Part of the Invisible Diaries series:
Week 5 / Day 2
I’ll describe the scene. We’ve just finished eating dinner, plates and clutter on the dining table. Suddenly noticing it’s 6 o’clock, I quickly try to reconfigure, grabbing a heavy section of old kitchen worktop, laying it on top of a rug and topping it with a sheet of plastic (used underneath my daughter’s high chair in the days when more food ended up on the floor than in her mouth). My daughter (now four) wants to join in – I tie her tap shoelaces and then mine while connecting to the Zoom meeting from my laptop, hastily set amongst the dirty dishes. Tap class has begun!
I’m set up in the thoroughfare between the kitchen and garden, and the rest of the house, so I try to perfect my pick-ups and my flap-heels while my daughter and my partner both wander back and forth through the room. I’m on mute, so the noises of the bread-maker finishing its current bake, the oven fan cooling down and my daughter’s conversations form the background while the teacher obliviously carries on.
In the months before lockdown I’d finally gathered up the courage to go back to ballet class. I danced a lot as a hobby from age 15 to 25. Then, as my career in dance management grew, I became proportionately less confident in and enthusiastic about my own body dancing.
When I’m working in spaces where dance is made, considering and acknowledging not just my body, but my dancing body, has been a difficult, slow process. Over the last ten years or so, I’ve had one or two collaborators who have actively championed me as a dancer. My forays into understanding my dramaturgy practice alongside my own moving body have been accompanied by long-time collaborator, dance artist Cecilia Macfarlane, who joined me on a residency at Pavilion Dance South West in Autumn 2017. Here, I rediscovered the courage to improvise with movement. We have continued meeting to move since that time, joined by movement director Emma Webb, in our so-called ‘Holding Company’. In these meetings, being ‘held’ by my collaborators, I have gradually begun to enjoy the movement of my own body again.
The third ballet class I’d taken in the last ten years was one of the last activities I did out of the house, the week before everything started closing down. Having just discovered anew the joy of moving my body in those old familiar ways, I was motivated to find a way to continue. I found an online ballet barre class, and so began the regular transformation of dining room into dance studio. Now I’ve joined a weekly live virtual tap class. My daughter and I often lay down our little tap dance floor during the day, put on our shoes and some music and practise our moves together (before she inevitably kicks me off stage and steals the limelight).
The ritual of going to dance class was an important part of my young adult life, a way in which I grounded myself in rapidly changing contexts as I moved cities, temporarily or permanently, four times in as many years. There was always a familiarity of the dance studio, whether it was in Wellington or Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The journey there was one of the most important aspects of feeling like I belonged to one of these new cities. Something about sitting on the bus on my way to class, clutching my ballet shoes, made me feel like a citizen and not a visitor.
Now, this familiarity and sense of belonging can’t come from the journey or the space itself. Now, if anything, my dance space needs to shed some of its familiarity. Instead of being in a space that invites me to dance, I have to dance to invite the space to transform from its old habits, of being a place of eating, playing, cleaning, tidying, to one that can hold my dancing body. It’s flawed of course – day one of online ballet barre saw me kicking my laptop to the ground with an energetic grand battement derriere, and my tap routines and rhythms are too often interrupted by the end of the flooring.
We are becoming adept at transforming our more limited spaces to serve lives and actions, which we are used to fitting into much more varied and numerous spaces. I wonder how, in normal times, I might reconfigure space by my actions, rather than suit my actions to my space. When have I invited the space to become mine? Have I been waiting for the right space in which I feel comfortable to dance? What’s the effect of dancing – or indeed performing any action – on the space we inhabit or find ourselves in?
These straitened circumstances are not just about viewing all change as good, of course; we can learn much from identifying what precisely is missing. I still think there is something very powerful about spaces being able, almost, to offer an invitation to move. I confess that many times my enjoyment of visiting large art galleries like Tate Modern or the Baltic has been connected more with the invitation I have felt to move my body in the large expanses of their rooms, than the art that happens to adorn their walls and floors. The gigantic sandy beaches of Pembrokeshire gave me permission to dance, 10 weeks after a caesarean section made me a mother. My body was freed from its slavery to a needy baby, for a few glorious moments of pirouetting in the cold Welsh sunshine.
Miranda Laurence is an independent dance dramaturg based in the UK, with over 10 years’ experience working in the dance and arts development sectors. She collaborates with dance artists across the UK and internationally, recently working with Johanna Nuutinen (FI) and Attila Andrasi (HU/ES). Her practice and professional development has been supported by awards from Arts Council England, Oxford Dance Forum and South East Dance.
Her collaborators work in a range of dance forms, from Kathak to screen dance. She is also in demand as a workshop leader, recently invited to Arhus by the Association of Danish Dramaturgs, and by London Studio Centre for their MA in Dance Producing.
Miranda has also directed the Dance & Academia project based in Oxford since 2008, convening a number of seminars and conferences engaging movement practitioners and academics in many different disciplines.
Alongside her freelance practice, Miranda is employed as Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, where she is developing a strategic arts programme for the University including leading on new public art commissions.