My Re:Generations Experience by Ianthe Mellors (ADAD Intern and Final-year BA Dance Performance student at Middlesex University)
I discovered the Re:Generations conference whilst looking for workshops to attend and had no idea what to expect. It was my first conference but being a dancer of mixed heritage, and having finally gone to Trinidad for the first time this summer I was excited about a conference discussing African Diaspora Dance. I hoped that by understanding dance forms and current issues surrounding them it would give me an insight into my heritage. The atmosphere at the conference can only be described as buzzing. The first day I found really interesting, attending talks, watching performances at London Metropolitan University and then later at Sadler’s Wells. It set the tone for the rest of the conference and was a perfect introduction to the education seminar and dance workshops on Saturday which for me was the most exciting day. I found the education seminar so engrossing; it has really resonated with me. Thomas Presto shared his experiences of growing up as a dancer of mixed heritage in Norway.
The key note speech by Brenda Dixon-Gottschild was inspiring and sparked a heated debate about international dance education and the lack of African and Caribbean Diaspora Dances (ACDD) studies included. It brought to light that we in England are far behind America. Although Irie! has been working on a project with Islington Dance to teach students ACDD, we do not yet have ACDD in dance education. During the evening reception, the six dance students, including myself, discussed this issue. We were realising, as a result of the conference, how little we knew about our heritage. We could easily discuss ACDD in America but everything we knew about ACDD in England we had taught ourselves. I found this deeply upsetting and have since undertaken two of my final year essays on this subject, exploring the lack of ACDD in the dance curriculum at GCSE and A-Level and further. When Fela! First came to the National Theatre in January Bill T. Jones remarked in a question and answer session after the performance that he had trouble finding dancers that could do both contemporary and African dance to an equally high level. Dancers could either do one or the other. The Re: Generations conference could not have come at a better time; having an international forum to discuss such matters is the best way to start tackling these issues. After the education Seminar came talks, lunch and then dance workshops.
The classes I took were Thomas Preston’s Talawa Technique and Chris Walker’s Caribbean Contemporary Dance. Having studied Odissi, contemporary and ballet the majority of my life it felt so good to be doing Caribbean contemporary and Trinidadian dance forms. The techniques felt so comfortable on my body, everyone in both classes could not help but smile! Christopher Walker’s class had all the elements I enjoy in contemporary dance but with Caribbean flavour. After his class Niesha Holder, another dance student, and I spoke to him about his technique and where we could study further and have since been exploring Horton technique and other ACDD forms together. There was a section of Thomas Preston’s class where dancers have to wine with bottles on their heads in order to practise maintaining the grace and poise whilst wineing up and down. At first I thought I could master it but the more I concentrated the more the bottle seemed to fall off! I really enjoyed the challenge, there was a feeling of unity amongst everyone in the class whether they were dance students, dance scholars or non-dancers just interested in ACDD. There are talks of Thomas coming back to England to teach again soon, so if you missed it at Re:Generations do not worry.
Everyone I have spoken to after the conference who attended said they were still buzzing weeks after. For me, I think it is because professionals and students in the same field with the same goal that have been working separately have finally had a forum to meet, network, present and discuss very prevalent issues on ACDD. For the students that attended it was an opportunity to meet others in dance education, at different institutions, each trying to explore ACDD styles and our dance heritage. All of the students that attended are either graduating this year or the following year and so it could not have come at a better time. We are all still finding our voice as dancers and deciding our next steps. Re:Generations a very exciting thing to have been a part of. The overwhelming sense of unity amongst the delegates that was felt, especially in the closing remarks and reception, emphasised the success of the conference. Everyone took something positive away from it. The next one in 2012 is going to be explosive!