Updated: Oct 7, 2019
YOU CAN DANCE FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE AND DISCOVER MAGIC ALONG THE WAY
Everybody wants magic in their lives. Children look in Harry Potter books, whilst adults scroll through Tinder. So often, we look in the wrong places. It could be, that the magic we seek, is right here, in our bodies. Waiting for us to dig it up. Like some long lost treasure. Last weekend I did some digging! I went to the Contact Improvisation UK, New Forest and South, dance festival in Ringwood. I went to dance, and connect with friends. But also in search of answers. I interviewed a range of dancers, from beginner to teacher- I asked them, What are your childhood memories of dance? What do you love about Contact Improvisation?
For my first interview I spent a pleasant hour with Simonetta Alessandri. Simonetta is an elegant Italian woman, with wonderfully curly hair. She oozes grace and sophistication. In Italian fashion, we started our interview in search of Expresso. But the machine at the local cafe was Kaput. My mind whirled- where do I take a beautiful Italian woman? I'll drive her her to Ringwood, to a cafe, I thought. But Ringwood was shut down for the carnival! All access to frothy Capuccinos and sweet shots of Expresso was denied. We ended up with extra strong cafetiers, on a bench outside the dance hall. "Can we sit in the sun?" asked Simonetta.
Simonetta has danced for almost 50 years. Her first encounter with dance was at The Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre) in Turin, where she saw a ballet, when she was 9. The magic she saw sparked a life long adventure into dance.
The magic, the lightness, the atmosphere. And the ballerina- I remember a dancer lifting her- she was so light. Everything was perfect- so perfect.
It was this idea of perfection, captured in the lightness of a Ballerina, and set in the magical atmosphere of The Royal Theatre that hooked Simonetta. She would become a dancer, a teacher, a choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner. She told me how dance saved her, especially in her 20's. It gave her purpose, it made her feel good- she discovered something very simple: "If I don't move I feel bad."
I asked her about the magic of dancing. What is it?
You can't say- it's difficult to grasp. You're dancing- and when it's over-you say: "Did I do that?" It's just amazing, there's no explanation. You're tired, exhausted, fed-up- then something surprising- out of control happens. Art touches that magic. Magic that's up there (points to the heavens), but also down here in the reality of the physical body. Magic is mysterious. It's non-scientific- you don't know how it happens.
Simonetta had a traditional dance training in ballet, modern and jazz. Then she studied contemporary dance- in 1998 she encountered Contact Improvisation in Vienna. She saw Nina Martin dancing and thought- what is that? I want to do that. So she did a workshop with Nina in Tuscany, and then moved to Rome, where she helped create a Contact Dance community. She was there for 10 years. Simonetta told me about teaching at the Freiberg International dance festival. (The biggest Contact Improvisation festival in the world.)
The CI dance community is amazing. I felt the support of all these people. There were 60 dance teachers at Freiberg- many different people-a community of dancers that is asking questions, evolving and growing. There's a sense of belonging. There were people I'd known for 25 years. And we're getting older.
This led me to my next question. I've been doing yoga for 25 years, pretty much every day. But in the past year my body has been full of aches and pains. I recently figured out that the hard-core Astanga practice I have been forcing myself through is not serving me. I asked Simonetta what she thought about dancers in their 70's.
Nancy Stark Smith (one of the founders of CI) is approaching 70. If you carry on doing the things you do- carry on, but less and differently- you can continue dancing. I've had injuries (points to ankle)- but you need to carry on- only working differently. I work differently than when I was young. Accept and work within your limitations. Keep the nature of the moves alive- but do them differently. This makes your mental attitude stronger. Society has changed- a few years ago, if you were a woman over 50, everything was finished. Professionally, sexually- but that's all changed. I'm in a great moment in my life- almost 60- dancing, teaching, travelling.
We finished our coffees, sitting on the benches outside the dance hall. I asked Simonetta what made her happy: "I feel so lucky, to have the sun. Even this interview- we don't always get the chance to talk about our lives- I'm so glad to be here in the sun." Contact Improvisation teaches you how to be present in the moment. Present to the magic of each moment.
For more information about Contact Improvisation contact Richard Parker