I’ve pinned myself to the wall and all sensation has left my hands. Here I am, in the giant white cell of Studio Wayne McGregor about to take my very first dance class with the professional dancers of Candoco. My very first dance class ever, in fact. Fear manifests in every nerve ending.
My safe space is behind a desk at Candoco’s HQ in Islington. I’ve been in my temporary role as Digital & Communications Coordinator for 10 months now, acting as maternity cover for our permanent Comms Coordinator, Lucy, while she takes time to start her new family. I started the position here out of a desire to try something completely new. But perhaps this is too new.
The closest I get to the action is usually bundled up in the corner of a rehearsal studio fiddling with my camera lens while dancers soar across the floor in front of me, making it almost impossible for the shutter to keep up. Effortlessly fluid, elegant movements are punctuated by giggles and shrieks of laughter as limbs, wheels, crutches, hair and cloth become a dizzying mesh of movement. This is the part of my job that I love, watching for the unspoken things. The laughter and friendship that binds bodies in the rehearsal room and exploring how that translates to breathtaking spectacle on stage. What I love most about my job is getting to show our fans behind the scenes, and to try conveying that joy of physicality into Candoco’s outward-facing voice. To make our audiences feel as much a part of this as I now do.
Coming from a background in regional theatre the world of contemporary dance felt like learning a foreign language; one that exchanges hearty monologues for dance phrases, and audible projections for bodily articulations.
“You don’t have to ‘get it’”, Pedro told me in one of our very first conversations where I expressed a nervousness at my complete inexperience of contemporary dance. “You just have to have an opinion”.
It didn’t take long to form one, either. The people who work for and with this company live and breathe its ethos. The energy, the passion is inescapable. Whether sat around a meeting table, or watching a rehearsal or a work-in-progress sharing from the floor of a studio, it’s hard not to feel the living, beating heart of Candoco through the people who bring it to life.
Pressed up against the wall watching the dancers file into Studio Wayne McGregor, all I can feel is my own beating heart exploding out of my chest with nerves. With a mix of mild confusion and excitement, the dancers hug me in reassurance. It would be far easier to run away if everyone wasn’t so warm and welcoming.
In February this year Candoco ‘opened our doors’ with a week of participatory events, inviting everyone to take a look behind the scenes of a dance company of disabled and non-disabled dancers and learn more about our inclusive practice. (I wilfully avoided taking the open company class, then). During this week Candoco’s Co-Founder, Celeste, gave a talk with Siobhan Davies about how they came to form their respective companies, explaining that at the foundation of Candoco was how she came to discover the detail in dancing.
Celeste, along with our brilliant Artistic Directors, helped me to comprehend that the essence of dance belongs in the unspoken detail. They made me excited by the intangible, by making me understand that dance creates the conversation. Candoco operates without ego, but with purpose and a pioneer spirit. It embodies an intellectualism in dance that doesn’t patronise the audience, but rather invites dialogue. It wants you express your opinion. When we sold out two nights at Sadler’s Wells last autumn, the auditorium thundered with conversation after an impassioned standing ovation. Candoco excites.
I have seen first hand how Candoco provides a voice to those who think differently and for those to whom conversation starts within the body. In our young Cando2 dancers, to our Artists and company dancers, there is a spark that didn’t make sense to me until I stepped inside of that studio and, trembling, slipped off my shoes to begin to try to understand.
An hour and a half later in the studio and I’m laid out on the floor, with muscles that I didn’t know existed glowing with a warmth that will eventually become an ache, that will eventually become a pleasant memory of one of my proudest moments. An hour and a half of learning how to release, of experiencing moments of creative spontaneity that could never be replicated, of grasping that communication is as much about internalising and listening to the body, or even just making eye contact, as it is being able to talk or write confidently. Communication is exchange. Glances. Laughter. Whistling. Touch.
I leave my first ever dance class on a sea of endorphins.
I think I get it now.