I had lived in Folkestone nearly 2 years when I first met Sophie Devooght. We met at the opening of the Salt Festival and bonded immediately over a love and feeling for the importance of Dance in life. We laid down the blueprint for what has become Folkestone Dance on that very first meeting.
Ironically Sophie shared later that I was the only person who appeared sceptical of her vision as “Folkestone as a destination for Dance”. I had arrived in Folkestone full of energy and high hopes but had found that on the whole the only way that I could maintain a regular dance practice with other people was to be constantly on the move in other ways, an exhausted yoyo back and forth from London and sometimes farther afield.
I came to Folkestone to begin a years study of Level 1 Tamalpa Life/Art Embodiment training (https://www.tamalpa-uk.org/) and as a practicing Artist was eligible for a Creative Quarter flat and studio space. I had been forced to leave my previous wonderful live/work home/community warehouse space due to a 150% rent rise in the much fabled (but horribly true) gentrification of Hackney. For the first year, apart from a few months of Jacob Bray’s contemporary dance classes, I danced mostly alone in my small flat, on the deck outside or on the lovely Sol Calero on the beach near the Harbour arm. I also had monthly Tamalpa training weekends and homework in between. This training gave me an increased self awareness and knowledge but I did notice that when in more technique based, or more focussed improvisation environments that my work had lost some rigour and more precise attention to detail, as well as strength as I was doing so much less sweaty dancing both socially and creatively. I was also increasingly suffering a longstanding deteriorating hip condition for which I soon hope to get a new hip (YAY!). At the point of meeting Sophie I was getting into a better physical state due to finding an incredible osteopath at the Natural Health Centre in Folkestone and having just spent 5 weeks on Anna Halprin’s legendary Mountain home dance deck in California as part of my Level 2 Tamalpa training. https://www.tamalpa.org/
I fulfilled my need to dance and to communicate through dance and with dancers by travelling weekly to a community centre in South east London where dancer friends have been sharing practice for a few years now. I also danced Samba in Hackney Carnival and other gatherings in London and had organised an intensive month residency at Yinka Shonibare’s guest project space in Hackney for my Dance Film project http://www.iamnotavillage.com. I also felt a need for regular injections of London for a freer and more diverse social life with better and wilder more contemporary music. Folkestone is often asleep by Midnight apart from a few people off their tits and there is a massive bias toward 80s and 90s pop music that I just don’t need to hear again (having been there the first time!). For years I had lived in a very strong and close community characterised by varied and powerful often socially relational Art and strong relations with our wider communities. There were some extremely accomplished and well known Artists in my circles but hard work and international travel was always interspersed with a strong sense of neighbourliness and desire for pleasure. We lived in a vast shared space with views all over London, numerous exciting visitors, frequent feasts, creative happenings, experiments and performances as well as dance, improvisation, body mind centring, yoga and many other creative workshops and rehearsals in our large living room. We frequently danced all night, as did our neighbours. It was a perfect base for working on a “Live-dance-film” about the dramatic and traumatic ethnic and social cleansing of our neighbourhood. There was a lot of grief and protest in those years but also lot of community, love, joy and a helluva of a lot of dancing, in our own space but also in the streets, parks and canals around us. The “I am not a Village” project allowed me to frame the life we were living in a form I could share even should it disappear forever; contemporary propaganda too often claiming that “multiculturalism” was a failed project and that shared living is just for “students” and that fragmented living in segregated microcosms and nuclear families was our best human desire/ destiny. I had lived most of my life before I moved to Folkestone around (i now realised) very bohemian people in very culturally and socially mixed urban areas (Camden, Hackney, San Francisco, NYC) where the inevitable stresses are frequently tempered by humanity and community. Even before I studied and practiced a very wide range of dance styles seriously music and dance had always been integrated into the fabric of life.
In Folkestone I got involved with the local Labour Party and KRAN (Kent Refugee Action Network) and started a “Life is an improvisation” improvisation group with Jacob Bray after we’d worked together on the “Folkestone is an Artschool” Triennial project. I made performances at Queer Puppet Cabaret and a local pop-up project. My work and focus was however mainly still in London, especially the “I am a Village” project, though being very environmentally responsive it was strange making a film about Hackney in Folkestone. I began to develop the idea of making a short film variation, extending one of the scenes to the Sea from Chats palace in Hackney.
In comparison to my previous experiences Folkestone felt to me like a place where Art was mostly made alone or in small groups in small studios and politely shared in rather serious talks and private views; shared eating mostly happened in restaurants and drinking almost felt like a central focus rather than something just happening as well. Most people walk around in couples or small family groups and talk to strangers only if you both have dogs. I find it hard not to smile at folk I catch eyes with and this is more often than not met with a suspicious glare. Children are regularly silenced: “Sit down, shut up, sorry, shh” and the main action after midnight is screaming cheap booze/ bad drug fuelled fights. The old East Folkestone/ West Folkestone class divide (which was instilled by e.g. Lord Radnor’s police force stopping the “lower orders” walking onto the Lees) is echoed eerily by the relationship of the Creative Quarter to the broader town, e.g. Friends who drink in Bars by the harbour won’t drink in the Creative Quarter bars and vice versa.. irksome for we who’ve been gentrified out of London to realise that we are the gentrifying force of this town. I have heard many “locals” say “we’re not creative here”. Of course there are also lots of fabulous local and newer Artists who are integrated into the town as a whole and some really brilliant independent endeavours such as Strange Cargo, Susanna Howard, Living Words and Performance Space, Carol Grimes, Randolph Matthews, Jacob Bray, Michal Kaminski, Local Foreigner, Queer Puppet Cabaret, Gumboots, Terry Smith, Lime Bar, “Home” bar, Old Buoy, Rum clinic, Space Bar, Screen South, Duncan Weston, Alexis Weston, Leigh Mulley, Sam Millen, Matt Rowe, Ethan Sheppard, Hop Projects, Constance, Max and Helen McQueen, Admire Ncube, Jessica Hynes, Mira Albrecht, Simon Davenport, Terry Smith, Philippa Wall, Manuel Vason, Rubiane Maia, Ernst Fischer, David Hevey, Dom Pillai, Ben Barton Gibson, Lubna Gem Arielle, Dave James Horn, Kate Beaugle, Ewan Golder, Astrid Goldsmith, Anil Sebastian, Cherif Hashizume, Didier Rochard, Marit Rokeberg, Buckle up films and some brilliant endeavours by Folkestone Fringe and the Urban room and Creative Quarter. Also some excellent DJs like Helga deFonseca Shaw and Local Foreigner.. now I’m getting paranoid ‘cos I know I’m missing loads of folk out! I have made some lovely friends and I like talking and drinking and have experienced some lovely art and social events and for the first time I had a studio space to my own and I think that this has greatly developed both my practice and thinking. It is the integration of Art, work, social and community life that feels most different here. Things are definitely changing: For 2 weeks every year during the Open Quarter, every last Friday and annually during Pride and during the Charivari I feel some of that integration but until Folkestone Dance happened my life here lacked the exuberant integration of all that my life previously had led me to be accustomed to.
Since being here I have realised more than ever before how precious to me is a danced approach to life, also a life in which the transition between work and social life blurs also into connections with surprises and strangers. A danced life can bring knowledge and confidence in the physical reality of yourself which affects how you relate with both friends and strangers. It is often said that the verbal is only 5% of communication and I have felt often silenced and isolated here and I know that I am not alone in this. I know I/ a more embodied approach to life can bring the curiosity and unselfconsciousness of a less repressed childhood together with the consciousness and ability to reason, analyse, construct and transform reality of a less repressed adulthood. It can enable self-awareness and emotional and physical self-sufficiency. It can expand the senses enlarging the modes and breadth of perception. It can put the fevered imaginings of the often dominant cognitive and visual perceptions into service of our intuition and senses rather than the more common other way around. A danced life allows us to embody our interconnectedness with everything as well as allowing the spaces between everything to become alive for exploration rather than the empty space they are erroneously often perceived as. In times of social, political and environmental fracture, isolation and conflict to dance feels to me like the healthiest response and the one by which we are mostly likely to find healing.
As I sit here by the Sea along the coast from Folkestone I feel some measure of gratitude for the lonely times between leaving my London community and founding Folkestone dance with Sophie as I had to learn how really to dance in the empty spaces without the constant stimulation and inspiration and encouragement that my previous life gave me. At times I wondered if I was just an empty vessel who could only respond to a stimulating environment. The numbers of ideas which burst forth immediately on being given the frame of Folkestone Dance give the lie to this fear, Folkestone Dance is giving me opportunities to begin to share my notions of the danced life with more others in a way I somehow could not do alone.