Letting the light in: A close to our Winter Institute

[Editor’s Notes– The following is the last of a series of blog posts by Dance Exchange Winter Institute 2018 Communications Work/Study Tajinder Virdee. This year’s institute focused on the creative practices and potentials of Dance Exchange’s work across generations. Read more, and check back in our archive, to learn more about Tajinder’s (and other participants!) intergenerational experiences this January! –MC]

An institute circles. Photo by Liv Schaffer.

“It’s okay if there’s a crack. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

Our last day together at the Winter Institute was full of bittersweet reflection on all of the information we had gained and all of the meaningful movement we had created together. But before we parted ways, we learned a couple more tools to help us in our future endeavors. In our morning movement session, we did a shifting exercise with a partner. We stood facing each other, and while one partner stayed still, the other shifted in distance, getting closer and farther away. We maintained eye contact with our partners throughout the activity – which was difficult considering that people rarely ever look each other in the eyes for an extended period of time in everyday life. My partner and I discussed questions that came up for us. Are my feelings visible through my eyes? How close is too close?

Throughout the institute we created movement from meaning. But with an activity called Bulking the Image, we instead created meaning from movement. In this exercise, we created shapes with our bodies – either still or moving. A maximum of 2 shapes and 6 individuals were allowed in the space at a time. Those who entered the space taking the same shape as another person were only able to change the factor of distance. The rest of us would say “pause” and comment on what meaning we drew from the movement. I saw images of oppression, support, power dynamics, robotic systems. At times a unique and liberating movement would become machine-like when other individuals took the same shape – or radically supportive. I wondered – to what extent does my own experience taint the lens I look through to draw meaning from this movement? And how do I adjust my movement to contribute to that meaning?

For me, the most salient activity we did was called Scripting with the words “prayer” and “protest”. When these words were mentioned, I immediately cringed. But then, I heard EJ say that part of the intention of the activity was to reduce the emotional charge or reaction that the words may invoke. I felt like I was caught red handed in the rage I hold towards both these concepts – towards prayer for being futile and towards protest for being necessary. In exploring the two words, we made various shape for each of the two words until something felt right. In two groups, we witnessed each other’s shapes for “prayer” and for “protest” and noted down key physical elements for each. We were asked to choose one of the two words and continue to explore them through movement, with the guidelines we had written down. But, in exploring the concepts of prayer and protest through movement, I realized that I couldn’t distinguish between them. The two words felt the same in my body. My prayer is my protest. Desperate. Demanding. Furious.

In our last session together, we each shared our goals as if we had already accomplished them, speaking from some point in the future – anywhere from 3 months to 15 years. It was an incredible empowering way to share our goals. We spoke without fear of having goals too grand and without the question of how we would accomplish them. My immediate question was – What is my goal? Which my mind translated to – What does utopia look like to me?

When it came to my turn, I said that it’s 10 years from now and I have established an institute of my own for queer women. We actually look at each other, in the same way we did in the shifting exercise at the institute that morning. We listen to each other, we empower each other to lead – and it feels like home. And I look forward to using the skills I have gained at Dance Exchange to engage my community – whoever that may be.

After hearing each other’s remarkable intentions, we wrote letters to ourselves, to be sent to us in three months as we progress on our journey of achieving our goals. I had no idea what to write. No idea what to say to my future self. But I knew that I wanted to remember how empowered I felt at the institute. So I wrote about my surroundings, reflecting on one of the tools we had used – detail, to set the scene for remembering the words I was about to hear. We ended with the perpetual prompt: I would like to borrow______. Coming back to a circle, we took turns expressing what we would like to borrow from the person on our left. I heard kindness, the ability to find the light, big dreams, the capacity for gratitude, courage, and so many more inspiring traits from around the circle. I found myself in a pool of future collaborators, revolutionary artists, and generators of the empowerment and radical support that I will always carry with me, knowing that one day, our paths will cross again.

About Tajinder Virdee

Tajinder Virdee is an Anthropology and Justice student at Arizona State University who is passionate about queer community building and intergenerational community engagement, especially through collaborative movement.