• Zosia Jo

Ancient Modernity #2 - Internal versus external

​Our workshops continue in the energetic, enthusiastic and brutally honest fashion in which they began. I cannot overstate how much I am enjoying facilitating this process. I see every participant developing in their own way, and some beautiful moments are coming out of the tasks and improvisations. On day two we explored two contradictory words which came up in the initial discussion to describe Cairo: Supportive / Invasive. We worked with contact improvisation, moving into and away from touch and tried to find a place of listening and receiving without directing. In a city that requires a hard shell, this is a useful but challenging task. The duets that resulted were mostly stunning, but some people found the sharing process very difficult. I gave an option, either to set a structure around your improvisation or to fix a sequence based on the idea of support versus invasion. We got into a very interesting discussion afterwards about the leap from improvisation into choreography, a choice many wise people avoid, preferring to keep their dance alive and present by improvising in performance. I myself did this a fair bit with my solo recently, but I am also fascinated by the challenge of how we might keep fixed movement fresh and live in a similar sense. Is there a way to relieve ourselves of the pressure to “get it right” or make it “beautiful” or funny, or interesting or… and just stay true to the task at hand…. Subsequently once the movement is fixed and learned, then we have a further challenge- don’t stagnate! Everyone was able to be so present and honest in their relationship to their partner, until it came to setting. We talked about mindfulness versus self-awareness. I think its possible in either form of work, as long as we work from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

On day three we worked a bit more with stories. First we created living statues from our Cairo word map, then a series of snapshots reflecting a story from the city. Public transport, the perils of harassment, or breakdowns, or just fighting for a seat, came up often. Generally the aggression of the city seems to be forefront in peoples minds. Taxi drivers running in to women who they decide are crossing the street too slow, or perhaps they deserve it from the way they’re dressed…. Microbus drivers ‘hitting on’ women passengers, people struggling to get on the bus at all, wrestling each other for space. We played with melting in the heat in between our snap shots and adding parts of the text back in to narrate the dances. It wasn’t as I’d imagined… as these things rarely are, perhaps I was more interested in the feelings of the stories, perhaps I wanted to go deeper.

So this evening I plan to work with this idea of fighting for space- in a non-contact form. I also want to talk about the women’s experience. The men dominate here in so many ways. In contrast to the UK there are far more male dancers than female, perhaps as a result of their greater freedoms and ease with which they can get around safely, or perhaps the attitudes from within families. I’m not sure, probably a combination of factors. I do know that one participant in the group has a lovely supportive husband who, despite his culture dictating his right to stand in her way, encourages his wife to pursue her endeavors. She is an incredible person, running self-defense classes for women, joining dance workshops. I am loving seeing her flourish this week. There are all sorts of women in our group- veiled, not veiled, from various class backgrounds, Muslim, Christian… Over all though, their training and experience is mostly less than the men’s, add to this the biological capabilities of male muscles to strengthen and change more easily… and boom, inequality. However, every single woman in the group this week is moving faster through her journey. The improvements and moments of the ‘flow state’ that I’ve seen from them is humbling. Tonight my goal is to give them some power, have them shine and dominate. I will have to enforce this, but hopefully it will work. The men amongst us, though dynamic, are certainly of the more sensitive breed.

The internal versus external conflict is present for me on a personal level too. The demands and machismo of the city often intimidate me, if I am totally honest. And living and working in the same building keeps me wrapped in cotton wool. But that defeats the whole purpose of this journey. Today I go food shopping. Yalla. ​

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