Look into the dark space… there you see the unknown, full of possibility, undiscovered worlds, freedom from reality, a chance to escape…


This piece continues from ‘down he rabbit hole‘ and considers the notion of escapism as a physical and psychological possibility when dancing. In particular, this idea of escapism came from conversations with my Dance for Parkinson’s group at English National Ballet.


From the Latin ‘cappa’ “to cloak”
“To break loose from confinement”


When the body is confining you to a limited view of what is possible in the real world, what if you could spend a few hours visiting your imagination, finding new worlds of possibility in which you are limitless and free?

In ballet we construct imaginary worlds in which we are able to explore and portray depths of human emotion. Fairies bestow gifts, spells of protection for a vulnerable child; fierce spirits protect their right to vengeance for wrong doing; cursed princesses take their own lives to avoid a life lived without love. In all these stories we can identify real emotions and experiences, but the fairy tale enables us to escape our own reality. In dance for Parkinson’s there is a similar experience felt by many of the dancers. Being Tybalt for the afternoon; recreating the ritual of the rival tribes; or visiting the court of Prince Siegfried; all enable the same type of escapism as a good book or film – short term removal from reality.

Life can be full of hardships, so it’s nice to take a step back from reality and get lost in the fantasies of our own minds. That’s why we read books about faraway lands and explore virtual worlds with powerful avatars. Too much of it, however, can be detrimental to your productivity and personal growth.
— Allan, P (2015) [online] http://lifehacker.com/how-to-snap-back-to-reality-when-escapism-becomes-av-1723091630

In recent research I have begun to explore the value in the contrasting approaches of escapism and realism in dancing. Escapism is like the trick of the mind; for a few hours you remove the challenges of vulnerable human life and transcend reality. For many dancers this brings true joy and I argue that this form of letting go in the moment requires a playfulness and uninhibited approach which can be established by the artist if he or she prioritises play in dance. In dance for Parkinson’s, this tricking of the mind can also enable greater access to movement as it bypasses the challenges of multi-tasking and brings the focus outside of the body processes and into the expressive.


However as hinted at by Allan (2015) above, too much of this approach could be detrimental to personal development. A dancer who is very present in the moment, in both mind and body, could more easily find personal understanding of movement possibilities for his or herself and greater control as a result. This is possible through a somatic approach in which the artist is using physical and bodily description as a delivery choice and encouraging the dancer to focus in the moment on finding movement possibilities from the inside out. Again, in dance for Parkinson’s this brings a meaningful understanding of the body which could also have a long lasting affect for the dancer. The tools discovered in dancing could be brought into their day to day life for greater freedom of movement and independence.


I can’t say which is a better approach because I don’t think there is a one size fits all model. Although the current research I am doing with Dance for Health in Rotterdam will begin to unpick this further. What I do know, is that some dancers will prefer escapism, and some dancers will gain more from realism. In my own practice, play and escapism feature highly in all my work. Perhaps because the imaginary world is the place that I go to access my own feeling of freedom. It is the most authentic approach I have to creating a supportive and uplifting space and enables me to uninhibited at the same time as encouraging my dancers to let go… 


Next time…

Collectivity and play – shared experience of the absurd…

Todd, Charlie (2011) ‘The shared experience of absurdity’ [online] https://www.ted.com/playlists/316/talks_for_your_inner_child