“F***ing brilliant. Very moving” Audience Member: Offbeat Festival, The Old Firestation,  Oxford

A piece using Afro Cuban, Breaking, Rocking and Contemporary dance theatre to focus on the female perspective. Themed around the slang word for woman as ‘chick’ or ‘hen’, Ladylike is a celebration of wonderful women of the world and a provocative protest at gender roles, the masks we wear, sexual violence and sexism. Absurd, comical and romantic, four wild women ceremoniously undress timeless and universal stories of womanhood.

This work contains some scenes of a sexual nature.

“Such Honesty, Skill and Communion” Audience member, Sadler’s Wells



DATE: 2nd November

VENUE: Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, North Rd, London, N7 9EF



DATE: 9th November


WOMEN OF THE WORLD (WOW) Bradford: A festival which celebrates women & girls and takes a frank look at the obstacles they face across the world.

DATE: 19th November

VENUE: Kala Sangam, Bradford


WOMEN IN DANCE CONFERENCE: Leadership Conference to Celebrate and Promote Female Leadership

DATE: 20th January 2018

VENUE: New York City – NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance


A unique movement language at the crossroads of theatre, Latin and Hip hop, together with a punchy feminist approach” Eva Martinez: Artistic Programmer & Artist Development, Sadler’s Wells


Concept and Direction: Ella Mesma

Dancers: Anna Alvarez, Azara Meghie, Hsing Ya Wu, (Lianett Rodrigues), Ella Mesma

Choreography: Ella Mesma and Dancers with the opening scene by Yersin Guillen Rivas 

Costume: Jodie-Simone Howe, Dream Sewing, Ila Leila Samba Costumes, Melissa Rolas and Ella Mesma

Lighting: Ciaran Cunningham

Music: Composed by Sabio Janiak

Photography: Nicola Hunter

Additional Direction: Charlotte Vincent through The Bench (2015), Lea Anderson (2017)

Dramaturgical Support: Peggy Olislaegers through Yorkshire Dance’s Sketch programme (2015)

“You performed your hearts out with honesty and generosity! Thank you” Audience member, Sadlers Wells


The work can be divided into sections or scenes which can be performed individually (described below):

Duration: 1 hour with an entrance ‘installation’

As Audiences arrive: Four performers in the colours of the British/Cuban/US flag morph between a sequence of emotionally charged gestures to an urban reggaeton beat. 

Ladylike Scenes

  1. Yambu: Todo nace de la Rumba (Everything is born from Rumba)’ The Black Roots of Salsa-Christian Liebich. Two dancers present the traditional Rumba style Yambu, as another sets up a circle of protection or confinement.
  2. Tierra: The pack are hungry and dangerous. Are they wild, free, amazonian women? Or are they a figment of his imagination?
  3. Oba: Why do you keep putting off writing about me?” It is the voice of a chicken that asks this.’ Alice Walker (1988). Young and naive, a piece of herself and her sovereignty is sacrificed, until she finds the power to rise out of her cage.
  4. Oya: ‘The Western obsession with women as “parts” (breasts, thighs, butts) is inextricably linked to our culture’s tendency to value animals the same way.’ Carol Adams. Home alone, she sings with a pinch of salt. Is she crazy to think she is free? ‘Remove my giblets and rinse before stuffing me with thyme & lemon. I want you to restrain me, devour me. Tie my ankles with twine, press my wing tips under my body and wrap around my breasts. I am delicious drizzled in oil and seasoned.’
  5. Chango: Are gender differences learned and cultural, or inherent to the fertilization of the egg? In a solo of coming of age, she fights back at the body she is born into. The alpha female, she reigns the roost with her sexual prowess.
  6. Ochun: ‘Some women smile unnaturally so often that they start to suppress their natural emotions.’ Makoto Natsume. She is happy and joyful displaying sensual rumba: a dance between a cock and a hen. She blocks his  ‘Vacunaos’ in a game of flirtation, but the game changes, and she will not be silenced.
  7. Guerreras: The warriors cluck, peck and undress their stories in a ceremonious reclaiming of what it is to be ‘Ladylike’.

“Empowering, Strong,Tender, Wonderful. Thank you.” Audience member, Sadlers Wells


Touring availability: Ready for touring from June 2017

Minimum performance space: 8 x 8 metres

Tech Spec: Ladylike Lighting plan online Ladylike Lighting Plan Downloadable

Ladylike Lighting Plan Version 3


SEX EDUCATION DANCE WORKSHOP: The work covers Sexuality, Pleasure and Consent. We are currently creating a girls sex education workshop.

CLAY ACTIVITY: A goddess inspired interactive foyer activity with audience members

JARS OF: Jokes/O’s/Honey/Shh’s: Jars full of various theme based treats for the audience.

GUERRERAS: Art work display.

POST SHOW TALK: The Company conduct an interview and questions about the work and topics raised.

“Absolutely stunning and provocative piece, thank you for the inspiration and celebration” Pippa Lundgren- Audience member and dancer, Yorkshire Dance 


“The highlight in my dance calender” Kelly-Audience member, Sadlers Wells

A brief background of the dance styles used in Ladylike:

Nearly 1 million Africans from West and Central Africa were captured and brought to Cuba during the 16th through 19th centuries, and Afro-Cuban dances reflect the traditions and dances of four main groups of Africans that were enslaved. The majority of enslaved Africans in Cuba were Yoruba, and thus the Yoruba religion is so strong in Cuba still today, and as the religion includes drumming and dancing, these feature in Afro Cuban folkloric dances:

Rumba: Originally, the term rumba was used as a synonym for party in northern Cuba. Traditionally, the three main styles of rumba are yambú, columbia and guaguanco, each of which has a characteristic dance, rhythm and singing. Guaguancó is a couple dance of sexual competition between the male and female. The male tries to “catch” his partner with a single thrust of his pelvis. This erotic movement is called the vacunao (‘vaccination’ or more specifically ‘injection’), a gesture symbolizing sexual penetration. The vacunao can also be expressed with a sudden gesture made by the hand or foot. The drummer often accents the vacunao. Holding onto the ends of her skirt while seductively moving her upper and lower body in contrary motion, the female “opens” and “closes” her skirt. The male attempts to distract the female with fancy steps, until he is in position to “inject” her. The female reacts by quickly turning away, bringing the ends of her skirts together, or covering her groin area with her hand (botao), symbolically blocking the “injection.” Most of the time the male dancer does not succeed in “catching” his partner. The dance is performed with “good-natured humor” David Peñalosa

Orishas: Spelled Òrìṣà in Yoruba, Orishas are gods that reflect the manifestations of the Supreme God/ the All Father Olodumare or Olofi. Orisha may have a preferred color, foods, saints and objects as well as their own characteristics, stories, dances and rhythms. The Orishas focused on in this story are:

Chango: God of Thunder and Lighting who married three wives:

Oba: Chango’s first wife who he rejected when she sacrificed a piece of herself and her power for his love.

Oya: A warrior goddess of the hurricanes, chaos and change

Ochun: The goddess of freshwater, fertility and femininity.

Hip hop is a subculture and art movement developed in the South Bronx in New York City during the late 1970s. Afrika Bambaataa of  Zulu Nation outlined 4 pillars of hip hop culture, including: rapping/MCing, DJing, b-boying/b-girling and graffiti.

Breaking: A dance form created by African Americans & Puerto Rican young people in the Bronx, New York in the late 70’s. Bboying consists of four things: Toprock, Downrock,Powermoves and Freezes. The original term ‘Bboy’ or ‘Bgirl’ arose to describe the dancers who performed at DJ Kool Herc’s Blockparties.  The dance is about proving your worth via ability.

Rocking: Rocking came prior to Breaking and is also known as Rock Dance or the Brooklyn Rock. It is a street dance formed in New York in the early 1970’s often with influences of Salsa as well as references to gang culture which was prevalent at the time.

“Completely engaged- Enthralling, emotional, grounding work” Stuart Carter- Audience member and CEO, The Tabernacle- London


2015: Research began in Cuba, Brazil and New York with the Winston Churchill Travelling Scholarship (2015) and The Lisa Ullman Trust, and public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Yorkshire Dance through its Sketch programme for dance makers with a commitment to working in Yorkshire and the North of England and mentoring and additional Direction from Charlotte Vincent through the Bench Program and ADAD.

2016-2017: The production continued with support from crowd funding, residencies at Dance City, Richmix and with support from Sadler’s Wells and public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Ella Mesma and Company would like to thank all who have participated towards the research and the love, dedication, hard work and in kind support of company members, supporters and production team.


“A powerful display of timeless and current issues that women continue to face everyday” Audience member and choreographer –Louiseanne Wong