1001 reasons to dance in Poplar

Three (of a thousand and one) reasons to be happy dancing in Poplar

by Leslie Mapp

1. There’s no need to apologise…

For me, life with Parkinson’s has led to a lot of apologising: I’m sorry, I’m slow … I say, as I hold people up in queues or dodder into their way in the street. I’m sorry, I lose my words… I say, as the link between my thoughts and speech fractures, leaving me unable to sustain conversation; maybe to speak unexpected words at random. I’m sorry… I say, as I stare blankly at a friend trying to evoke an emotional response. In Poplar though, on the CID dance project, there’s no need to apologise. It’s a peer group, our condition is background. With Parkinson’s pushed to one side, we can rise above the condition, counter the despair.

2. It’s the real thing…

As someone remarked, in Poplar we’re dancers first and people with Parkinson’s second. Not everyone here has the condition, but if you are here, you’re either a professional in dance or a ‘professional’ in Parkinson’s – patient or carer. It means the classes are led to high standards, accompanied by genius live music, and we can model ourselves on the best techniques as we learn our personal means of expression. Of course, there are sympathetic allowances made for our disabilities, but not as many as you might think. We are still expected to participate and to express as much as we are able. It’s hard work but it’s therapeutic – it’s no accident that dancers are so physically fit, so graceful and controlled. I may be a pale shadow of them, but at least I’m able to be a shadow. I walk better afterwards, and feel uplifted. It’s a practical art.

3. It adds dimensions…

Dance has made me appreciate three dimensions. Before this, I lived essentially in two – I would write, I might paint, I took photographs, I watched movies. With dance, I’ve discovered a front and a back as well as a side to side. And this dimension has a new language. I don’t just walk across the floor, I ‘travel’. And it’s not just a floor, it’s a ‘kinaesthetic space’ in which to tell stories. Like any art though, it’s essentially an expression of something beyond the reach of words, which makes it especially important as abilities with words decline. Poplar has also added a community – mixed in age, origin and gender. I’m meeting people I would never otherwise have encountered, and getting suprisingly close to them. Who knew how different other people’s breakfasts could be; or that we could invent a dance about making them! As a characteristically solitary person with an isolating disease, this makes an invaluable contribution to my well-being. In Poplar, see me smile.

CID Project week 3 workshop insight

This workshop insight contributed by Sally Varrall, supporting artist on the CID project, offers thoughts on visibility within the frame of seeing & being seen, in the week 3 CID workshop led by Casson & Friends.

In the exploratory phase of the workshop we were invited to work with a partner, with one dancer beginning the spatial journey of an imaginary thread, making clear the end of the journey enabling their partner to continue.  This also became a group improvisation with three dancers initiating a thread weaving a journey, finding stillness, until the thread was temporarily accompanied by a different dancer. The exploratory nature of these improvisations brought heightened awareness to the moment of connection (for me) with another dancer.

In that moment I am seeing and looking with different eyes, through an inquisitive lens – and delight in those unexpected shared moments where decisions are made in an instant that knowingly resonate, and are seen in that intimate moment between the two dancers. It seems the dance allows for a momentary suspension of time. I do not know if in that moment anyone else sees what occurred. The magic is in the shared moment of feeling visible.

Sally Varrell

In the performative phase of the workshop we were invited to share the dances we made (our morning breakfasts) in a fairly formal format (in front of black drapes), set up to allow for the dance to be filmed and the dancers to be visibly captured on camera – capturing our dancing identities.

In this experience I became more consciously aware of being seen; of our dancing being seen. This sense of being watched brings more attention to my physical presence in the space and I become particularly vigilant of my relationship with the person I am dancing with – how close our hands come together and whether our fingers overlap as we are physically tracing the thin slices of sourdough bread my dancing partner ate for breakfast. I was consciously aware of the circular turning motion as we wrapped our arms around ourselves, and rotated at different speeds (peeling the oranges of the marmalade). My internal eyes were on my partner; my external eyes sensed us being seen. Unbelievably it was these moments that were captured on camera!

Sally Varrall

Discussing the essence of identity, Fraleigh (in Carter, 1998) refers to the process of looking at dance reveals its identity – its individuality. This has resonance with the focus of this project on Collective Identity, and more specifically suggests the dance we made provides a consensual, collective experience within which the dancers show their distinctive individuality. 

A dance for two…

Week 3 of the CID project saw us play together with the concepts of narrative and storytelling led by Casson and Friends artist Chloe Mead. We developed close personal duet material which we shared together for the rest of the group.

We connect through the body, senses and eyes. I learn about you. You learn about me. We play together.  Moving, connecting, smiling. The more we play, the more we understand each other. We begin to take risks, pushing the other with a sense of lightness and intrigue. Respect. We begin to bend the rules, finding our own language and code. Rewriting the rules to our very own game. We share an understanding. An experience. A connection. 

Play provides space for rich explorations and meaningful connections. I encountered a genuine sense of play throughout the session this week. It allowed me to connect with the other dancers with lightness and curiosity as we played together. Providing a safe space for personalities and identities to emerge within the room.

by Ella Fleetwood

Ella Fleetwood (Dance Collaborator for the CID Project) reflects on play as practice in the third week of the CID project


One of the values underpinning the CID project is bringing visibility to people with Parkinson’s and their contribution to the dance community. This has been a featured topic in our discussion groups at the end of each weekly workshop.

I found it difficult to talk about the project to others afterwards, difficult to convey how special it felt. So (as we discussed in the feedback session) visibility feels especially important. Many of us know what it feels like to be embarrassed by the effects of Parkinson’s and the feeling that we have to hide the symptoms. Here is our chance to do the opposite: to stand up and be seen, maybe even shout about it. The fact that we are working towards a final sharing event which perhaps includes some kind of performance means that, if the telling is difficult, we can show what we mean.

Kate Swindlehurst, dancer

The visual arts element of the project was designed to bring visibility to the work and to reframe the dancing body through the artists lens. In week 3 of the CID project we experimented with framing portraits of the dancers during the workshop led by Chloe Mead. The workshop focused on individual storytelling and narrative, and the resulting images bring a personal insight to the dance experience, connections we have made, and the willingness shown by our wonderful dance collaborators, to share and be seen.

Images by Sara Hibbert

Fight or embrace?

Week 2 of the CID project saw us lead physically in exploratory tasks by Bim Malcomson to find a sense of ballet’s use of points in space, how the carriage of the arms can help us reach and trace to the edge of our kinesphere, how we can use opposing directional forces to find moments of expansion and how we can shape the geography and landscape of the space by physically relocating from one place to another. Using this acquired information, we worked on a series of tasks in pairs to create duets which we then performed to each other.

By Effie McGuire Ward

Effie McGuire Ward (Dance Collaborator for the CID Project) reflects on the second session of the project

Investigating Parkinson’s

Following our physical practice, we came together for a group discussion and reflection. One of the topics which particularly resonated with me from this discussion was that the workshop had been a safe space to embrace the condition of Parkinson’s for artistic investigation as opposed to having to fight or hide the indicators of Parkinson’s in the ‘real world’.

For me, dance very much instigates this interplay with our relationship to ourselves and provides situations where we become more aware of when we are choosing to embrace (or perhaps accept) our individual traits and choices, as well as highlighting some things we might like to change and so may choose to fight against in an effort to grow our creative offering.

What was striking in watching other people’s duets, was how interesting and individual they were whilst all coming from the same framework. There was certainly a connecting and shared collective thread, but so much space for individual contribution through this possibility that each person in the room could embrace their own self. This brought about several unexpected moments which I’d never have come up with and which I kind of wish I had!

As a collective, I feel there is (perhaps subconsciously) an ambition in the room to find, develop and inhabit our own individual movement language where we can be comfortable but also offer a creative voice as artists with or without Parkinson’s. Having a space to embrace our own individual offer therefore is paramount to:

– noticing and accepting our habits
– embracing and developing them to become tendencies in how we might choose to move
– allowing our tendencies to grow to become our own distinct style or flavour which we can contribute to the collective

*This outlook on habits, tendencies and style was a provocation offered to me a few years ago from Kerry Nicholls as part of her Performance Mentoring Programme, the discussion of embracing or fighting in this week’s CID project brought it to the forefront of my thinking again

Celebration, visibility and democracy

Kate Swindlehurst is a dancer with the CID project as well as a writer and author of ‘The Tango Effect’… here she reflects on her experience of the project so far.

by Kate Swindlehurst

At the end of last week’s introduction, I felt excited to be part of this project from the word go and energised by the afternoon’s activities – so much so, that I fell over not far from the Union building on my way home – fortunately before I reached the Limehouse Cut – I wouldn’t fancy toppling into the water! I found the afternoon quite challenging: I’m not always comfortable either in a group or in free improvisation – but challenging is good!

Week 2 of the project led by Bim Malcomson was challenging in a different way. I relished the opportunity to stretch and twist to the extent of my kinaesphere, a brilliant counter to my tendency to stoop, fold inwards and hide away. I also loved the ballet structure and principles underpinning everything: I was subjected to ballet when I was 5 or so (why wasn’t I allowed those wonderful red shoes that came with tap?!), and have dipped in and out of watching ballet and contemporary dance as an adult.

I particularly love the fact that this project is ‘Dancing with Parkinson’s’ and not in name only: what a difference that small word makes! It feels like a genuinely democratic and collective endeavour: rather than recipients of a programme which has been designed (albeit with great care and sensitivity) for us, we are dancers collaborating on a project from the start. In a world where we are increasingly and probably inevitably on the receiving end of care and provision, this makes a welcome change.

I found it difficult to talk about the project to others afterwards, difficult to convey how special it felt. So (as we discussed in the feedback session) visibility feels especially important. Many of us know what it feels like to be embarrassed by the effects of Parkinson’s and the feeling that we have to hide the symptoms. Here is our chance to do the opposite: to stand up and be seen, maybe even shout about it. The fact that we are working towards a final sharing event which perhaps includes some kind of performance means that, if the telling is difficult, we can show what we mean.

Finally (for now) the sense of celebration: it seems an odd idea – to think that Parkinson’s might be something to celebrate? But we can celebrate what we can achieve, individually and as a group united by a common bond. And maybe there is something liberating in putting ourselves forward to dance in this way, enabling us to ‘wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life’ (thanks to Picasso) and reach for the stars? 

Themes arising – week 2

In week 2 of the CID project we were led by the inimitable Bim Malcomson. She led us to explore space, sound and connections, through the vehicle of the ballet framework including kinaesthetic awareness, reaching towards and mapping points in space and extension of the spine. In group discussion we shared our experiences together with the following topics and featured themes arising.

  • Structure versus freedom – the constant question on how we balance security versus creative individuality; collectivity versus intimacy; and what value we place on these areas of exploration. The group were keen to share their thoughts on this theme, with some greatly appreciating the structure of the ballet framework and the technical knowledge shared, feeling the workshop offered a great sense of freedom from within a clear structure. Clarity is certainly valued in the group, and helps the creative exploration feel safe. There was also a discussion about the ballet frame as an architectural structure. The dancers had advanced insights and connections to the architecture of the body as a sculptural structure.
  • Narrative and abstract movement – a theme that will recur throughout the CID project. The dialogue we had centered around ownership of movement and the difference between movement embodied from within, versus movement expressing and outer emotion, theme or narrative. Leading from this we discussed gestural verses abstract movement and how important it is to delve more deeply into movement exploration going beyond a mimetic approach.
  • Improvising – the dancers described this as a way to ‘explore more’; working out their own way through things and this leading to a sense of great creativity and playfulness. This is a core theme of the CID project. For dancers with Parkinson’s to be afforded the space and time to explore their own ways of moving, I suggest, will enable a greater understanding of the body and self efficacy – an awareness of what they CAN do. The playful approach to creative exploration means the experience of improvisation is less exposing and more an opportunity to achieve and celebrate the individuality of each dancer.
  • Parkinson’s, visibility and celebration – this project challenges us to make visible the brilliant contributions that people with Parkinson’s have and are making to the dance field. This topic was of great significance this week as we discussed the way creative dance gives people with Parkinson’s an opportunity to work within their symptoms to offer interesting movement content. One member of the group discussed the way he shuffled forward (shortened gait), pushing a chair as a sort of walking frame (the task was to find an interesting way to move the chair from one place to the next). The participants agreed that in this context disability takes on a positive and that they were able to take a new journey through dance with no limitations on what they could offer. This takes us more deeply into the theme of achievement which came up in last weeks’ conversations. It was referred to as a celebration of Parkinson’s. Rather than feeling they were having to hide, the dancers were not embarrassed of their condition and felt free to express themselves visibly. Being visible and being accepted, it was agreed, are of primary importance.
  • Safe space – referring to the environment of the dance workshops, the safe space was not only described in the physical space but also in the emotional space created in the mind. Firstly, and directly drawing on the theme of empathy from last weeks’ conversations, the fact that the space is FOR people with Parkinson’s but not ABOUT Parkinson’s is vital for the escapism that the dancers descrie. They shared the feeling of being removed from the day to day, and then ‘rejoining the real world’ when the workshop is over, but with a lasting sense of achievement – something changes when dancing. In relation to this, we discussed the mentality of ‘oh dear’ or ‘poor you’. The dancers agreed they did not enjoy being made to feel there is something wrong, and they would rather be pushed forward physically and artistically. In this space they felt free to push themselves due to the safe, empathic and non-judgemental space.

CID Project week 2 workshop insight

Week 2 of the CID Project at Poplar Union introduced the choreographic style of Bim Malcomson and conversation that followed led by Danielle Teale.

What I found interesting, was when I was thinking about the session happening in chairs, I was a bit unnerved by the idea…  But then quickly I saw it as a way to play… ‘what can we do with the chair! Where to put it in space and how are we moving it?’ The session was adapted to be focused on the chair, in a playful way whilst also incorporating the geometry of ballet, lines in space and finding our centre. As usual, the restrictions or ‘structure’ in a sense create more opportunity to explore. I felt we worked from deeply within ourselves and also in a complete comedic fashion. 

Bim Malcomson

Bim’s workshop explored the structure, geometry and principles of ballet with an approach that brought playfulness and connection between the dancers, as well as increasing the expectation and bringing a sense of the performative to the workshop.

To begin we tuned into our proprioceptive awareness and connection to our own bodies, then with partners, sharing space and touch. Bim explained the notion of reaching towards defined points in space and the geometry of ballet lines which we explored in an improvisation task. From defined points and mapping, we turned inward to the feeling of expanding and contracting, with a focus on the principle of en dehors and en dedans (open and closed).

One of the things that really underpins my practice is really accepting people for who they are and where they are at. The focus of the group was sharp all the way through and the work produced was really fantastic. It had enormous clarity while simultaneously being absolutely hilarious.

Bim Malcomson

The workshop evolved to combine sense of mapping space and the concept of port de bras. The dancers traced lines between points and added sound in order to demonstrate the dynamics of the movement. Working alongside a partner, we created duets which involved sound, port de bras and moving in space – taking the chairs with us. The effect being a collection of deeply intimate as well incredibly humorous duets. The dancers were able to see the way their performance sharing may evolve.