Let’s be honest, contemporary dance does not always get good press among people who have no experience with it. It is often difficult for someone who has never been to a performance or who has never danced, to understand the point of such a practice. For specialists on the matter, the a priori is reversed. There are audiences to whom we do not necessarily consider proposing this art form.

By Géraldine Piguet

But, fortunately, there are organizations that refuse this status quo and try to initiate change. The Quartiers Danses Festival (FQD) is such an organization. For the last 4 years, in addition to its programming, the FQD has taken its mission to demystify contemporary dance and make it more accessible to audiences far and wide.

As such, all year long, mediators offer a series of workshops with several organizations to introduce people to contemporary dance, or help them develop their existing practice. The audiences are varied: elderly persons, persons suffering from cognitive impairment, persons in social rehabilitation, persons living with an intellectual disability, young people from all walks of life, etc…

On paper, the proposition is commendable, but does it actually work in practice?
And, especially, what does a contemporary dance cultural mediation workshop look like?

Here’s a quick glimpse.

Last Wednesday, May 10, Alexandra Ladde, Quartiers Danses’ cultural mediation manager, and I met at the Rêvanous residences. This organization houses persons living with intellectual disabilities and elderly people in autonomous apartments. Their wish: to use housing as a driver for social integration.

A first impression upon entering is the diversity of the participants. Women, men, young, less young… many organizations would sell their soul for such intermixing. The residence mediator, Christine, later confirms this for me: in the residence, it’s the workshop that generates the most social mixing. The participants, who are habitually less social, participate hand in hand in the workshops. One participant even attends every week with her walker.

Another thing that catches the eye is the facilitator, Keven’s, gentleness. The workshop begins calmly with sitting warmups. K. pays much attention to each person around him. He encourages one, shadows the movements of another. A deep confidence emanates from the group. They admittedly know each other well. It’s the second year that these workshops are taking place in the organization and, following the residents’ requests, facilitators Keven and Anne-Florere-enlisted, expanding the project with the group.

The workshop continues with as much care as it began. There are no demands. The facilitator encourages everyone to give free reign to their movement. Thereafter, the focus is on unbalancing exercises. Laughter flies. It’s with visible pleasure that V. falls forward in trying the exercise proposed by the facilitator. The residents learn to occupy the space around them and to concentrate on their bodies.

  • We must be aware of our movements“, urges the facilitator.
  • Yes, but it’s hard, we don’t see them“, answers a participant.
  • Well no, you must feel them, that’s the point“.

An hour later, everyone is once again sitting for the final stretches. Keven shows them how to alternate between staccato and fluid movements. “Show me, how can we put water in our elbows?” he asks. The participants try it without hesitation.

There are of course some movements that are more awkward than others, but these workshops are not trying to perfect a final choreography or any kind of performance. Obtaining a concrete result is not the point.

What truly matters are the evolutions that take place within the participants. “B. moved like a robot, now their movements are ampler,” acknowledges Christine. Several residents have told her how much these workshops helped their morale. Taking ownership of one’s body, learning to move and letting go to express emotions, this is what is sought here, in all its simplicity.

If you would like to learn more about the adventures of the residents at Rêvanous that explore dance through mediation workshops, a documentary is currently in production. It will be presented at a roundtable on cultural mediation, as well as during the short dance film evenings as part of the festival’s 15th edition.