Empowerment for Beginners

Posted on Jun 16, 2015

As part of their Artsadmin Artists’ Bursary, Project O (Alex Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small) have started a free weekly course at Toynbee Studios, open to people with an interest in moving and engaging with their bodies as agents of movement, politics, desire, self and dance. Through ten weekly sessions, the New Empowering School aims to develop a new community of movers and shakers and has attracted participants who are both trained and non-trained.

The School takes place every Wednesday evening between 29 April – 8 July 2015, each week led by a different artist invited by Project O to create a space of permission, discussion, transformation and revelation through languages of the body-mind. Teachers have included Karen Doyle, Charlotte Cooper, Kay Hayatt, Vicki Igbokwe, Steph McMann, Florence Peake, Matthias Sperling and Helena Webb.

One of the participants, Charlie Lee George, has been writing a weekly blog about her experiences of the School. Charlie is a freelance dance artist and the creative director of Dark Island Dance. See below for Charlie’s first blog post, and click through for accounts of further sessions.

Rule 1: Don't allow yourself to be squashed

Self-defining radical space keeps opening its doors to me, which is nice because most of London has been screaming at me to fuck off for ages. In fact its been building new establishments to dispel me, the discreet hanging filament lightbulbs and the grey blue paint of gentry quietly tutting my clothes from sports direct and primark. I can be found loitering around organic vegetables, shy in the face of their untarnished glory as I look at my cheap packet of shiny cellophane dried fruit, full of sulphites; every day a new thing I can't afford to avoid, goes into and on my body.


Project O's New Empowering School: http://www.acontemporarystruggle.com/

Cracked open to let in some light and I entered full of anticipation and longing...


We were in Michael Clark's rehearsal studio which gave everything this extra nod to rebel status,

the edges of the room lined with empty pointe shoes, therabands and the paraphernalia of sweaty 'dancers' work.
So we kicked off by lying on the floor...
Creating a sort of group body scan through this exercise that bent time and space a bit, amidst the surrealness of lying on Michael Clark's dance floor in Central London in a big glass studio that wouldn't look out of place in the Thunderbirds. 

As the sun slowly set on the skyline, we catalogued our senses, feelings, shapes, vastness and voids. 

And I uncovered that for me, silence together with other humans is one of the most deeply relieving things.


We took a walk around the city and listened for 15 minutes without talking to someone else, I've always been a crap listener I think, always too excited to interject, share, ask questions and devour people, experiences and the moment. So it was like an odd fasting of words, that left me heady and closer to reality and truth than I had ever got with words and shoving my face and brain. And I thought I should probably go on a word diet and stop trying to analyse and explain everything all the time. 


The person I walked with was so alive and beautiful to me and I felt for a little while like I became privileged with their sight, thoughts and words. They said lots of amazing things that gave me new perspective but the one that held in the air was:

When this was said it was like it dropped into the well of me and echoed and reverberated.
What a shit I am for almost always antagonising mine I thought!

When it was my turn to speak I was a mess, like spaghetti, all noodley, and I said things that sounded like the kind of shit you'd write on the first draft of a postcard.
I went on a rant about how dance was like this woman I was in love with and how I was trying to get her back or chase her down or something, but that it was a bit unrequited now and that the whole thing was somewhat degrading, but if I could just convince her what it is to be with me then I knew we'd be fine, potentially amazing... and that this experience was that, me trying to claw my way back to the woman I love. (I'm wincing just thinking about it)
I had a pain in my chest when I tried to imagine not dancing or being connected to dance, and I just couldn't see it or let myself believe that might one day come about. Or that at somepoint I might just lose this fight to dance or worse, just not want to fight or dance anymore.
I also saw a poster on a clinic window we passed that was misspelled and said:
And this made me hysterical for quite a bit, imagining that a person might cast a spell that goes
horribly awry.

We finished off by dancing in the dark which made me feel like a super human ninja cutting all kinds of fucked up shapes.
And then we talked about boundaries & expectations to support the group & this space, people said about being able to take themselves out of an exercise if it made them feel uncomfortable, about knowing your own limits, about self-care, about committing to attend, about communicating difficulties and about allowing otherness... it felt smart, intuitive, wise and freer.
I thought maybe I can like school, maybe education doesn't have to make me feel shit about myself and perhaps the system is being infiltrated slowly, one act of vindication at a time...



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