Fabulous Animal- movement, function and freedom
“In various parts of the world today, if a woman takes a stand politically, socially, spiritually, familially, environmentally, if she points out that a particular emperor has no clothes, or if she speaks for those who are hurt or who are without voice, too often her motives are examined to see if she has ‘gone wild’, that is, crazy” (Estés, 1992). As women we are all familiar with this problem. Just recently I called out an act of completely inappropriate sexual behaviour and was laughingly described as ‘feisty’ as though it was unusually rambunctious to question his right to speak that way to anyone he desired without regard for her consent or reciprocation. This was at the mild end of the misogyny spectrum, but reveals an insidious sexism that lingers in all parts of the world, the idea that being vocal or self-actualised as a woman is wild, feral or crazy. Meanwhile men are expected to revel in their strength, comfort, success, sexual pleasure and anger- and those who do not display it are judged. Until we can allow all genders (I include non-binary and trans people in this statement) to live in ways that are true to natural instinct and unfiltered self, we will not have gender equality. To this end, the ‘wild woman’ movement encompassing cyclical living, sexuality workshops, luna celebrations, witch circles etc, is reclaiming wildness and celebrating femininity in its feral form. Tapping into this symbolism has been powerful for me in my practice because it offered imagery totally distinct from the neoclassical aesthetics of my training, forms and lines that privileged a petit female body totally unlike my own.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I struggled with how I saw myself and my body. I felt that I didn’t fit into the correct shape or image to be a “good dancer” like some of my long limbed or more petit colleagues. In Dance and The Performative, Valerie Preston Dunlop wrote that “embodying a dance technique requires that the dancer identifies him/herself with the technique's culture”, a statement that’s stayed with me as I’ve attempted to find my place in the dance world. In my third year of training in ballet, Cunningham and Graham technique, I wrote an essay entitled Dualism, Dance and Female Sexuality, which was when I began to question the sexual politics of dance. In recent years, I’ve rejected the didactic forms of more codified and formalised techniques in favour of somatic practice. I describe in my MA thesis, Women In Motion, why I believe somatic practice to be inherently feminist and mention many female dance artists who’ve paved the way for post modern dance to change the gender politics of our art form. I have approached this new project from the perspective that, by tapping in to my instinctive nature, and using my imagination to borrow movement qualities from animals, I can create movement in performance without being driven by the habits of my training to focus on how I look, or on assimilating into a traditional view of the female form in dance. In other words, letting go of trying to make it look pretty! In a workshop with Deborah Hay last December she asked us to write a sentence that might describe a solo. Without much thought I wrote “I would like it to be so honest, so raw, so utterly unfiltered that it is so ugly, it is beautiful.” Later Deborah asked for one word, what would the solo have? And I said instinctively “teeth.” I’d been experimenting with somatic imagining of tails, teeth, claws and wings for a while and so it felt as though these elements were beginning to call me to a new work.
It feels very important to me since working on (Un)Covered and the way it emerged into such a huge project with women in Cairo, that solo work also reach out and expand into group working. It also feels increasingly important to link all the elements of my practice together, and so I decided to embark on this research with the full understanding and acceptance of the fact it would underpin all aspects of my work over the next year. At the moment it’s solo practice, but I have plans for how it will permeate my teaching and making across my many hats and with diverse groups. After all, alone I cannot go further than to see how the ‘animals’ land on a cis, white woman of my shape and history, but in a group we can really begin to ask questions. I want to share the work in more ways then simply performing, it is too multifaceted for that, and does not belong to me but to all of us. I am imagining an installation, a den you can visit in order to re-wild yourself, writing, images, workshops and then ultimately a performance bringing together a diverse group of performers of all genders, exploring what it is to find your inner Fabulous Animal.
Image by Grace Gelder