Last October I went to see Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small dance a thing called Project O. ‘A thing’ is all I can call it at the moment because I don’t have a language to describe it. I wrote about the piece and some initial thoughts about what dance means to me as a fat person on my other blog.
I didn’t know this but Alex and Jamila were thinking about developing the project. They no longer wanted to dance it themselves but to work with other dancers, dancers who were different to them. They thought about dancing with men but they nixed that idea. Then they invited my girlfriend and I to dance. They’d liked what I’d written. Note to bloggers and zine-makers, it’s good to get paid for your work but DIY writing can also take you to places you’d never dreamed. The morning I opened the email inviting us to dance was a morning of exhilaration, heart-pumping, joy, excitement, expansive possibilities. That was a few months ago. We’ve met in-between and talked and sent a lot more emails since then. This afternoon is where it starts.
I don’t know what the piece will turn out to be yet. There’s a name and some tentative ideas, but the performance is a process. All we know for sure is that we’ve committed to some studio time together and that we will have an initial public showing in London of what we’ve done at Rich Mix on 7 June. Put the date in your diaries.
I’ve been thinking a lot about other fat dance forms, by which I mean the ways in which dance is used by fat activists. I’m thinking of burlesque, belly dancing, tap, projects like Big Moves and Force Majeure. Like them, SWAGGA (which is what the thing is called) is about fat, but it’s also about our similarities and differences as dancers, choreographers and collaborators. Project O has race and gender at its heart, and that will undoubtedly be present in this piece too. It’s a mixed-up mongrel affair, probably closer to my performances with Homosexual Death Drive than my work as a fat activist, though they can never really be separated from each other. I think this is very exciting.
Meanwhile, I’m nervous. I don’t know what to wear. I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know how a dance performance is put together. I don’t know anything, I’m a real beginner. I’m noticing how afraid I am of my own body. My main concern is whether or not my body will hold up. I had the pleasure of meeting Wheelchair Dancer last year and having a good conversation about what it's like to depend on your body as a dancer and it sounds pretty hard.
When I think of presenting myself to a choreographer I think of all the things about my body that cause me pain, or are inflexible, or which freak me out. Alex and Jamila have their work cut out for them. I’m aware that I think of my body as a problem in so many ways, and I suspect that this is a result of around a decade of obesity epidemic hysteria as well as a lifetime of fatphobia, and 25 years or so of putting my body on the line as a person with a public life around fat. Despite fighting this with everything I have, to some extent I have internalised the belief that my body is a big problem and this belief is intensifying as I get older. I’m hoping that dancing will help me appreciate the things my body can do, and create an awareness of its limitations that is built on my own knowledge, not other people’s bullshit. I don’t imagine that this will be easy, I expect there will be tears at some point, but I can handle that. I also suspect that I’m about to have the time of my life.
To be continued...