Community – A Chance to Share a New Experience

by Sallamah Chimera

1. How does taking dance into a community/participatory context inform your choreographic process?

We know what our audience or client wants so we create a show around that as well as the space we will be using. The dances we select must also appeal to the age group. If we are teaching, the material must be something the participants can manage.

2. As a choreographer, why do you choose to engage in community/participatory arts? What do you get from it?

It gives us an opportunity to share our knowledge about Mid-Eastern dance, music and culture. Our shows, lectures and demos are entertaining but also educational. When we have the chance to attend a workshop show, there is an exchange of ideas and it is fun to see what other groups are doing.

3. How is your interaction with the community different than with company members? For you, why do these differences exist?

If I am performing or teaching in the community, it is usually for non-dancers. So my approach and the material I use has to be something they can do and understand. With the company members, we are working all the time and time isn’t as much of a factor. For a project like Shimmy Mob, there was a liaison going between the groups and a video with the finished choreography for us to follow. We all met at the Mob location to work out the staging.

4. How are your expectations as a choreographer different and similar between the two contexts (community and company)?

Usually we are performing for the community and creating performances in the company. Unless I am teaching an improvisational class, I have a set choreography to work with the community. This makes the learning situation much more productive and can easier to be flexible.

5. Getting a dancer to understand what a choreographer wants and execute that in their own bodies can, at times, be challenging. How do you navigate those challenges when dealing with the community (made up of people who do not train their bodies in the particular ways a dancer does)?

First, I don’t expect them to know how to dance and teach them the technique first and then the dance routine. When teaching choreography in the community I have dances that can be altered based on the abilities and interests of the participants. We do classes with college students and with senior citizens so the approach is different. Quick directional changes and turns are replaced with slower movements for the elderly. For children, it is mostly about doing easy movements and more improvisational. They like scarves and veils.

6. How do you decide what choreography to teach? What factors are you considering? What is the difference, if any, between what you want the community to get out of your choreography and what you want your company members to get out of your choreography?

I teach a choreography that is appropriate for the abilities of the participants. One dance has repeating phrases for the introduction and the closing with a variety of movements in the middle. This dance is easy to teach people of all ages and abilities. My dance company is working on the art of dancing and entertaining. This is far more complex. If teaching a dance workshop to dancers, my goal is to teach the art of dance along with how to entertain and any cultural information that will influence how they perform and react to the movement and music.

7. How do you make the community feel like they can do what you’re doing? How do you apply that experience to your own process?

Patience. Putting together material that is easy for all ages with movements that are easy to visually understand and don’t require much verbal explanation. I talk about how the movement feels. Where it begins in the body. Whether it is muscular or skeletal and what muscles will be used. Keeping the choreography easy and not layering movements so they feel dancing is possible. I take what worked for me to learn to dance and create choreographies and what I have found to be successful with my own dancers.

What are your thoughts about Sallamah’s reflection on making solos? Leave a comment below. Want to share your own reflection on making solos? You can share it here.

Read more reflections from Sallamah here.