It’s been a while since I’ve been on a date with anyone including myself. So Last night was special. I took myself out on a night out to see a dance performance by Moving into Dance Mophatong Company in Newtown, Johannesburg. It was an auspicious event for the dance company which is celebrating its 35 year anniversary and the retirement of its founder and director Sylvia Glasser who started the company from her garage back in 1978, during Apartheids glory days. The company has since developed into one of South Africa’s premier professional full-time, contemporary dance companies, receiving numerous awards including six Standard Bank Artists of the year awards, more than any other dance company in Johannesburg.
It was a special night for me too since, apart from being on a date with me, I got to “meet” the woman behind the dance company which back in 2007 tossed me lifeline through its after hours open dance classes. It was a dream come true, to learn how to dance, because though I have always loved dance and wished to dance professionally all my life, I had never had the opportunity to, except of course at parties and music venues across Johannesburg. The afternoon classes were vigorous and succeeded in convincing me that I could not dance at all since I seemed to have two left feet. Instead of one- two- three- four, I would go five- eight- one- two. I became so frustrated that one day I sat out of class and cried while others danced in harmony to the teacher’s metronomic voice. I cried because, I sucked at the one thing I loved and thought I could do well. I wanted so much to dance like the other students and follow the logical one-two-three steps but my feet would not let me. The experience was rewarding physically even though I quit after a while due to work commitments and a broken heart – after realizing that my heart somehow misled me – in reality I cannot dance.
The Winds of…
The four-day performance titled “ The winds of..” is about change and introspection with the sole purpose of moving forward, looking beyond and conquering all that lies across the horizon. It speaks of the natural progression that time initiates. It speaks of change and movement, of sunsets and sunrises of plateaus and climbs. So with such a promising description you can imagine that I was more than ready to be inspired to move forward and a part of me was hoping to still be moved into dance again somehow.
The opening performance was “Man-longing”, choreographed by Sunnyboy Mandla Motau. The piece is an exploration into the dark and sinister world of human trafficking. The five person dance performance piece uses dance and poetry to bring awareness of the dangers and consequences of being a victim of human trafficking. “Several years ago one of my uncles disappeared. We have never been able to find him. It has been a huge loss for the family. I don’t want the audience to be comfortable; I want to create awareness around this very real and dreadful industry. People disappear without a trace in big cities, families meet dead ends all the time” says Motau. The piece is accompanied by a city soundtrack which has captured sounds of Johannesburg into a grizzly metallic sound scape. It’s a spirited performance piece, with breathtaking choreography fusing tight balance between violence and sex. One moment it feels like someone is going to get seriously hurt the next it seems the dancers are about to engage in an act public masturbation. I was definitely not comfortable but I was pleasantly surprised by the piece which was first showcased in September this year. I loved the story line, the theatrical performances, the strong presence of solid female dancers who beguiled me with the way they moved. And yet something was missing….
For the first time in my life I didn’t want to jump on to the stage and join the dancers. I have always felt, , believed that dance is meant to be a freeing experience. Part of my frustration with my dance classes at MID was due in part to the fact that I had to remember movements, repeat them over and over again until my body had programmed them to each and every muscle and they happen automatically. So I become pre-occupied with the algorithms of dance that I actually ended up not dancing at all. Just following the steps. Smile. Breathe. Chin up. Stomach in. Shoulders straight. Tighten the behind. Act natural.Posture. Don’t miss a step. Smile. Look at your audience. Focus. Don’t forget your step. And One-two –three-ten! ahhhh Yes to be a professional dancer one needs to be fit, solid and centered. To create those soft-flowing-seemless – movements one has to be as tough as nails. It seems so utterly contradictory but it’s true. Dance is ultimately about being in control of yourself, in control of your body and how it moves. It is highly disciplined art and being fit.
But nowadays I find that when I watch dance performances in Johannesburg… there’s everything in the performance but dance. There’s drama, costumes, lights, music but no-one is dancing. I remember one dance performance piece where the dancer, just sat looking at himself in the mirror throughout the entire show, talking to the audience, threatening to move into dance but never did. It was a powerful political statement to make about the art of dancing, especially as it relates to the African experience “all things being equal”. But I still wanted to see “actual” dancing. I miss dancing. I miss watching people letting go and allowing the music to dictate where their limbs go and how they move. That is how I have always understood dance to be in my mind. Music is not just a backdrop to a dance piece, it is what gives dance its power, what propels the dancer forward. At least when I’m dancing it’s the music, the sound, that tells me where to go.
Dancing for me is about letting go of control. And though I may seem often completely out of control to your my dear reader, I have a hard time letting go of control. What my “night-club-dancing“ and dance classes have taught me over the years about dancing is you have to release all desire for control, and just allow your body to move naturally – like walking. When you walk, you don’t analyze it, plan it , you just walk how you walk , dancing for me is just like walking. Allow the music to do the talking through your body. I could never let go while sober. In the past it became essential to have a drink or two to ge to the point where I can relinquish control – to dance – I would drink and go out dancing, and if I suddenly had an audience I would close my eyes. Because dancing for me has always been a form of prayer, of communicating with my maker and getting close to a place where I am whole complete, lacking nothing. In the past three years I stopped drinking to dance – so I stopped praying. Only doing it in the privacy of my home after a shower or bath in front of the mirror or when if music pulls me up.
That said dance is a sacred act for me yes, but there is also ample room for all kinds of dance expressions in the world. I just miss the kind that is full of love and joy. Dancing that inspires both the dancer and the audience to love… again.
Catch Winds of…. at the dance factory from the 22 to 24 November at the Dance Factory.