for the most part, being able to communicate and feel a bit more like a local. Cubans have such a strong accent that every now and again I would be completely baffled by a sentence and my friend Nicoletta, the Italian, would have to translate into Spanish for me, much to my annoyance! But I really began to fall in love with the country and to unwind further.

On the Thursday night, I took a communal car and went to meet Liorka, an Element Arts dancer who had moved back to Cuba three years previously, and her new baby. Liorka and I had spoken very little since she returned to Cuba (as the internet is so bad), so it was wonderful to catch up and to meet her lovely family.

That Friday, myself, David from the US, Nicoletta from Italy and a woman named Denise from Belize headed to Cuban Carnival on the Malecon. At first it felt like being back in Rio. The same layout of the pasarela, the same electric energy, bustle, flirtation and even people collecting empty beer cans for money. But there was also much that was different, most notably in the music. It was a rumba carnival with trumpets, heavy drums and a repetitive rhythm, but unlike Brazil there was no singing from the paraders. Then, every now and again, there was an all singing all dancing float playing a well known reggaeton track sometimes with a full orchestra on board, and happy Cuban passers-by singing the lyrics and dancing freely and with alegria. The costumes revealed much less flesh than those of Brazil (though the Cuban Tropicana costume did of course feature), with colourful dresses, trouser suits and many men holding huge spinning sculptures. The dancing seemed to consist of a quite simple but high-energy basic step, which tapped and turned and tapped and turned along the pasarela. There were complex partner routines with formation changes and props, which all seemed to be done with a straight face and nonchalance.

After a week of being in Cuba I was beginning to be wound up by the fact that from 7-70, the men (or males) will habitually mutter under their breath, but loud enough to be heard, words like ‘mamacita, preciosa, deliciosa’ or even worse make the noise I make when I am trying to stroke a cat in the street. Even when I went to the bank to change some CUC to pesos with the 14year old from my casa, people would do it shamelessly. Later I asked Aleida what she made of it and how she would react. She said she usually says ‘thank you’ (which was surprising to me and made me really try to analyze why I get so irritated by it) unless they said something rude in which case she would confront them about it. Perhaps this would be a better approach than my scowl at a complement? This particular Friday (I guess because it was carnival and people’s energy was high), it was annoying me even more than usual, so I got brave and decided to make cat noises back at two guys, which I can tell you now is not an effective deterrent. In fact it has the complete opposite effect and they followed us for a good thirty minutes before finally they got bored.

Over the weekend almost the whole school bought tickets to the Ballet Cubano. I haven’t seen much ballet in my lifetime, and I knew that the Cubans are reputedly the best in the world so I was excited to see the show. The theatre was very grand, and of course the air conditioning was set to a level where I felt like I was back in England. As the first act began, I was surprised and disappointed to discover that in Cuba, one of the most mixed countries in the world, the ballet company was almost entirely made up of white or very light skinned dancers, and the few dancers who were visibly mixed were very light skinned. I found this disturbing and even more so when asking two friends about it, was told that it is ‘just like that’ by one, and then I was saddened to hear that as a ‘young, black politician you have little chance of reaching office in Cuba, even though the majority of the island’s people is black.’

The next day we were all getting up super early as Aleida had arranged for us to go to Varadero, so we met at 6am at the school for a beach filled day, which unfortunately didn’t work out. A broken down coach meant we were stranded in the dark, but we quickly (well not that quickly as it was light by the time we figured it out) made new plans and headed to a local Havana beach and spent a full day sunning, bronzing, reddening, eating and drinking.

That night we had planned to go to the famous Club 1830, and made plans to meet to walk there together at 9.30pm. I hadn’t had time to go to the shop before it got dark, and the only shop open after dark in my area was out of water so I was drinking tonic water thirstily after a long day in the sun. When I arrived David was the only one who had made it out in time, and we sat long enough to realize no one else would be coming. So off we headed for an amazing night of dancing, some very cheesy shows (and one gorgeous one of older couples dancing son which made me cry), and some ace dances set up again by the magic Aleida. I realized after one dance with an amazing Cuban dancer, that Cuban Salsa has so much style, so much sabor that I find myself getting shy or trying too hard so I began to focus just on the music and my new mission of walking around and not letting go of my partner’s hands. I left early feeling the effects of the day, and that night I had the worst night’s sleep as the world began to spin and I realized I had food poisoning.

After a day off to recover and rehydrate, I was happy to be back at school, and even happier when we arranged to take a group private with Roberto in folcloric dances of the Orishas. We chose to focus on Oya and Sha sha elo ke fou. Alberto, the sound engineer, ushered me over and whispered ‘Lo tienes todo lo que falta es la confianza’. ‘All you need now is to believe in yourself’. After that every time we saw each other he would say ‘Oya warrior’!

The next day I got back to practising windmills with my French companion, and finally, 3 years later, something clicked. I did a windmill with my hips up and my legs kicking round and landed in the right place… and again, and again and again! How funny that I came to Cuba and, at long last, got windmills!

Aleida invited me to see an Afro Cuban show with her at Arte en la Rampa by a company called Jota Jota. It was beautiful!

On David’s last night in Havana, he invited the whole school to 1830, and it was wonderful to see all the salsa of the globe in one place.

The next day, our last day at the Cuban Contemporary School, we were presented with our class certificates. Aleida arrived late for hers, and as we talked at the end she invited me to parade with her in the Compassa de carnival! I could barely contain my excitement. I love carnival. It was a dream come true to parade in Rio in 2006, and I was so happy to now be parading in Cuba. Even better,we would dance Ochun, an Orisha I particularly love. She began to teach me the steps and I went home excitedly practising. When we arrived at the location, they weren’t so welcoming as Aleida but it felt great to be on the Pasarela again. I found myself asking why I am so in love with these dances and asking questions about who can do it, whether dance is truly for everybody if it is done with enough love.

Nicoletta and I headed to Matanzas for the weekend. Exploring the city we enjoyed a museum about the holocaust and Cuba’s role in helping Jewish people escape from Europe. We met countless beautiful people, artists and passionate promoters of Cuba, its history and its government; people keen to talk about how it might change under the influence of America. We visited the museum of slavery, which had a whole room full of information on each Orisha, and we found the cultural centre and club of the town where dancers in their 60s and 70s danced to Danzon. We also visited the beautiful Varadero beach, where we enjoyed a delicious day of sunshine, and where I thanked Iemanja, knowing that I was nearing the end of my trip.

Back in Havana, I chose for my last two days to take a course with Luanda. The course was for a group of French Salsa dancers, and, as I grew up speaking French, my brain became fully mangled with Spanish and French. The course was really good. With a focus on all the Orishas I felt I hadn’t studied enough at the Teatro Nacional, plus a little salsa (finally I got to practise as a man, so much fun) and rumba to finish off which made me very happy.

Havana D Primeira and Alexander Abreu were playing at Casa de la Musica, which was a really fun night out, and finally my very last night out was with my best Cuban friend Aleida. Aleida had been giving me little private lessons in Palo,  Lemanja and Obatala and had been focusing on making sure my upper body was constantly moving with every breath. I took this learning to the club that night, having some of my favourite dances of the whole trip.

We talked about prostitution as a beautiful young girl arrived on the arms of a man who looked like he was in his 70s, and Aleida said ‘You can be desperate but there is always a choice in everything you do!’ Wise words as we watched the same shows (for the fifth time since I arrived on the Island) I found I had a new appreciation for the cheesy dance routines in their technique and simplicity and we excitedly watched the Palo (which Aleida had been teaching me earlier in the day) together.

As the Salsa competitions took place, I felt a new understanding of the dancers and an overwhelming mix of emotions…. a pull to return to the sea; an appreciation of what I am missing out on in the UK; a desire to stay in Havana forever; bemusement at Cuban ways and gratitude for the amazing warmth and heart of Aleida, the people I am staying with, Alberto, and many other Cubans I had met along the way.

Experiencing life in this wonderful and complicated country, I am understand more about aspects which at first confused my western mind. I had slowly relaxed, grown more patient and come to appreciate the pace of life. This experience of the real Cuba with the influence of tourism, the US, as well as its unique recent history cut off from the rest of the world had changed the impression based my expectations and preconceptions before the trip.

I already realised that I need to come back. This country has so much more I need to understand and so much more I didn’t get to see. When I think about this I get restless again at how much more I could have done but the biggest thing of all that Cuba taught me was an acceptance of what is. For me Cuban culture is all of the places I have been, everything I have learnt and no one experience above all the others. What I take away is a love for the country as well as a re-fired passion for Cuban dance and a hunger to learn more about both.

Blog 2

September 2015: Orixás

Reflections on the water: Looking back over the last six months funded by Arts Council of England


“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” – Toni Morrison

So on November 28th, on my way out the door to fly to Valencia to film my second Samba no Pe DVD, there was a most beautiful brown envelope… and inside that beautiful brown envelope were some beautiful words telling me that I had been successful with my Arts Council application. So much has happened since then that it feels like a lifetime ago. I have learnt and matured so much as performer, choreographer, and Director of Element Arts and Ella Mesma Company, and on reflection, I had to put this beautiful experience into words and onto paper.

So here is my second blog entry since my wonderful Placement student Samantha Mashuta set me up a Tumblr account earlier this year, and this one will be all about my reflections as an Artist with an Arts Council Grant. So my project began with ‘Orixas’ rehearsals in December, working towards a sketch of the piece ready for the January Premiere at Resolutions at The Place. Through the Resolutions programme, The Place also offered various skill sessions, including, ‘How to sell your work’ which I attended knowing that I needed to get my head around the idea of selling something I love. As an early exercise, sitting in the Theatre at The Place, we were asked to describe our work to the person sitting next to us, then close our eyes while they put up their hands if they would like to see the show. My partner (I sneaked a peak) did not put up her hand, and I realised how important it is to be able to articulate what you are passionate about, and I determined that I would prove her wrong. I set about rewriting my copy, and making sure my theatre was full for the next three shows that I had planned… every single time…

The bid covered my work with Ella Mesma Company (strong artistic work looking at social, political and cultural through dance movement) to create Ecdysis and Como Agua para Chocolate and Element Arts (Latin Dance Theatre and events) to create Birds Of Paradise and Curate Roots of Rumba on April 11th, and An evening with Element Arts on 16th May.

This was the first time I would choreograph a group piece, so I had a big responsibility and as I had some difficulties with my first four day R&D in July, I was feeling nervous. I worked with three wonderful artists and people from Element Arts: Simone Foster, Rita Vilhena and Sophia Theodosiou. I had a mixture of pre tried out ideas, material based on traditional dances, as well as wanting to explore and find the personalities of each individual dancer. Teaching the dance styles I wanted within the piece as well as finding this time to be creative, reflect and also drill was hard, but with determination, some sleepless nights for me and hard graft, we pulled it together. I also knew that I needed to return to Cuba and Brazil for further research and how imperative this was to the continuation of the piece, and so it was with excitement and anticipation that I attended my WCMT interview that week. I also had Shelley Maxwell as my mentor, which was invaluable- it was wonderful to have an outside support to give me the confidence I needed. One of my biggest learning curves was in how lonely it can be as the choreographer. Dancers are ready and waiting for your instruction and work so hard once they grasp your vision, but on the days when I wasn’t confident in what my vision was, I would feel them slipping away from me, or their frustration that unless I believed in it, they couldn’t, but with Shelley Maxwell on board, plus an inner stubbornness and a lot of meditations later, we did it, and we did it well… And what a wonderful team we made…

On January 9th we invited an audience to our first sharing at The Yaa Centre. Using the Liz Lerman technique we asked questions about the work and had some wonderful responses, which prepared us for our premiere the following day, but then the shocking news came that one of our dancers sustained an injury between leaving the sharing and teaching a class. We weren’t sure what would happen for the performance the next day, and Rita’s solo was an important part of the piece. The next day, somehow, the wonderful Rita was the strongest warrior of them all, and we made her an ankle support to match her costume and insisted she rested as much as possible, but the show went on. It was wonderful to find out we had sold out. We started late while they tried to squeeze everyone in and afterwards, receiving all the personal feedback from the audience, a feedback wall, and reading the reviews a week later,

“Sophia Theodosiou’s excellent performance in the awesome ‘Orixas’ by Ella Mesma Company. It was of a different class to the other groups. They deserve a massive congratulations.” Audience member Paddy Dodd at The Place premiere

“Ella Mesma Company’s ‘Orixas’ carried that vital spark of originality” Graham Watts- The Place Resolutions reviews

“Twenty minutes of pure Contemporary dance at its most physical and most sensual. Rhythmic and gymnastic, the piece told a captivating story of female strength and solidarity” Lilia Prier Tisdall- The Place Resolutions reviews

“Potential was evident in Ella Mesma’s ‘Orixas'” Donald Hutera-Highlights of Resolution

I knew we had made something worth continuing. Whilst I knew that the piece wasn’t finished yet, I knew that the piece had a magic in it that I needed to continue to explore. Just as I had experienced working as a dancer with Russell Maliphant, I continued to mould like a sculpture, to find a finished piece. I discovered that the colour, look, feel, texture… everything was so important and I became the ultimate perfectionist in my quest to complete my vision of the piece.

Later that month, we were invited to perform at Yorkshire Dance’s Friday Firsts in Leeds, a supported evening of emerging artists work and met Lisa Nkreumah-Mweu of ADAD who suggested I apply for the ADAD trailblazer. We also received some incredibly helpful feedback from the Director Wieke Eringa, and the Company sat together to look at integrating her feedback and talking frankly about what we all needed to push further. We had the wonderful and beautiful Myriam Gadri come in to rehearse the piece with us, and we began to explore the stories, relationships and meanings behind our movement. I continued to develop what I was coming to see as ‘the difficult second half’ and on a shorter version of the piece and a workshop for a Bristol booking  with the lovely Helen Wilson as the Professional act for Rise Youth’ yearly show. The audience feedback was very positive and we met a wonderful photographer Roger Barnes who came down to photograph our performance at The Chelsea Theatre in March.

In March, I began to assemble the artists I needed to create Element Arts piece ‘Birds of Paradise’. I wanted to choreograph not dance for this piece, and it was much easier to find my vision and observe the group dynamic this way. I worked with another wonderful group- three dancers- Simone Foster and Michela Di Felice and Laia Moraño as apprentice. I also had Marv the Radio- acclaimed Beatboxer and Xavier Osmir- Brazilian percussionist. This would  be my first time to work with live musicians. I found stepping out to choreograph difficult on those unclear days, and I found that I wasn’t able to feel my way around the piece in the same way as when I am moving, but it was great to watch the piece come alive ands the personalities of the individuals. It was wonderful to be able to create a light and funny piece to explore a deeper message of disillusionment and the mask we wear as performers and within society. Working with Ponciano Almeida as mentor was also a very magic experience, because he understood my intention, helped me enhance it, and encouraged both myself and the dancers in an exemplary way, giving them confidence and inspiration to work even harder, as well as in myself to believe with conviction. The piece has received some very positive praise and we were particularly happy to dicover how well it worked as an outdoor piece when we performed at Bloom Festival on July 5th in the Horniman Museum.

In March I also found out I had been successful in applying for a WCMT grant, and would be travelling to Cuba in August and Brazil in January for further research.

In April, final preparations for Roots Of Rumba at Richmix were underway. I curated the festival with the help of a panel of Element Artists and we chose to book Ponciano Almeida, Yami Rowdy (this year’s ADAD Trailblazer), Candy Bloise and Miguel Gonzalez. It was hard work promoting  with a constant flurry of messages, statuses, images and event updates online, as well as distributing 5000 flyers around the locality and at classes. There was also an epic preparation of costumes for the Birds of Paradise show to be done, equalling lots of late nights! At 10am on the morning of the event, we sold out, and people began to send call out messages for tickets. The show started late due to the crowd attempting to get tickets, but the event was just perfect. We had a wonderful host Rikki Livermore, a wonderful team of artists and the most organised Stage Manager on this  earth. Carly Woodbridge was exactly what we needed to make the event flow with perfect synchronicity. As we made our ‘wishings’ backstage, a calm tranquillity and focused energy overcame us, and my nerves began to turn from highly strung to a determination and strength. We had wonderful tweets from the audience and a great sense of community.

“An evening showcasing the incredible talents, cultures, skills embedded within latin dance theatre, where I was privileged to be hosting some of the best talent on the scene right now.” Rikki Livermore-Host of Roots of Rumba

“Totally stunning moves Ella and Rita gorgeous!” Gemma Coldicott at a Step Into Dance Sharing of the work

Rikki interviewed me on stage and despite my shyness and surprise at talking on the spot, it was wonderful to explain and understand my visions for the future of Latin Dance Theatre. We continued to hear wonderful praise of the event, including from Mercy Nabirye of ADAD and Casa Festival, and I began to understand further the importance of this event and how it can contribute to and pave the way for the development of the Latin Dance scene in the UK.

“I found it entertaining and at the same time different in a positive way and I believe with potential to develop a secure platform for the enjoyment and edutainment of the dance forms you work with” Mercy Nabirye ADAD

I began to really feel the enormity of the project and the tiredness in May, but when I began making small changes, and running Ecdysis without heels, I was enthused with energy as I realised how strong it was and I discovered that my body felt stronger, fitter, more flexible. I understood how to develop the piece much better than I had in 2012, so was excited to perform ‘Ecdysis’ at The Chelsea Theatre.  Meanwhile, based on the feedback and what I had seen from the footage of Roots Of Rumba, I was able to put the finishing touches to Birds Of Paradise, and finally I understood how to finish Orixas. I sent one last version of music to the amazing Matthew Olden, and the piece began to feel whole… my difficult second-half made sense.

To promote the 16th May show at the Chelsea Theatre- an evening of Latin Dance Theatre by Element Arts and Ella Mesma Company, myself and Samantha Mashuta contacted newspapers, magazines, online event sites as well as flyering and facebook. It was hard to reach the local community, but our work paid off, and whilst there were difficulties buying tickets, the event sold out. This time joined by host Bia, and Carly Woodbridge, we received a standing ovation from the whole audience-such a rewarding feeling. We asked the audience to fill in evaluations and got some great feedback!

“Everytime I see her she is better  and better. The performances amazing Xavi Osmir, Simone Foster, Michela Di Felice, Rita Vilhena and others still to see but Ella Mesma you awed me with this last piece. Beautiful girl you are so talented- much love Liliana at The Chelsea Theatre” Audience member Liliana Martins at The Chelsea Theatre

There have been many successes as a result of this project, for example, British Council who watched our January sharing at The Yaa Centre, recommended us to Dep Arts, and Dep Arts then selected the company to become Incubate Artists 2015. We are working with the lovely Jen Sullivan who will be putting together our 2016 tour and applying for our next Ella Mesma Company piece creation and R&D, which we are so excited to share with you soon!.

British Council also selected Ella Mesma for an Emerging Artists tour to Edinburgh and have been giving helpful advice on our copy, website and development. We met the team at Casa festival and hope to work with them in co-producing Roots of Rumba in 2016, which has been confirmed for next year and will be expanding to a two day event on the 8th and 9th of April. We were awarded an ADAD Micro Grant to be supported by a mentor over the next year, which will be invaluable for my progression and efficiency over the next year. We have excellent quality footage and photographs and have a much bigger selection of work to sell for 2016.

The company has grown in strength and team work and I personally am much clearer in who I am as an artist, how to manage a team and the necessary steps I need to take going forwards. For the next project I feel more confident working with artists effectively, and understand the importance of being in a very strong place to mentally support everyone involved, and in having my own support network to be able to turn to. I understand on a more profound level what needs to occur to make a programme of events like this happen and  the skills required to ensure it is done to the highest level possible. I feel I am better equipped with the tools and know-how to make my next R&D, Roots of Rumba 2016, and UK tour of work even better, more powerful and more magic. We will be taking submissions to perform very soon on the Element Arts website ( You can also watch our latest work on our Youtube channels (EllaMesma and ElementDanceCo).

We want to say a massive thank you and shout out to everyone who has been involved over the past 7 months including: Rita Vilhena, Sophia Theodosiou, Simone Foster, Ciaran Cunningham, Matthew Olden, Shelley Maxwell, Ponciano Almeida, Laia Moraño, Michela Di Felice, Xavier Osmir, Marv the Radio, Mercy Ackah and all at The Chelsea Theatre, Oliver Carruthers and all at Richmix, Richard Pitt, Mercy Nabirye, Judith Palmer and all at ADAD, Tara Hobson, Michael and all at The Yaa Centre, Wieke Eringa, Kirsty Redhead and all at Yorkshire Dance Centre, Danielle Byars, Ama Rouge, Samantha Mashuta, Miguel Gonzalez, Candy Bloise, Yami Rowdy, Rikki Livermore, Carly Woodbridge, Bia Gaspar, Liliana Martins, Lora Krasteva, Daniel Goldman and all at Casa Festival, British Council, Jen Sullivan and all at Dep Arts, Sue Goodman and all at Step into Dance, Patricia Stead and all at Dance City, Anthony Egea and Compagnie Revolution, Gavin Vincent, Charlotte Levy, Sonia York-Price, Tim Ward, Danno Scordino, Roger Barnes, Helen Wilson and all at Rise Youth, Tania Diggory and all at PHD Events, Donald Hutera, Yaz Symlaur and Nick Eade, Kate Scanlan, Nathalie Teitler, Femi Oyewole, John McCarthy, The Place, Billingham Festival, Laura Hunter, Phil and all at Middlesbrough Council, The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Hannah Bertram, Lubi Jovanovic, Mariana Pinho, Global Grooves, Iris De Brito, Nikolas Barrera and Vamos Festival, all the audiences who came to support us, gave us words of encouragement, all my family and friends who were there for the process… thank you! 

So now it is off to Cuba to research and rejuvenate and refresh my skills with WCMT ready for an exciting year ahead.