The RaqShuraka Dance Company recently entered a fundraiser talent competition. We love doing this show every year. We get to meet other performers, network backstage, raise money for a worthy cause, and dance in an awesome theater. This year we shared a phenomenal performance featuring complex and intricate dancing, a set piece to die for, couture costumes that received a separate round of applause, “smoke and mirrors” theatrical tricks, and a timeless story embellished with our own creative flair. While standing on the side of the stage still catching our breath and waiting for our critique, the first judge said, “So, I hear you are a group of friends who get together and dance sometimes.”
That night I recognized a need to share information about our collaborative process. I write this blog post to reach out to our community, begin a dialogue, and share a little bit about what we do here at The RaqShuraka Dance Company.
When it comes to collaborative performance, the process is just as important as the product. The process engages creative groups in “talking back” to their communities about issues that are important to them. It allows them to experiment with possible solutions to the problems nested in the stories they tell.
The performance is equally important. Troupe members publically express themselves in relation to the topics of their stories. Ensembles must effectively communicate what they want to say in a fresh way while engaging the audience. The threading of personal stories with public issues leads to the political and empowering nature of collaborative performance.
So, what is our collaborative process at The RaqShuraka Dance Company? Grounded in grassroots theater and the theories of Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, and Viola Spolin, our collaborative format is an interactive and social process that evokes questions and questions solutions. Our approach involves collaborative knowledge, collaborative action, and collaborative play. Through improvisational exercises, we braid together our life experiences, creative talents, and movement vocabularies to tell a story that means something to us. We work as a group to create characters, choose and interpret music, fill the choreography with expressiveness and intention, invent no-budget special effects (one of our specialties), and make our own sets and costumes.
Along with our collaborative work in storytelling and performance building, we create a collaborative community of support. We encourage each other to make healthy choices. We help with body image issues, sharing laughter and hope while recognizing the daily assault of media on women and their bodies. We offer support in our personal relationships, giving ourselves time to vent and come back to gratitude and love for the people in our lives. We provide professional support through networking and solution-oriented brainstorming.
Not only do we advance our dance, performance, collaborative, and creative talents, we also expand our understanding of the phrase, “to act” from acting on stage to taking action as a responder and creator of our world. We feel our bodies as advocates rather than inhibitors, comforters rather than oppressors. We honor our instincts and cherish our individualities.
While we are friends who get together and dance, we are also super women who engage in creative and cooperative problem solving resulting in shared ownership of performances we love. What we do is important to us individually. It is important to us collectively. It is important to our communities. It is important to the political movement of people engaging in personal growth and active citizenship through artistic adventure.
Thank you, John Highsmith, for taking these fantastic pictures!