Representation of the People: Act | Introduction to a discussion by Eleanor Sikorski
"As part of Representation of the People: Act Groundwork Pro are hosting a series of discussions/events to celebrate 100 yrs since women achieved the right to vote and equal suffrage was acheived for men. We’ll be asking where are we now? as we continue conversations around gender equality and examine action in our art form. Join us on over a glass of wine and bite to eat for: Eleanor Sikorski – Take it Personally" Groundwork Pro, Cardiff, Wed 31st Jan, 2018.
I would like to talk about sexism, racism, ableism, queerphobia, ageism…. but these things are huge and there are a lot of them. So I’m going to start smaller. I'm going to talk about dance.
Please, if you feel comfortable, raise your hand in response to the following:
Has anyone here danced for pleasure? Has anyone here danced for work? Has anyone here danced on their own? Has anyone in here danced with other people? Has anyone here danced when they were younger? Does anyone in here imagine that they will dance when they are older?
Does anyone have strong memories associated with dancing? Can anyone here picture one of their parents or grandparents dancing? Can anyone here picture one of their friends dancing? Do these people dance like you? Or differently to you? Has anyone tried to learn a new kind of dance? Has anyone danced and sung at the same time? Has anyone here got cramp from dancing? Has anyone here been injured dancing? Has anyone here got really tired or exhausted dancing? Has anyone here felt embarrassed or awkward when dancing? has anyone here felt really sexy while dancing? Has anyone here danced when they didn’t really feel like it? Has anyone here danced with someone they didn’t really want to dance with? Has anyone here been told they are a good dancer? Has anyone here been told they are a bad dancer? Has anyone here been corrected in their dancing? Has anyone here been told that they should improve their dancing?
What I’m getting at here is the breadth and depth of the personal history we all have with dancing. Dancing can feature throughout our lives in many different emotional situations, both good and bad.
When a dancer takes their dancing into the professional sphere they take all of this history with them. Noemie Lafrance, in an article written in 2014, says that when artists work with dancers they are working with a medium, and the medium is: ‘bodies, people, humans, living organisms that have a past and future and are worlds of their own.’
A dancer can not separate their body from their history, their memories, their politics or their state of being. If their body is the medium, then ALL of these parts of them are part of that medium.
So, if a dancer’s world is a bit messy then what does that bring to the studio? If a dancer is sad, sick, emotional, what does that bring? If their body is other, if their body is queer, if their body is old, if their body is female, if their body is not white, if their body is differently-abled, if their body is foreign, if their body belongs to a different culture, what does that bring to the studio?
I said earlier that I wanted to talk about some big topics, and now I am. By talking about dance, dancing and dancers, I have ended up talking about peoples’ bodies and lives and therefore about sexism, racism, ableism, queerphobia and ageism.
It only seems sensible that in professional situations we should talk about these things, but often we don’t.
Why don't we talk about them? Maybe they are not visible enough so we forget they are there, maybe there isn’t enough time, maybe we don’t really know how to talk about them, maybe we have had them drilled out of us or buried deep inside us by our dance training and ideas of professionalism.
When I think about connecting the personal with the professional I also think a lot about a piece I made, called ‘Comebacks I thought of later’. It is a piece in which I use true and personal anecdotes, largely related to my experience of dodgy sexual encounters and gendered harassment, to make an entertaining, funny show with songs, dancing and jokes.
By performing the show I realised how powerful my tiny little stories were and how widely they resonated. I also realised how the audience’s perception of me as a performer and entertainer sometimes made them forget that the stories were real and were mine. Some people forgot that if they made jokes about my stories, that I would be personally affected. The public nature of the conversation made me feel powerful but also more exposed.
I would like to read a few more quotes that we can think about during this discussion:
"It is expected that the professional dancer be willing to push, challenge and often transgress their physical, emotional and psychological boundaries. These expectations can easily put performing artists in an extraordinarily vulnerable position." From ‘#Wetoo: What dancers talk about when they talk about sexism’ by Ilse Ghekiere, 2017.
"Figuratively sacrificing or even literally objectifying other people’s bodies questions the boundaries of abuse in relationships. […] Has it been thought about or should dancers just move into the objectification of their bodies to replicate an artist’s vision […]?" From ‘Dance and the Museum: Noemie Lafrance Responds’, by Noemie Lafrance, 2014.
"So if an artist has spent their entire lives learning that saying yes or being silent is the way to success and survival while training, how then do we expect them to speak up and say “no” to shitty conditions, to abuse, to sexual assault in the workplace?" From ‘Teaching Wildness’ by Su-Feh Lee, 2018.
For me, these quotes simply highlight the importance of creating open and psychologically healthy working environments.
I would like to open this discussion up to hear any thoughts that you all have on these things.
I don’t hold any expectation or need for anyone to share their experiences. Everything is optional. As important as listening to people’s stories, is giving people the option not to tell them.