The following guest post is from a loyal reader, Camille. I asked her to write this account for Dance Advantage because I appreciated her passionate support of dance and its role in community. I knew also that she was employed as a dance teacher in Scotland, doing a job very much the same yet also very different from that of many dance instructors. She will tell you more about this work in her own words but I feel it speaks to the affect dance and movement can have on the soul and on a group of people. Occasionally, I like to step away from the technical, instructional, business, and material side of dance to remind myself and those reading of the unifying and universal power of dance. As Camille will reiterate, I hope this reminder will encourage those of us who hold keys to find their own unique ways of unlocking this potential in dance.
As I walk to work with my son Soren, the sky is very dark, though it’s only just before six in the evening. I’m glad I have this time to spend with him and that while I work he is nearby in a room, where childcare is provided, just down the hall from where I teach. It’s cold, like many Scottish nights, and I’m glad we’ll be indoors soon. The warmth I feel at work is doubled by the many beautiful and dedicated women I work with. Tonight I am greeted by Karen Gordon, a group member and professional photographer who does volunteer work with the women in the group (you can see her great work of the women and children dancing below). I then bring Soren to the childcare and see Saba. She preforms with the women and is dropping off her son at the creche as well. He has just arrived from Africa and Saba is very happy that they are together now. We hug and I meet and hug her son. He is beautiful and practices his English with the caregivers in the childcare. It is the perfect way to start my evening.
I am a dancer, and teach dance at the Maryhill Integration Network (mIN). It is an organization for families (primarily women and their children) who have relocated to Glasgow due to dangers and unrest in their own countries. War, political unrest, violence towards women, and religious persecution are just a few of the reasons refugees are forced or choose to leave their homes and seek another. Their families are in danger, they fear for their lives, and they want a safer life for their children and for themselves. The women and children come to the network to make friends, participate in artistic collaborations, cook, share stories and, most importantly, integrate into their new homes. In many ways this job is a dream come true. Not only am I teaching dance and doing what I love but I can also bring my children and be a part of something even greater than (dare i say) dance: the cause for women, freedom and humanity.
Movement and dance are main ingredients for moving mIN forward as a community voice and performance group. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the women for the 16 Days of action for violence against women campaign and share my choreography with the city, as well as teach weekly classes with the children.
Leading with Love
The leading woman behind this network Remzije Sheriffe is someone that I respect more than my words are able to express and I sat down to interview her to give readers some insight into her beginnings, hopes, struggles and triumphs as a artistic facilitator and coordinator for mIN. I also hope that her effort will encourage other organizations to provide such positive environments for women and children as well as unite cultures through dance.
We meet just before work and, because Remzije was a journalist in Kosova before coming to Glasgow, I’m a bit nervous, though I know this isn’t necessary given her unconditional love for all who take part in the organization.
Language of the Body
After arriving in Glasgow, Rema (as friends and coworkers call Remzije) began a project called Kelpian Castle which involved the performance of Kosavoan and Glaswegian stories, combined and enacted by children for their community. This was volunteer work yet very telling of where her life and career would unfold. From the beginning of her stay in Glasgow she knew the importance of integration and had a keen sense for how to do it. Language barriers are usually a struggle when a new refugee arrives at the network. Rema knew that, through dance and movement, those involved could make friends and support each other despite their difficulty to communicate with spoken word. She understands greatly the power of movement and body language.
When Rema began her work with the Maryhill Integration Network she was well prepared to take it to new heights because of her volunteer work and her strong public relations as a journalist. Performances have multiplied as the women involved learn the beauty of sharing their life experiences on stage through poetry, contemporary dance, music, and theatre. Dancing and its choreographed lifting, supporting and embracing – I’ve found these very themes translate into real life as deep friendships are made.
Work as a Calling
Rema faces the challenges that come head on. How the women will all arrive at rehearsals, dress rehearsals and performances, where there children will be during all of this, involving the children who are ready to perform, getting funding, costumes, choreographers (like Natasha Gilmore, deserving of her own post for sure), musicians, publicity…. this list goes on. During all of this she is also working with practical matters of English class, helping with forms, and encouraging those around her to have a public voice and feel of worth in their new surroundings. It’s lovely to see how her practical work parallels her artistic endeavors and that the women involved experience integration happening at many levels. Rema has great women to help but these are the demands of her job. She views her work as a calling in life.
On Women and Mothers and Dancing
Through all of this, Rema knows that family is first. This allows for mothers to feel the safety of coming and knowing that they are understood. This allows me, a dancer and a mother, to work there. This is why I love my job. All of it!
The editor asks: Where are the keyholes in your community and how will you use dance to unlock them?