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Animated Edition - Winter 2013
Between two smiles
Independent dance artist Louise Katerega, reflects on her Olympic-related exchange trip to Brazil to share dance practice by and for disabled people with award-winning, community dance leader Ana Lusia Cisato, courtesy of a Lisa Ullman Travelling Fellowship
Image: Heneri’s smile. Photo: Louise Katerega
Heneri’s smile. Photo: Louise Katerega
Welcome to my mini-photo album of a recent working and professional development experience in the city of Florianopolis, Southern Brazil.

This article is a series of snapshots – visual and metaphorical – representing the key memories of my adventure back in May 2012, beginning and ending with two smiles. Between them lie a professionally enlightening, physical journey of thousands of miles and – perhaps the true driver of any continuing professional development (CPD) experience – a gradually deepening personal realisation about the history and future of my own dance practice.

Meet Heneri exactly as I did, smiling from ear to ear, as our delegation of 15 disabled and non-disabled artists, adults and young people from the South West region of England (apart from me) straggle into the canteen of the Association of Parents and Friends of Exceptional Children (APAE) Florianopolis at the end of a gruelling 26 hour journey.

APAE Florianopolis is the local branch of a national government organisation, which exists to provide day and residential care, education and basic employment (handicrafts, etc.) for disabled people thoughout Brazil. Heneri is a day attender here and member of a group of 14 (mainly learning) disabled and three non-disabled teenagers and adults based there and led by dancer, teacher and choreographer, Ana Luisa Cisato (Analu). Fellow choreographer, Deborah Baddo, Director of State of Emergency Ltd, and I were to spend two weeks in collaboration with Analu creating material for and working that into Breathe, the dance aspect of the outdoor, multi-arts extravaganza set to open the 2012 Olympic sailing events at Weymouth in July.

For this nervous foreigner Heneri’s welcoming grin of acceptance was exactly the tonic needed. This would be my first experience of teaching in a country where I didn’t speak the language. There were more ‘ceremonial’ aspects of our welcome to Brazil – banners and embraces at the airport, a song from the (stunning) staff choir, cards and roses in our hotel rooms – yet it was Heneri who most gave me the sense that, whatever I might bring it was valued, welcome and we were in this together. This moment is where I found the courage to begin.

People and practice
Lovely Analu! For someone with an impressive CV and command over a highly disciplined dance group, I remain surprised how modest and unassuming Analu is in her general demeanour. Yet as I unravelled her life and dance story (thanks to translation by her film-maker son Pedro) I became aware of the great strength, passion, integrity and dedication beneath this quiet surface.

Exchanging practice….. Psicoballet: issues of translation
Following a thread of personal interest back in 1993, Analu undertook a few weeks study of Psicoballet, a form of dance therapy that originated in Cuba. This was her first foray into dance with disabled people. Psicoballet was developed by iconic, pioneering and famously left-wing ballerina Alicia Alonso and her husband Fernando. Originally used in mental health settings in Cuba, it soon transferred to education contexts and, broadly, is a form of dance that relies strongly on ballet to integrate the physical and psychological aspects of the therapy.

Having stayed at the Alonsos’ home, Analu then returned, inspired, to Brazil and began work at APAE adding her students from another school, Estacao Dancar, only to find, culturally, the ballet basis did not work.

She says: “In Cuba ballet is so popular every person in the street is familiar with its look, feel and structure. It is not the same in Brazil so I had to start again… start from what I knew… what they knew…the music and dance styles they like… a more creative approach.” This was the most fascinating, simultaneously heartening and dis-heartening, discovery: I had gone expecting to hear, as I often feel is our desire here in the UK, of some magic formula for the teaching of disabled dancers… only to be told that despite more formalised training, (Analu had more or less taken the same path I had – and that of all pioneers I admire in this work) that wherever you are – context is all. Where you are, who you are working with and what you and they bring in from outside is your starting point.

Analu then went on to train with Alito Alessi in DanceAbility in Oregon, USA, an influence I saw in the beautiful, uncluttered verbal simplicity of instruction for her improvisations.

For me, the success of Analu’s work is all about repetition and knowing/communicating well with the students. The longest serving members of her group have been with her more than a decade and I am beginning to wonder if I see a pattern of around ten years’ working to make integrated companies blossom e.g. StopGAP were a community group for a decade before turning professional; it took me ten years to feel I had a suitable cohort to make an integrated work for The Place Prize 2006…

Something in particular also stayed with me: Analu has an emphasis on poise and posture and I definitely want to focus on this more in my own work, since its result is a great core strength. This made the dancers immensely easy to work with and gives them a look of pride and dignity – always useful in this context.

The Flocking Dance
My turn! Eventually, I devised a sequence (which became a signature phrase of the Breathe production) based on repetition and accumulation of movements numbered one to ten. As even I could manage one to ten in Brazilian Portuguese, I got to experience a closer relationship with the group by calling out and demonstrating. This plus lots of smiles and energy meant I relied less on our translators. I am so glad I took this plunge and continue to have faith that dance really is an international language and those trained in similar styles and values all speak it to each other instantly.

Overall, I discovered I share more techniques, understanding and person-centred approaches with Analu than anticipated and in fact, based on her wonderful foundation, I was successfully able to introduce her group to contact and lifting work for the first time. This collaboration came to fruition at a one-day community arts event at the University of Florianopolis. Part conference, part opportunity for arts workshops for groups of young people from deprived backgrounds, our sharing of work drew a standing ovation.

The wider context
We in the UK, for all our legitimate complaints about the NHS and legislation around disabled people, at least have those two things to complain about. Healthcare in Brazil is paid for and the need for APAE far outstrips its capacity. They battle daily against abject material poverty and worse, poverty of education. English-speaking APAE secretary Larissa tells me that some Brazilian parents are so ill-informed that organisations like APAE even exist for their disabled children that it’s not unknown for disabled babies to be abandoned on skips. APAE is only just getting into a position to offer early medical assessment of a young person’s impairments. The majority of Analu’s dance group simply do not really know what their impairment is or what effects early interventions might have had on it. Interestingly, what is certain is that they all report improvements in health and wellbeing because of their dancing, e.g. balance. (*)

And it is thus I learn the truth behind Heneri’s smile – still glowing here as you can see at the performance in Weymouth. I comment to Larissa during their UK visit, how beautifully groomed the students are and how much pride they and staff appear to take in their uniforms. Larissa is surprised and asks if as a ‘liberal Brit’ I find the uniforms oppressive in any way. I answer that I sense there may be economic reason for them and indeed she informs me that most students come to them devoid of everything from underwear to ever having visited the dentist. Personal hygiene, I realise, is crucial to the dignity of disabled people in Brazil. I take UK standards of care and living for granted. When Heneri arrived at APAE he had no teeth, which they remedied. Literally as well as figuratively it gave him that smile. Heneri’s second smile, now I’ve learned so much since his first, reveals to me far more than the essence of joy and generosity I found in those I met Brazil. It tells a story of those two qualities in the face of a hardship and misunderstanding inspiring to me here in the better-off UK; it measures the scale of achievement Analu and her dancers, not just in relation to making it to our Olympics, but the importance they might have as national role models and symbols of a better future at their own.

contact louise@footinhand.co.uk / visit www.footinhand.co.uk

For full details of Breathe visit www.diversecitylondon.org / www.battleforthewinds.com

(*) See testimony of dancer Isaias Schmidtz www.diversecitylondon.org/current_projects.html

Particular thanks to: Claire Hodgson (Diverse City), Tony Horitz (Exchange Co-ordinator), Deborah Baddoo (State of Emergency), Thais Santos (Translator), Jamie Beddard (Breathe Director), Alex Bulmer (Breathe Writer), Analu, Pedro and of course all the dancers!

The British Council in Brazil visited the project in Florianopolis and are keen to continue the cross-cultural relations in the run-up to Rio 2016.

The travel cost of this project was supported by the Lisa Ullman Travelling Scholarship Fund. Louise’s full report can be found on their website. visit www.lutsf.org.uk/awardWinners.html

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Animated: Winter 2013