Dance Diaries, Linda Luke on disability and bodyweather

Everybody’s body is unique. Everybody’s body is poetic. We all have the capacity to move to a personal song that is within us.

Thanks to Powerhouse Youth Theatre and Woodville Alliance, I’ve had the pleasure of working with collaborators Martin Fox (film), Michael Toisuta (sound) and six emerging performers investigating film-making, movement and dance.  My work over the last 20 years has centered around dance, performance making, mentoring and teaching. I work with professional and emerging dancers and actors, and with people from all kinds of communities who aren’t necessarily in the performing arts.

The performers from Woodville are a group of folk living with learning difficulties.  I find language difficult when writing about ‘difference’. All people are different from each other and each of these people from Woodville are as different from each other as much as anyone else. And of course, we all share so much that is the same: passion, curiosity, humor, aspiration, and fulfillment.

With the Woodville group last year, we made a project called Being Moved. This project was a series of workshops exploring ideas around dance and photography and we collaborated with renowned performance photographer Heidrun Lohr. The result was an exquisite A4 landscape book filled with photographs capturing moments from the process.

Being Moved was an awesome ‘get to know each other project’ and in 2016 we have come to work together again and make this dance film entitled Dance Diaries: Woodville. Throughout November and December we have been meeting regularly in the PYT studio developing dance material and shooting the film as we go along.

We wanted to make a dance film responding to notions of home and what home might mean to us. The performers aren’t too keen to speak. It just isn’t their primary mode of communication. So we made colored houses as props, bought squares of fake grass, put it all in the studio and we went from there. That all said, one day I asked Joanne what was her favorite thing in her house. She peered into my eyes for the longest time, sifting through her thoughts and then declared ‘bathtub’. Bathtub! I’d never have guessed…

The most important things I value in a process are not the ‘dance moves’. The most important things are Trust, Respect and Time. So, there is the doing – such as learning dance techniques or performing for camera. Then there’s the feeling; which grows out of Trust, Respect and spending Time together ‘doing’ the stuff. When these three principles are in the room, then you can float the boat that is creativity.

In the workshop process, I’ve observed and listened, weighing up the balance between doing and rest. Sometimes we look at the film rushes together. Or eat lunch together. Some people on some days have more energy and so they might do a bit of solo or duet work whilst others rest and watch. The watching is important.

There are times for spatial and physical challenges too – such as learning and remembering new dance sequences or floor patterns. Every session we also do ‘free dancing’, one person at a time, with everyone else watching. We use a broad range of music. We notice how the music affects how we move and also the feeling of the mood in the room. Once, Karoleen danced fast disco to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It was very evocative.

Working with the Woodville dancers is an immensely rewarding experience. Personally, I learn a great deal about my core values and about teaching and facilitating processes. Not only with people living with disabilities but with all people.

When I was 14 years old I was sent to a special needs school for 2 weeks to do a work experience placement. At first I was quite overwhelmed and my senses were overloaded. I was drawn to one young lady who couldn’t speak at all. She was blind and walked with a cane and was negotiating a number of physical disabilities. I hung around her a lot, not directly engaging but just being in close proximity. One day we went to a TAFE college to learn about woodwork. The others in our group went off to the canteen for lunch and it was just me and her in the woodwork room finishing up. When we went to go, I realised I didn’t know where the canteen was. I felt terribly responsible for this young woman but it was she who guided us to the canteen, which was a long way down a series of corridors and stairs. Something clicked so fundamentally then and there for me. That was, to never to assume anything about anybody – anybody living with disability, or not living with a disability. I mention this story as I think it played a key part in the way I aspire to engage with people in every aspect of my life.

At the heart of it, I’m searching to processes that I can set up in which each performer I encounter in life, can realize that their expression and specific talents are just as valuable as anyone one else’s. From my personal experience, a great deal about becoming an artist is first and foremost about perceiving yourself as an artist. That takes time for anyone of us.

—Linda Luke.