On May 7th, election day, I helped to facilitate a dance and movement workshop on the theme ‘How can individuals change society’ at Jubilee Library. This was part of a series of workshops funded through the Evolving in Conversation Project – photography, creative writing and now dance – I was thrilled to see the library space being used in two unusual ways,
- To have a big, open conversation
- For dancing!
Although many onlookers would not have immediately described what we were doing as dance. Charlotte Spencer, the commissioned dance professional for these workshops, has devised exercises focused on movement at an everyday level – on being grounded in the body and taking notice of our surroundings. One exercise involved participants forming human chains moving backwards together around the library, working out how to stop, go and get into a rhythm of moving without speaking to each other. Me and my colleague Corinna watched the chains intersect and pass each other through the automatic doors. From the outside it was a fun spectacle to behold and I think it went unnoticed to many busy library users sweeping in and out behind newspapers, books and coffee cups. But the participants later reported the experience of moving backwards through a public building as part of a chain to be challenging, frightening, connecting.
In another exercise we were set off in pairs, one of us close eyed and the other acting as a guide. The guide was to lead their partner to any part of the library and leave them with their eyes closed, for five minutes. I was interested in how what sounded like a simple exercise was quite bold and confronting – leave them completely alone with their eyes closed in a public space?
I found closing my eyes completely changed my experience of a building I have worked in for over four years. My partner Tony led me to what I could tell from the sound of coffee machine was the window by the café. He told me to sit down. I used to work behind the café so I have spent a lot of time in that corner, but I had never sat with my eyes closed listening to the buzz of people and the whir of espresso. I felt quite free and peaceful. Someone I knew came over and we had an entire conversation, my eyes closed. I felt different in my body, less self-conscious. When she left she had to say, ‘I’m walking away now Lucy, goodbye.’ It turned out there’d been a misunderstanding and my colleagues thought I was busy, so by the time Tony came back to get me what had felt like longer than five minutes really had been! One and only time I’ll get away with having my eyes shut on shift.
It excites me to be part of workshops that make us think twice about how we move and interact with public space – how we can be aware of each other without words and how we have the power to do something unusual with every day space. It’s your library: how do you want to experience it?