Reflections on Dance and Nature

I have just been awarded the UK Volunteer of the year 2013! It is such a thrill! Now, I feel like Miss. World – Environment! And have ideas for using dance to make the National Park more vibrant, even more beautiful and a hub of interest for progressive art types!

I have an amazing time whenever I am volunteering in the Peak District National Park and I am absolutely thrilled to be awarded for that. I think it is important to introduce people to what national parks can offer and get everyone thinking about our response to environmental challenges – it’s the best way to keep these places special. I like to create new opportunities in National Parks, which will allow a wider range of people to come into National Park and experience their specialness.

Dancing in the National Park – learning through nature – that’s my idea. See more detail here!learn-in-style/c1bln

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It all started in the summer of 2012 when I spent a fortnight in tropical settings in Costa Rica.  No television, internet was sporadic, food wasn’t fancy but fresh. But we had leisure space, hammock, dark skies, patter of rain, insect noise, running water… it was all very civilised but just very different… very close to nature.  We were there to talk about human rights, cultural rights, property rights and how different communities think differently about them. For some communities and countries, a lot hinges on a strong property system. For others, property is not so important, of course they all use things, but the system of control they have over objects is not so much like if it was subject to a property right, they had looser associations over things, more fluid associations. We were staying on indigenous land, in an indigenous community, in the high mountains in Talamanca, having got there by a rickety bone-jangling bus ride, followed by a boat ride, followed by another ride on the back of a truck.

After a week of living so close to nature, I started seeing it more closely, hearing it more closely, feeling it more closely. And one evening, when we weren’t discussing law or policy, we had dance, music and language. It was my turn, for word had spread that I danced. I found myself taking inspiration from nature around me to make a story for my dance – and it worked! And I scared the hell out of some of the participants ‘cos I declared that I had seen a scorpion in the shower that morning – through my dance!  You can see bits of the scorpion dance here at 10.16.

Btw, my name was part of the indigenous lexicon. ‘chamu’ is the bri bri word for banana! And btw, here’s a cool documentary I found on the bri bri and their struggle.

I spent the next week in the most enjoyable place I have ever been at – Corcovado National Park. There were 2 guests in the whole place, there were ten times more animals than people in the vicinity, including jaguars! I was living in a very posh tent, with no lights whatsoever at night, I could feel the difference between usual holiday places in the rainforest or forests and a biodiverse place. This was definitely very special. There was none of the usual trappings and conveniences of a holiday place, but everything was comfortable. I took long strolls on the estate, walked past some gold panners, walked the ridges, walked in the beach, photographing macaws, toucans, hummingbirds, moths, monkeys and tapirs. These animals and birds were more themselves, wild and just going about their business. With nothing else to do, I’d sit for hours in the rocking chair watching toucans, listening to howler monkeys, swinging in the hammock watching two lizards chase each other, with one billowing its orange elastic band beneath its jaw, showing off to its mate. It was such fun watching the temperamental macaws that one minute would be all lovey dovey, the next would come out all screeching against each other and raising a din.

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Time elongated, my mind slowly released itself from a routine, came out cautiously and explored too. I could feel my body moving to a different rhythm, I knew for certain that if I were to give expression to this rhythm, it would be different, something very different, something wholly inspired by who I was then, and by the surroundings I was in.

That’s when it struck me, if I were to choreograph a piece, there would be vigour about it, a truthfulness.

Why couldn’t I do this in my National Park? It would be a fantastic thing to do – A summer residential in the National Park, remote and by ourselves, with only nature for company. How would students learn in such a surrounding?  How would their imagination aid them?

You have the mountains, streams, trees, and stones and bridges… It is not about seeing shapes, forms, things, and copying them, trying to express them in dance. There is that, and there will be sessions on that. But that’s not the real clincher.

One can observe things on a grand scale, watch how one affects the other, the wind affects the clouds, changes their shape, knocks off one from the other. While you have been focusing on that, the light has started to fade, the orange now gives way to blue, a whole new family of colours.. blue to purple, then to ink, then black.. and lo behold.. the stars are out. The sound has changed while all this was happening.. the swish of wind has given way to croaks and creeps.. The grand scale doesn’t detract from the beauty and awe of the detail. The moss on the stone in the middle of the waterfall stream, the anthill next to the mound of mushroom on the forest floor, the tiny bright red flowers of lichen bloom all contain symmetry and shapes, rhythms and moods far more varied than those that we already capture through our dance. There is so much out there to be captured, to be visualised, conveyed, experienced, and enjoyed.

Such environments are deeply thought provoking, our thoughts flow, we get carried away, slowly we stop doing the thing we usually do – boxing our thoughts within a framework, and analysing it inside.

And when we have lived, created and enjoyed in such a space, how would that make us feel? Make it a habit to get out there more, and how would that change us? What would nature mean to us?

Preparing to dance outdoors.. on a summer’s day in London
Dancing outdoors at an Olympic Truce event, 2012
Dancing outdoors at an Olympic Truce event, 2012



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