Free Press Journal

Helping untrained dancers to shake a leg


Bal Moderne has been helping untrained dancers shake a leg with some panache for more than two decades now. Ketaki Latkar throws light on the movement while prompting you to participate when they hold an event in Mumbai this week

The most promising bathroom singers and bedroom dancers break into a sweat when it comes to performing in front of an audience. Add disciplined choreography to it and they may have a nervous breakdown. Not anymore. If you have a knack for dancing but are a tad shy to shake a leg in front of others, this is your chance to show some moves; just participate in Bal Moderne. Initiated in Paris in the mid-90s, Bal Moderne has been adopted by the Belgians and become somewhat of their ‘national speciality’ now.

The precursor of the flash mob and other collective dance initiatives, the Bal Moderne brings the wider public into contact with contemporary dance in a fun and non-elitist or intimidating way. It has seen a success in Melbourne to Peking as from Paris to Budapest and is now coming to Mumbai, thanks to its artistic director Oonagh Duckworth who has joined hands with India’s Ashley Lobo and his team for the event. For ‘Brussels dances with Mumbai’ Lobo will be assisted by Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who designed the moves for Beyoncé’s Grammy performance this year.

Duckworth during the rehearsals

The joy of rhythm

“The biggest challenge would be to get people into it. The style of dance is not Bollywood. The two Belgian choreographers Sidi Larbi and Wim Vandekeybus, with whom we are collaborating, are some of the best in the contemporary genre. Being the conduit between them and the Indian public and maintaining a fine balance is an interesting challenge,” says Lobo while Duckworth adds that the Bal urges to make accessible what might be thought of as complicated concepts or ‘high art’ forms.

“The dance steps may be complicated but, because they are presented and taught in a specific way, everyone ends up realising they are able to follow them. There’s the artistic element and then, because there is no distinction between the choreographers, the dancers, the amateurs and the public, there’s a very democratic feeling of solidarity…” she says. When you see hundreds of people faltering at different interval, the fear dissolves into just having a good time.

“Rhythm is common. Joy is common. If we can connect the public up to the international choreographers through rhythm and joy, the true vision of Bal moderne will be reached,” says Lobo.

Ashley Lobo

Dissolving inhibitions

The Bal Moderne project involves flash dancing tasks, which are spontaneous yet not haphazard, and it’s not easy to ensure the characteristic ease and free flow in the activity. Duckworth maintains few guidelines for the choreographers to synchronise the whole process.

“But in fact, we find that the choreographies that break our rules yet retain a very individual artistic signature work the best in the end. To help with the teaching process we often try and imagine a narrative for each dance so that the verbal cues are very imagistic…. We prompt them verbally throughout so they don’t have to rely on their memory,” she says.

Lobo agrees that at the venue there will be people from different backgrounds. “Bringing them all onto a common platform of dance so all differences disappear and only dance remains is going to be a fun challenge.”

It is said the Indian audience, unlike the Westerners, tend to be shyer when it comes to expressing themselves. However, Duckworth doesn’t agree. “Westerners have many inhibitions too. The Indian dancers from the Ashley Lobo troupe have been fantastic and are helping us a lot. Usually the energy of the Bal and the concentration needed to learn the dances means we all become a bit like children again… and that is such a nice feeling that our reservations disappear quite easily. Surprisingly, people feel more liberated because they are protected by a structure within which they can be creative. The idea is that nobody is watching anybody else, we are all in a crowd and that makes people feel less conspicuous,” adds Duckworth.

Power of dance

But bringing the flashdancing on Indian land has been no easy task. Right from obtaining permission for holding the event at an ‘open space’ to the question of security and women safety, the partners had to face many challenges but at the end they all believe it’s worth it. In Duckworth’s words the group “had to compromise somewhat on the openness of the project,” and they also made it a pre-registered event for the sake of safety.

“I have noticed over the years that dancing together seems to have a very positive effect on crowd energy, even if a few people drink a bit of alcohol and become a bit disruptive; it never affects the good energy. I do believe in the social healing powers of dance,” says Duckworth. Lobo takes the ‘power of dance’ to another level by asking the world powers to give it a chance to formulate peace. “Dance is for everyone. Also accepting differences by finding a common platform like dance would be such a great way to promote peace. Imagine if countries instead of going to war had to do a dance off to celebrate their differences. And after the dance battle they danced together to celebrate the resolution… What a world that would be. So many lives and so much money saved!”

(You can register for Bal Moderne here for the November 9 event at Gateway of India)

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