Dancing on Zoom

Beth Coleman is a professional choreographer, performer, acrobat, actress and Create artist. As our new project concept Create Live! came together we worked with Beth to develop an interactive, online dance project for young carers.

Create Live! is Create’s online, interactive project initiative developed to reach participants during the lockdown, offering a creative lifeline to the most vulnerable children and adults in isolation.

We spoke to Beth about the challenges and opportunities of dancing on Zoom.

In my Create dance workshops, I’m giving people the tools to choreograph themselves. It’s not about developing perfect technique but exploring how movement can make you feel and help you express yourself.

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It was important to make the workshop dynamic: the brilliant thing about dance, and any kind of physical activity, is the atmosphere and magic that happens in the room. You get it in the theatre and you get it in Create workshops as well. Everyone feels that charge of energy. Just as there is a connection between performer and audience, there is a spark between fellow participants, relationships develop through a shared experience of moving, creating and performing.

I was really concerned that that connection you get from dancing together wouldn’t happen via Zoom, but by day three it fizzed into life. There was still that spark that makes being creative so addictive and makes me really believe in the arts.

Reading the room

Running a project over Zoom posed significant challenges and I had to work extra hard to make sure everyone was engaged and included. Because you’re looking at 15 different Zoom boxes at the same time, you can’t use your peripheral vision, and that’s challenging in terms of trying to read how everyone is feeling, and honing in on multiple pieces of choreography simultaneously. This was as crucial via zoom as it is in a live workshop. The nature of creating anything, and allowing others to witness this process requires vulnerability and courage. I need to see, and encourage, and help develop every participant’s creative input so that I can provide a safe and supportive environment within which participants can explore their creativity. 

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One of the tasks that the young carers responded really well to was a writing task that they later used to inspire a piece of choreography. It’s important to give participants a break because dance workshops are really tiring! I encouraged the young people to write a monologue based on the senses during lockdown. New things they might have seen or heard, things they can’t touch etc.

Writing is a useful tool because it gives the young people a structure for creating movement. Being asked to create a dance of eight counts based on how you’re feeling can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. But if you ask people to write about how they’re feeling and then turn the words in the monologue into a move … before you know it, they’ve got an entire piece of choreography.

Brave and confident

Every project I do for Create has culminated in a sharing of work. I treat that sharing as I would any other show, but all the creativity is coming from the young people and my job is to bring it all together into one piece. Over Zoom I did exactly the same thing. I changed how I did it, but I was aiming for the same outcome.

I don’t think working online put up any new barriers in terms of the young people’s confidence. Because they were in their own homes, they were even more expressive when they were dancing because it was harder to see anyone else’s reaction on the tiny screens. So they really went for it, which was the beauty of it. 

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Seeing the young people speak their text and dance in the final performance was an amazing moment. I was really struck by how brave and open they were with their writing. I think dance can be so good for both our mental and physical health. Just getting moving can change how we feel.

I hope the workshop enabled the young people to use their creativity as a way to process how they’re feeling at this time. The performance at the end of the three days was aesthetically really beautiful and emotive to watch.

I think everyone should be doing something creative.

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