There might not be curtains or a backstage. The floor may not be exactly right. The audience will probably be in their pajamas. The music might come from a laptop/portable speaker and there may be playback problems with your intro. The dressing room might be a hospital bathroom. There may be a small crowd with no names you know.
But this might very well be the most important performance in your life. At least half of the room has never ever seen live professional dance before, and will most likely never see it again. Your best review won’t be in the New York Times, it will be when a kid starts dancing on their own on the way to treatment.
You will watch a child go from weeks of distrust in herself and her surroundings, go from this,
With no intention to stop.
You will inspire a boy who claims he can’t move due to his condition, suddenly throw off some invisible burden and proceed to get funky.
You will meet children with IV’s plug their machines to the wall and then stand to join from the side in the cross-lateral stretching.
You will meet a demure pre-teen girl ask that no photos be taken of her or her mother in the veil. Both her and her mother will then sit mesmerized by your Sugar Plum Fairy variation.
You will meet a girl in Palliative Care. She and her family all know she will die of her cancer.
And one of her life’s last dances will be with you. Can you imagine such an honor?
For me, this is not outreach. This is not dance/movement therapy. It definitely is not charity.
This, in and of itself, is my art form.
Social practice dance is professional. It takes great skill. I heartily believe that. It takes awareness and presence. It takes the ability to meet every patient, nurse and parent where they are at. It takes improvisation skills, the ultimate “yes, and.” It takes a deep breath knowing some dancers may have few dances and some dancers may have many. It takes persistence and patience, as it won’t be automatic that your dance interventions are picked up by the community through social entrepreneurship.
There arise many questions from people in my field. They question if it professional to dance in a lobby. They question if the impact is sustainable, long-term. They question if an artist who does this work is just using the patients for their own media boost. I believe anyone who asks these types of things may not fully understand the medium.
My goal is to motivate, activate, and advocate for the other social practice dance artists out there by sharing this story.
This is the greatest stage on earth.
*Thank you to my professional dance friends Joanna, Amr, Katya and Maggie for today for your openness to try another kind of stage today. And thank you to the patients of 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt for rocking that stage.