Life Stories

...on Dance

I’ve been wondering what to write about for a few days now. The topics on my “inspiration list” were not inspiring me, the week had been so full of emotions that I wouldn’t even know where to start, and then I remembered words by poet Nayyirah Waheed who says “If all you can write is one word. Write one word. That is enough.” I remembered these words as I danced around in my room to new music by Róisín Murphy, and it dawned on me: why not write about dance?

I mean, this will be more of a confessional than anything else, but since this is my blog, I guess I can do whatever I want. So yes… dance!

Dance is something I can always return to. It’s something I love, something I feel safe in, something that connects me to something deeper. It’s something I often miss, if I’m not doing it, or if I’m doing it in wrong contexts. It will forever be my favourite art form, and part of me feels like I never really wanted to study it, for fear of ruining the special connection I had with it. Even my experiences of drama were always more satisfactory on a stage, than on camera, because the stage has been home many times for me, particularly as a dancer. My earliest memory of some kind of organised dance/style was with Lambada around 5/6 years old. It was the early 90s and the tropical, Brazilian sounds of “Chorando Se Foi” from the late 1980s were still felt throughout Portugal, alongside its “forbidden dance”. A friend of mine danced in a Lambada community group at the time, and I used to dance with her sometimes.

Around the same time, another friend, who was in another community dance group, this time of Portuguese Folklore, invited me on stage to dance with her during a performance, and I joined that company almost immediately. I think I spent around 4 years dancing with that group, with weekly rehearsals, regular performances at regional festivals, travelling around the country, and even abroad. Funny, I hadn’t thought of those experiences for years!! How amazing, to go to so many places with a group of people who shared similar passions, and still being friends with a few of them, to this day. It was during this time, that I began to really feel the power of dance. I was beginning to feel the burden of difference, of standing out, of not belonging, but when I was on stage, whether rehearsing or performing, I was untouchable, invincible, unbothered by life or people…. I was free. My mind would shut down, my body would assume control, and I could rejoice in my feelings, no matter their nature.

Social pressures eventually led me to leave this group and it was more or less around that time, that my attention and curiosity began to move towards other styles, mainly contemporary, jazz, hip-hop. This was mainly influenced by movies and TV shows that I spent countless hours watching and re-watching, as I avoided the outside world and retreated further back into my self-imposed isolation. Both the movie and the TV series Fame are major influences in my life, Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, Save the Last Dance, Center Stage, Billy Elliot, and the whole late 1990s/early 2000s range of pop stars, with very slick choreographies, themselves inspired by dance icons such as Michael and Janet Jackson. I literally learned hundreds of choreographies, from watching hundreds of hours of film, tv shows, music videos. I wasn’t performing much during my teenage years, but dance remained an integral part of my day to day. Just as it had shown me that I could be free in late childhood, in my dark teenage years, dance saved me countless times. It allowed me to go into a world that was just my own, without external interferences, where I could express and explore both how awful, and amazing, I felt at different times.

Outside of that self-made world of protection and safety, I was doing some ballroom dancing, specifically Latin dances, which is something that, just like the Lambada, comes naturally, is in my blood, even though Portuguese people are not Latin per se. Through these, I learned a new body language; just in time for my teenage hormonal imbalances. The expression “Latin Lover” doesn’t exist for nothing! There’s a sensuality and sexuality that can be communicated through dance, that words, actions, or even sex itself, cannot fully transmit. It is depth mixed with touch, mixed with fantasy, mixed with anticipation, mixed with yearning, mixed with desire, mixed with passion. It’s like that moment of limbo just before an orgasm, but much longer in duration. It’s perhaps what other traditions call tantra. It’s not about the climax at all, but it’s about the connection that leads to that state, and about keeping that connection going, and going, and going…. It remains on my list of things to return to, as I continue to rediscover myself.

Whilst I kept dancing on and off for a few years after that, the next stage of my relationship with dance would take place in Glasgow, when I joined one of Glasgow University’s dance companies – Glasgow Student Dance Company, or GSDC – and eventually became one of its main choreographers as well as co-directors/convenors. This is when I realised that I learned dance and choreography slightly differently than others, and that I wasn’t that great of a dance teacher. As most movements came naturally to me, I often couldn’t teach them to others, as I didn’t even know how I was doing half of my choreographies. I guess I’d spent so many years dancing and disconnecting from the world around me, that I’d also disconnected from my own body, and didn’t really understand how it actually moved through the world, or on a stage. This is a connection that I continue to struggle to rebuild. I realise now that it’s not just about the mind being in control of certain things, and the body of others, and the heart and spirit of others… They must all be working together, fluidly, consistently, in balance. But more than anything, this stage of my life was about community, about learning new styles, and about telling the world what was going on inside me, through dance. Back then, I was known for, and somewhat in charge of, the “sexy” content of the shows. I was officially out to everyone, and naturally, there were many things I wanted to express that I hadn’t been able to, whilst growing up.

I have great affinity for words and lyrics – being an avid reader, and writer – and for that great, and sometimes elusive, combination of dance and melancholy in a song. My song choices always had great personal meaning, and the choreographies were always a continuation of the lyrics. Being out of the closet was harder than I expected, because I was completely unprepared for the sheer amount of feelings that I had been blocking all my life, and then urgently needed to express. Amongst much of the chaos that I experienced during those years, dance remained a close and familiar place of safety and balance. It allowed me to connect to people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, to be creative in ways which I didn’t know I could, and to bond with friends without ever needing to say or do anything. We loved, cried, laughed, screamed, lost, found, and lived, through dance. Special mention here to my dance and soulmates of that time, Ana Cohen and Yuri Katsuno, who stayed up with me all night, and did indeed save my life many times.

I have only recently just come back to dance after a hiatus of almost 7 years. My body has ached in ways I could no longer remember, and I realised that many things had left during this break. Confidence. An open connection with my body. An open connection to creativity and imagination. A place of freedom for my spirit. It took me 11 weeks to even feel a glimpse of all these things. This made me feel sad for how I have neglected such a special relationship, but also hopeful that it’s still there, and not fully lost. I can hear my body again, and I’m listening to its needs, wants, desires. It’s a faint voice still, but I hope to give it more time and space, and allow it to guide me to a place of freedom, joy, and ecstasy, once again.