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Animated Edition - Spring 2007
Intercultural dialogue without words: all in the games
Bill Harpe Co-Director of The Blackie/Great Georges Community Cultural Project in Liverpool describes a workshop-based approach to facilitating intercultural dialogue
It's a workshop game for dancers from varying cultural backgrounds and training, and with African, Caribbean, South Asian, Chinese, North American, and Western European ancestry. Their dance styles embrace reggae; hip hop; Bharat Natyam; Indian, Chinese and Irish folk dance; jazz; contemporary; and ballet. The dancers have been given seven simple tasks to perform, and now - ten minutes into the workshop - the activities in the space look like a scene from a divine comedy.

In one part of the space two dancers are frustrated but determined in their attempts to complete three jumps in perfect unison. In another part of the space four dancers are still attempting to agree on a simple step which they will then perform five times in unison. Close by a quartet have almost succeeded in clapping a succession of rhythms in unison. In a far corner another quartet are clearly disagreeing with one another as they tackle the problem of declaiming in unison. A common factor to all these groups is that the dancers are solving their problems by doing and not by talking. Meanwhile, two dancers are sitting together quietly on the floor and watching the spectacle.

The workshop game began when all the dancers were given the same seven tasks to perform: devise a jump and perform the jump 3 times; devise a simple dance step and perform the step five times; choose a short rhythm and clap or stamp the rhythm 11 times; run on the spot 25 times; breathe deeply in and out seven times; sing one verse of a song; speak, declaim or sing the words "Dancing is..." and complete this sentence in any manner of your choice.

The dancers began by completing the seven tasks in the manner of their choice as solo performances, and in the order of their choice. Once individual dancers had completed these tasks, they came together in pairs - the challenge now being for each pair to devise and (most importantly) to agree ways to perform each task, and to do so in unison. Pairs who had completed their tasks then came together in groups of four to repeat the exercise - then together in groups of eight - and finally all the dancers coming together to perform all the tasks in near perfect unison.

Unison meant, quite simply, unison. The dancers were challenged - so far as bodily differences allowed - to perform exactly the same moves with the same quality, phrasing, dynamics, and rhythm. And this challenge also applied to singing and declaiming. Generally, new solutions to each task were required each time a new group came together. Dancers made their suggestions or proposals through performance. Suggestions were then greeted with smiles and thumbs up (or down) as they were accepted, amended, or rejected and new proposals introduced by others in the group. And once a group had agreed their response to a task, then they rehearsed until they were able to perform in confident unison. Intercultural dialogue in motion - and not a word of discussion!

The often energetic performances generated by the responses to this first workshop game were then followed by the slow motion moves generated by a game introduced as Follow My Invisible Leader. Having retreated to the extremities of the workshop space, the dancers all begin to move slowly, but once again in unison, to the centre of the room. In fact, one of the participants has taken the lead, but the challenge to the other dancers is that they should follow this lead so closely that the leader cannot be recognised as the dancer's move in near perfect unison. Each 'journey' results in a 'meeting' at the centre of the room, after which the dancers return to the walls of the room and wait for another journey to begin. Once again, each dancer brings their own cultural identity to the manner in which they lead their fellow dancers into the centre. Once again, this is intercultural dialogue in action - and not a word spoken!

Just before the final game of the session begins, a collection of colourful carpet tiles are spread randomly on the floor. The dancers stand quietly alongside the carpet tiles until the music begins, when they begin to dance around the carpet tiles to a mixture of flute playing and drumming. When the music stops each player steps to stand motionless on a carpet tile.

When the music begins again the dancers leave their tiles and dance - and while they are dancing a carpet tile is removed. When the music stops again one dancer is now without a carpet tile to stand on, and two dancers come together to share a tile. It's a process which repeats as the dancing continues, and more and more carpet tiles are removed. This final game concludes as - having exhibited, shared and celebrated their individual cultural identities during the periods of dancing - the participants finally come together (lifting, supporting, and cradling each other) to stand as a human tableaux on two carpet tiles!

The workshop described in the preceding paragraphs is fictional in the sense that it is a composite of many workshops. But the workshop games are real. We have been playing these and similar games at the Blackie/Great Georges Community Cultural Project for some decades now. We have played them indoors and outdoors. We have played them with dancers and we have played them with youth workers. We have played them with children, with teenagers, with students, with passers-by in city centres, and with older people. And quite often we play them with groups which mix all these 'categories' together.

Such games are tools for dialogue and exchanges between participants of different ages, backgrounds, and cultures. When played specifically by dancers they become a tool - though of course not an exclusive tool - for the promotion of intercultural dialogue. Such games may identify differences, celebrate diversity, promote inclusivity, facilitate exchanges, and allow and encourage choice. Workshop sessions based on these games offer one model for the promotion of intercultural dialogue envisaged by Ken Bartlett in the introduction to this focus. And whilst the games themselves making up this model are almost exclusively wordless, it should be noted that the participants make up for this by entering into the most animated of spoken dialogue once the games are over!


The body of challenging co-operative games introduced in this article are comprehensively documented in the book 'Games For The New Years - A DIY Guide To Games For The 21st Century'. This book may be ordered from bookstores - ISBN 0-9540621-0-8 - price £10.

Copies, inclusive of a complimentary DVD of the games in motion - price £15, including postage and packing. Visit www.theblackie.org.uk for information or email billharpe@theblackie.org.uk

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Animated: Spring 2007