July 26-31, 2015 World Dance Alliance - Americas* Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii

Spaces and Places: Exploring Dance Narratives through Alternative Lenses

By Lucinda Coleman

The World Dance Alliance (WDA)- Americas conference began with the invitation for all delegates to dance a hula, taught by the kumu hula (teacher) of a local Hawaiian hālau (dance group).  Hālau literally means ‘a branch from which many leaves grow’ and as I attempted to master the intricate movements of hand and foot, I felt a little like a leaf tossed in balmy winds, uncertain of direction and lacking in control. I was captivated by the story of our hula: something about a bird, the sea and the island. I was drawn into the sung dance, by the story-teller himself and the dancers whose gestural grace and humble beauty caused me to stumble in my own fumbling attempts at elegance. It was a good beginning. The small group of dance scholars and performers were predominantly American, yet also included those who had travelled from across the world to greet each other with aloha – a word meaning affection, kindness, compassion, mercy.

The keynote address began with a traditional Hawaiian greeting, a hula performance and a story. The speaker Peter Espiritu, Director of Oceania Dance Theatre asked us whether the Hawaiian chant had moved us? Did this hula in this particular space and place welcome us? Would it have felt different in a different context? He talked of dance as a spiritual expression for all, encouraging the fusion of traditional and contemporary forms, but warning that this fusion of indigenous dance with modern practices was “playing with a culture’s livelihood”. He invited us to get to know each other: to find out whom we are and where we are from.

As the week unfolded with scholarly and Pecha Kucha presentations, panel discussions, masterclasses and workshops, I watched for stories told through dance. I presented my own research and asked many questions of others. Performances were held in theatre and outdoor locations; diverse genres and cultural expressions of movement and music inviting audience engagement on multiple levels. I was both inspired and challenged about my own dance practice, my lineage, culture and history and how I approach the making of dance work in diverse spaces and places. How site-specific are my own remnant works?

Those I met who made me laugh out loud, who walked with me to and from the conference venue, and helped me understand why my own research is important have become precious companions on a journey about making dance stories. Individuals shared the findings of their practice; their ideas brimming in earnest conversations and finding shape and form during brave, vulnerable presentations. We were gently invited to encounter the person behind the dance, the idea, the narrative, the place. We were welcomed into a creative space for a time of shared story-telling; sometimes frustrating, sometimes inspiring, sometimes confusing, sometimes hilarious. As with all good stories, there were highlights and tensions throughout the conference experience. There were also those moments reminiscent of a Hawaiian sunset over Waikiki Beach, which have now become memories that remind me to tell stories full of colour, beauty, power, grace through dance making responsive to space and place, person and passion.

Photography of WDA delegates, venue and images of Hawaii by Lucinda Coleman © 2015, reprinted with permission.

* “World Dance Alliance - Americas (WDA-Americas) is an independent, non-profit, non-political, and non-religious member-driven organization. It is part of the larger World Dance Alliance including the Asia-Pacific Network and other global regions.” - http://www.wda-americas.net/