The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
Animated Edition - Autumn 2007
Taking part
Wendy Hermelin, choreographer and dance teacher
The dance sessions that I teach are predominantly creative in style. At first, to an outsider, they might appear rather free, until gradually it would become obvious that patterns were forming, movements being clarified, and motifs and sequences developed. Generally I do not teach steps and positions but provide a framework within which the participants can explore many possibilities and create their own version of the tasks set.

Working from a Laban-based perspective provides me with the ability to run my dance sessions in a very creative way such that all-comers are able to participate at their own level: finding the joy of dance in themselves that they might not have known was there. A knowledge of the Laban fundamentals of body, space, effort and relationship, or rather, the what, where, how and with whom you dance, allows me to give the participants in my sessions a freedom to devise movements that are appropriate to their fitness and experience. Each session is kept within a structured framework that unites the group and provides opportunities for solo, duo and group work and the chance of sharing with the rest of the group, or even a wider audience, work that has been created.

When working in primary schools I find all the children love dance lessons. Generally a theme is taken from the curriculum they are studying at the time. This enhances their understanding of the subject and broadens their awareness. The teachers are genuinely delighted with the effort put in by the children and the learning that results. I find the lively enjoyment and deep concentration that the children show is very important to me, as are the changes that happen to the individuals as they discover and develop creative and physical skills and become more confident in their dance and themselves.

Last year with the backing of an Arts Council England grant I ran a project called Threads of Memory, Footprints of Time. The aim was to explore the creative links between dance and design for stitched textiles, also to create dances, costumes and a backcloth for a public performance. The participants were children from four schools and a group of adults from the community. The theme was the local iron-age hill-forts at Ham Hill in South Somerset and Pilsdon Den in West Dorset and their history. The children were thrilled with the experience of developing their dances about the tribal rituals of the Celts, and the battles fought when the Romans invaded. Their first dances were made individually as a response to their visit to the hill-fort; from these came drawings which were interpreted as designs for their tunics. Later, the children created ritualistic and rhythmical group dances after which came the final thrilling battle dance.

It might be thought that the boys liked the battle and the girls liked sewing their costumes. However, there was equal commitment from both genders on both tasks. In fact, the pride taken by everyone in all of it was way beyond what I expected. It had a lot to do with these children having ownership of what they were creating. Of course, they were guided and kept within the framework of the theme, but, ultimately, it was all their own work. The final performances were a real high for all who took part.

My aim is to find ways to bring enjoyment, self confidence, and a sheer delight in dancing to all who come to dance with me. Other benefits emerge as time goes on. Self- awareness is developed as students discover, in themselves, new-found creativity, unknown strengths and new ways to make relationships. Many people who come are surprised and delighted by what they can achieve.

The adults who took part in this same project came from a variety of backgrounds. Some had a lot of dance experience and some had none. Here are the voices of some of the participants:

"By the end of the first weekend I felt elated, bursting with enthusiasm and developing self confidence, which had been severely dented. The strength of the project has been that it has enabled self-development in a non -threatening way"

"I really appreciated the way that I was given a dancing part, which kept me part of the group but at the same time took care of my physical limitations"

"I climbed not only the hill-fort, but also a much higher, personal mountain, that eventually led through large sewing works to scary footlights for the first time in my life."

"My ability to remember sequences is not what it used to be in my younger days! However the challenge of working towards performances was a great incentive to focus my mind..."

"I have loved it all. It has been so creative. We have been inspired by the natural world; its amazing power and beauty, which inspired the creative spark within all of us."

When people start moving and losing their sense of self by finding physical responses to the tasks set, whether within rhythmical, lyrical, spatial, dynamic, partner or group work, something changes within the room. A concentration, a focus and energy develop that unites the group and seems bigger than the individuals. Piecing together units of movement, motifs and sequences into a pleasing choreographic whole becomes a pleasure to the dancers and to me.

Although in the Threads Project, performance was the ultimate aim, the road travelled to arrive there was just as important and changed each life a little. Seeing people discover something in themselves which they didn't know was there, is a great joy to me. Also I love observing the wonderful ideas that people have, which are initiated in the sessions. I am always truly amazed by what they come up with: things I would not have thought of myself. Dance and choreography using Laban's analysis of movement have been my way through life and it is great to inspire others who are not likely to be professional dancers or who might not have thought they could dance.

Wendy Hermelin can be contacted on wjhermelin@hotmail.com

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Animated: Autumn 2007