Social softening

Dance making in isolation, outside.

Over the past several months, I’ve been practicing making dances, usually outside, that integrate ecological principles in a poetic and literal sense. I began with a month-long rural residency with Bailey Eng in Spain[1], and have continued in Montreal’s public spaces and with occasional outings to less populated areas in Québec. With the present health situation, I go anywhere that is sparse and within biking distance from my apartment. A handful of themes keep resurfacing, some of which I can’t yet share or put into words, but the clearest of which is simple: move with what is here.

Rain, shine, mud, heat, gravel, ice, snow, wind, tiredness, pleasure, skirt, overalls, big coat, little jacket, radio, passing conversations, pandemic, ducks, squirrels, music. It’s all a beginning, part of the scenography, fodder for an embodied landscape. This deliberate physical conversation with the environment and my daily reality sparks small revelations at every turn.

Lucy Fandel
At Parc Lafontaine.

Usually when I dance in an open space, the real or imagined gazes and judgements of strangers overwhelm my attempts to enter the intimacy of my own impulses. I become consumed with how to stay present without “entertaining” for passers-by. Since the outbreak, I feel as though the gazes of walking strangers have softened. I imagine that they wonder if the woman moving in the park might be dancing, or exercising, or airing out whatever it is she couldn’t air out in her own living room.

I imagine they understand, in an intuitive physical sense, my desire to move outside because it echoes another desire: to nurture a collective space in which we can imagine new ways to breathe together. Whether they understand or not doesn’t matter. What is imagined to be real will be real in its consequences[2]. We will soften collectively, I hope.

Bailey Eng and I at CACiS El Forn de la Calç, Spain in 2019.

Last week, a toddler discovered the ducks in the park at seven in the morning with a shriek, while I was discovering the sand in the volleyball court. Her glee and awe became the main event. A refreshing consequence of dancing in permeable spaces is that things happen with a wider range of scales and rhythms, and I’m never the most eventful thing. The same goes with shifts in the wind, sudden cracks of breaking branches, or less punctual events like conversations with strangers. When the event ends and I begin to move again, it is not a dutiful return, but rather a rediscovery. The dance didn’t stop and start. Instead, the moment shifted[3], and I with it.

Dancing with the world as it is here is non-negotiable, but the practice is as much an exercise in humility as it is in insistence. Nothing can be so distracting, uncomfortable, or fear-inducing as to make me stop moving entirely. Similarly, there can be no “ideal” conditions because the practice is about adapting.  There is something empowering about this realization; the ecology will provoke me to adjust over and over again, but never to abandon my sense of place.

[1] We explored among other things, what it meant for us to adapt to an unfamiliar landscape from our two different movement and cultural backgrounds. The residency was hosted by the Centre de Arte Contemprani i de Sostenabilitat (CACiS) El Forn de la Calç in Spain and supported by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec.

[2] Dorothy Swaine Thomas and William I. Thomas elaborated on this sociological phenomenon in their book, The child in America: Behavior problems and programs (1928).

[3] A thirty-minute conversation with a stranger in the park translates to about seven and a half degrees of rotation of the Earth, and roughly 55 kilometers along the surface of the planet. It’s one way of travelling together.

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