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Animated Edition - Summer 2006
Subject to change: Integration in progress in South Africa
Gerry Turvey describes her experience as Education Director and artist in residence with integrated dance company, Remix
I spent the year from January 2005 to February 2006 in South Africa, working as Educational Director for Remix Dance Company. Remix are the only integrated Company in South Africa, and are based in The Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town. They are a unique company in South Africa because they are pioneers in the field of 'access for all' and dancing with mixed physical abilities. Remix also strives to push other cultural boundaries into an already complex arts history. The company is introducing such approaches as contact improvisation, applied research and development for mixed ability dancers and a deeper understanding of the body in movement. While in UK and Europe we take this as a given for any dance company, Remix is raising awareness in all these areas of development.

I joined Remix as both Education Director, and Artist in Residence, with my own preconceived ideas about dance/education/integration. I quickly had to change my mindset and needed to open myself up to different cultures; South Africa claims eleven nationally recognized languages, though its peoples speak even more. I also had to acknowledge the personal and social histories of the dancers and participants in projects. As a result I encountered many challenges, faced a massive learning curve, but benefited from a rich diversity in the work, had many rewards and participated in a wide range of culturally diverse projects.

Remix have five dancers, from culturally different backgrounds. One dancer is deaf and one a wheelchair user, plus two trainees, one of whom is also a wheelchair user. The other dancers are non-disabled. Between us we had six different languages (including sign language). Nicola Visser the Artistic Director, formed her training both at Laban in England and with Adam Benjamin. She is hugely talented in all areas of dance and influential to the growth of the dance in South Africa. Remix also have a full-time company manager and an office assistant. This has come about in the main due to a generous grant from the National Lotteries, though fundraising as always has to be an on-going issue.

While dance and music in many forms are an integral and vibrant part of society in South Africa there is no formal training, (with the exception of ballet, which is 100% white). Contemporary dance has emerged strongly even though there are few professional companies. Since the change of government in 1994 Arts and Culture is now an obligatory part of the school curriculum, and dance has to be taught as a learning area, including contemporary/creative dance and interestingly enough integrated dance is one of the learning outcomes. Although this is laudable in principle, it is full of challenges: most teachers have no movement skills, and even performing dancers don't always have the necessary skills to create and deliver classes/workshops. During the year I helped to deliver the on-going programme of training for the teachers, and I witnessed a growing, and deeper understanding of the art form, and an enjoyment and enthusiasm in the implementation of the subject. However it was not without many challenges and issues I had previously been unaware of, for example the class sizes of up to 60 learners, lack of space and resources, lack of support from other staff members, and a concern for student's safety if lessons were conducted outside (there were high incidents of violence and gun culture in the surrounding area of some schools). The work with the teachers naturally led on to taking the company into the schools to show performance work and conduct workshops. This is an area Remix is in the process of nurturing and developing, and I think it is probably their most valuable area of their work, as it is reaching a new emerging generation who will be the changing face of society in South Africa.

My focus during the year was inreach; development of the company, and outreach: development of projects, residencies and performance/workshops. A large part of the work was to look at the educational needs of the company, and seek to empower the Remix dancers to be confident enough to work by themselves in their teaching. Again in these situations my pre-conceived ideas of education and communication were challenged, and I found it necessary to devise different approaches to the delivery of work. For example, I found the use of language, and in particular any theory or information through writing/discussion, was not always the best approach to understanding the area of dance and education. I had to discover what works and what irritates, what is not understood, because it has an academic bias. This was a repeated challenge throughout the year. It's important to use the right language, but you can also get caught up in being too 'PC', its better to be honest and ask rather than avoid issues. This took time, but willingness on both sides brought some amazing discoveries and results. Remix are an incredibly resourceful and creative company, and the integration and communication issues within the group are reflective of the country as a whole. South African society is slowly emerging and in the process of constructing change. Remix are a microcosm of this and also constructing their own change.

A high proportion of wheelchair users in South Africa are disabled from shooting incidents and violence. This has changed their lives forever in many ways that are hard to imagine. Facilities, attitudes, and resources are still very limited, and transport is, as always a big issue, especially for disabled people and for those who live in areas not served by public transport. Remix is seeking to address some of these issues by raising awareness through educational projects and the creation and performance of high-quality work. The company is a living example of personal and social change through inclusive community outreach and arts education.

It has been amazing to have had the opportunity to be part of this development in South Africa even in a small way. The year with Remix in South Africa has been not only a gift to me, but also the most intense, challenging, and inspirational, and one that will always stay with me deep in my heart.

Gerry Turvey is an independent dance artist and educator - see www.turveyworld.co.uk for more information. For information about Remix visit www.remixdancecompany.co.za/

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Animated: Summer 2006