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Animated Edition - Spring 2007
An evolving dance dialogue
Cecilia Macfarlane, in conversation with Ruth Pethybridge, discusses the differences and the commonality in the dancers she works with
If we're going to talk about culture in its widest sense then the common denominator has got to be the body, whatever its colour, shape, size or age. The body is the primary mode of expression and communication in dance and as such inter-cultural dialogue can occur at the level of embodiment as opposed to verbal languages and debate; through a silent body. Throughout this article, when 'the body' is referred to, there is an understanding that we have reached a place in debate where the body and mind are not separate but are also in dialogue.

From the moment we get up in the morning, the body is in use all the time. Within the dance setting we choose to see and feel silently, the functional body is no longer a distraction. Artificial, imagined barriers are broken down and the distractions and clutter of the day are put to one side. Through dance we have the possibility of coming back to our origins - we are potentially more 'naked' as we are more visible to ourselves and others.

DugOut is an adult community dance group based in Oxford directed by Cecilia. When DugOut enter the space and take their coats and shoes off, they don't just take their coats and shoes off; the days work, the childcare, the immediate concerns of everyday life also get put aside and they step into the space to share and celebrate their common physicality. Adults in the community demonstrate wonderful difference of how, who and what we are - there is nothing tidy about life and their dances reflect this.

Without the rigours of a specific technical style there is a freedom that exists, particularly in improvisation and creative dance, for the dancer to reveal their particular signature. Tree branches don't naturally grow pruned and clipped and in straight lines, it is only 'man' who desires them to do this. Whether a dancer or not, our signature, while unique, also echoes our biography. The individual biography is essential and to be celebrated, the difference is what makes it exciting, be that what is termed 'cultural' difference or any other kind of difference. A dance technique that promotes uniformity and regimentation or indeed release work that releases to the point of neutrality are two extremes. In between, there is a place where dance is artistic expression and commonality for a group, whether it is a salsa class or break dancing.

Inter-cultural dialogue is just another way to label community dance work that promotes inclusive interaction and exchange between people. In this context we are talking about intergenerational work, therefore extending the term to include dance by people of different ages, whether age itself inhabits its own 'cultural sphere' is a debate in itself.

Crossover Intergenerational Dance Company was formed in January 2003 by Cecilia to explore the diverse ways in which we think, feel and move at different ages and the unexpected similarities that we share. There are nine dancers aged between 7 and 65 that offer performances and workshops for people of all ages that are physically demanding, artistically challenging, socially inclusive and fun. Their choreography demonstrates that people of different generations can find a common language through dance and that adults can dance with children or vice versa, related or not. This questions the cultural presumption that different age groups should be separated in order to learn and create. It also introduces the cultural dilemma of political correctness in physical contact; something that is an obvious concern for the dance sector and its educational methods.

Through the common denominator of the body, Crossover has delighted not only in celebrating their differences but unexpectedly and importantly their similarities, what is shared between their generations physically and emotionally. Particularly important in Crossover but equally important in all Cecilia's work is the individual within the group. Key to this is the deliberate absence of a hierarchical structure both within the studio and on the stage. No one is hidden in the back row and everyone has their turn 'centre stage'. Most importantly though, each individual's choreography contributes to the whole. Their particular 'signature' therefore supports their self definition within the company and also in their wider cultural community.

Crossover would not exist without its audience, perhaps this is true of any dance company, but what makes it different is that people relate to what they are seeing on stage by recognising their own potentialities, the common denominator:

"I don't find dance easy to get close to - shape and movement doesn't necessarily work for me - but with Crossover's performance I really didn't want it to end; it spoke to me and had such resonance. It spoke to me of working together, of finding areas that are of common interest and making things collectively and how there is so much strength and joy in this; this is important and vital to us as human beings." Audience member (September 2004).

Crossover is a natural evolution of Cecilia's twenty-one years of practice as a dancer in the community in Oxford. How it is labelled does not effect or change the practice, it only categorises it. Inter-cultural dialogue is part of Crossover's practice but it is also a label and labels stick. The whole nature of dance, and indeed culture, is that it is evolving. The dialogue is between our differences and similarities as human beings.

Cecilia Macfarlane is an Associate Senior Lecturer in Arts in the Community at Coventry University and is also an independent dance artist based in Oxford with a national reputation for the work she does in the community. She is founding director of Oxford Youth Dance, Dug Out Adult Community Dance and co founder of Oxford Youth Dance Company. She directs and performs with Crossover Intergenerational Dance Company and has an ongoing practice as a solo artist.


Ruth Pethybridge is an independent dance artist based in Oxford who has recently completed an MA in Dance Cultures, Histories and Practices from the University of Surrey. She regularly works with Oxford Youth Dance.

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Animated: Spring 2007