Interesting and exciting things are happening all over the Tampa Bay Area, and it's time that we shared them with each other. In this section you can read the latest news in the dance industry. Do you have an idea for a story of your own that you would like to share, or would you like for us to possibly write a story about you, email us at sharon@OhMerde.com
By Dwayne Scheuneman of REVolutions Dance
With all of the bombing, destruction and suffering exchanged between Israel and Gaza recently, it's hard to believe that just a short time ago, as these conditions were developing, we were in the middle of it all, creating, dancing and sharing. It was an amazing experience wherein we made some friends who were in the studio creating and moving with freedom and joy one minute, then headed home through streets that were surrounded by checkpoints and barriers the next. It was these barriers that would come to serve as creative influence to our work in Ramallah.
On June 17, 2014, I left for Ramallah Palestine with Leymis Bolanos Wilmott of Fuzión Dance Artists to conduct a two week training/teaching residency at the Sareyyet Ramallah Club. Sareyyet Ramallah is a community center in the West Bank region of Palestine that has a variety of arts and sports programs for Palestinian children and teens. Until a few years ago, their dance program was focused on teaching Debke, the traditional dance of Palestine. Just about five years ago, the directors of Sareyyet decided to start a contemporary dance program. One of the main challenges that lied before them is that there are no major art or dance universities in Palestine. Also, Palestinians aren't allowed to enter Israel to attend some of the better funded and better developed universities there. To overcome this obstacle, the directors at Sareyyet Ramallah began raising funds and applying for grants to bring in dance companies from Europe and the United States to perform and teach. After bringing in CANDOCO, an integrated dance company from Europe, the directors decided they wanted to open their dance program to students with disabilities, that's when they contacted me. I graciously agreed to come to Palestine and offer whatever assistance and advice I had to give.
After twenty hours of traveling that included an integration style questioning and bag search at the Israeli airline, twelve hours on a plane, an hour-plus drive from Israel to Palestine that included more check-points and questioning, we arrived in Ramallah. A few days prior to our arrival, three Israeli teens were reported kidnapped in the West Bank, this exasperated what were already volatile conditions in Palestine. As we began our workshops, the Israeli guard began raiding the city and arresting hundreds of Palestinian citizens. Despite the tension and unstable atmosphere running throughout the city, inside the studio the dancers, students and therapists allowed their creativity to be inspired by a sense of peace, friendship and hope for a better future.
Such inspiration did not go without being challenged. On our fifth day of classes, we woke to news that during an early morning raid, three Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli guard. The city of Ramallah shut down and check points were intensified. On this day, only one dancer was able to make it to the studio. The next day, the class was again full of students and full of joy and creativity.
The check points and raids were not the only barriers we had to work around. The students using wheelchairs had a whole other layer of barriers to push through. The city of Ramallah is old and due to the political restrictions placed on Palestine, development and resources are slow or non-existent. Getting to the studio for students using wheelchairs meant traveling a landscape with virtually no accommodations for accessibility. All of these concerns generated a collective inspiration amongst our group to use this opportunity to create a message about the vast amount of barriers separating people in Palestine and throughout the world.
With this idea of barriers, and the strength of the human spirit to push through barriers in efforts to crate and connect with others, we decided to create a video documentary and two complementing dance pieces for the final community presentation. We began filming wheelchairs pushing through the streets of Ramallah, conducted interviews with the dancers who had disabilities and included some footage from the workshop. Leymis’ creativity was ignited by the heart felt dedication displayed by the workshop participants and she went straight to work choreographing “Barriers” and “I’m a Dancer.” In “Barriers”, Leymis created a clear statement about the obstacles that separate us, whether political, physical or prejudicial, are obstacles that society chooses to put in place, and so too, society can choose to remove them. The piece “I’m a dancer”, truly moved the audience as Leymis used Arabic sign language, vocalizations, spoken English and spoken Arabic to create visual and audio framework for the piece. “I’m a Dancer” informed the audience as well as the dancers, that anyone can dance, and dance can be anything.
On our last day in Palestine, another young boy was killed. This was a sad reminder of the danger and destruction that are created when we choose to see differences instead of similarities…when we choose to put up barriers. As I endured another airport interrogation session waiting to return to the U.S., I thought about my loving friends in Palestine and how I could not be more grateful for what I learned from them. My experience at Sareyyet Ramallah helped me see that dance is not just this beautiful art form that I am blessed enough to share with others, it is a conduit by which I am able to express and share love and joy with other people. Dance is a gift that can inform, inspire and remove barriers.
Want more? You can watch the interview I did with WUSF or listen to the radio broadcast, just click the link below.