NEXT Reflections is a series of creative pieces (images, texts, audio works) from participants of NEXT Choreography, offering a personal insight into the course.
Applications for NEXT Choreography are currently open. Apply by Wednesday 6 September.
Content warning: this text includes non-descriptive references to sexual assault.
Sacred spaces become sacred through ritual and intention.
Sacred spaces are spaces set aside, they feel different.
Since La Cuarentena I don’t have much to do but having a routine that invests my room and my body with meaning through practice makes not doing feel special. Sometimes pinning a spiritual meaning onto trying to dance every day and making it part of a bigger practice helps me keep doing it when I have no goal and don’t want to try to be good at something. I have a practice now, my aunt sent me some nice incense in the post, so every morning I light the sunrise one in my glass of coins and watch the smoke spill out of my window, and it encourages me to clean my room and shake out my rug and kiss the special objects in my room, mostly objects given to me by special people, a dried rose which has kept its shape and perfume over 3 years and 5 different bedrooms, a letter, a bracelet, a doll. Then I go down to the dance studio and light candles and stretch everything and try to make my movements stronger and softer. In the evening I light rainforest incense on the shrine by my bed. Creating a routine that feels very related to the religious feels grounding in times of collective isolation.
I pretty much only went to Siobhan Davies Studios when I was feeling a particular type of not great. Even the open improvisation classes I attended through spring 2022 had that uncertain and quiet sacred space quality, I would be there mostly to experience the rituals of the space, walking around the room, following the instructions, reflecting on the experience at the right time. I had the occasional unpredictable numinous experience, a strong feeling of faith. Once was in a class where we only moved when our eyes were closed, another when we were led out of the studio to the trees outside the imperial war museum. That time I danced with various trees, following the lead of their branches and afterwards felt that peace and calm of a brief certainty of belief. I’ve had only two numinous experiences in churches, the only one that I can remember with any clarity being on Christmas eve in 2019 when I felt God speak from the rafters of the only church walkable from my grandparent’s place in rural Yorkshire.
Through the first semester of my Bible studies course, autumn of that year, I had a bleak time with insomnia, not sleeping was my biggest childhood fear so I felt very untethered. Every Tuesday evening I went to the studio for my choreography course. I felt ashamed to be often, at least to my mind, visibly unwell. The ritual of attending and the comfort of being around my peers and having sharing that studio space as something in common was a big anchor in my week and reminds me of how the studio space I shared with my flatmates was such an important anchor in the longest covid lockdown. My parents go to a prayer group organised by their church, and I wonder if it’s similar to the check ins and reflections of those Tuesday sessions – the course was probably the first time I had that ritual of reflection as a shared space.
In my house we have a dance studio and since quarantine only N and I use it. N keeps candles and a lighter there now and always has the candles lit when she is dancing. The dance studio feels very special to both of us and we are both very protective of our time there.
I recently learned the story of the dance studio. La Corrala, my home since December, was not always flamenca – it’s a fairly recent development in the history of the house. There was a woman, a flamenco dancer, from Mexico who lived in the house around ten years ago. One day she drove to Jerez with a close friend (who had a cancerous tumour in her stomach and no one knew about it, but also it’s a secret you don’t need for this story, but a very important detail for another). P remembers the day well because he was in the Sierra and from the height he could see the approaching storm. There was a really big storm, and there was an accident with the car. P was called to Jerez to identify the body (her ID had her address on and phoning the Corrala means phoning P). He talks about the disfigurement of her face and body after the accident, which both she and her friend survived. She was in a coma for 3 months, and when she woke up P says she couldn’t remember anything at all, like her old name or his face or what foods she used to like. There was nothing for it but to take her home. The doctor said that the one thing that usually can help in such cases is to engage with activities enjoyed before the coma, so as she had danced flamenco before, P built the dance studio in a disused room in the Corrala for her to practice in. Despite having no memories, she went down to practice in the dance studio only she was allowed to use, every morning and evening for a year and a half, and after that period she made a full recovery in every aspect.
Through quarantine N and I have scheduled our dance practice every day, whether we are in the mood for it or not, and I think quarantine has been a very healing time as a result. When I don’t want to dance I go to the studio for my allotted couple of hours anyway and just lie down and try to absorb a bit more of the space.
I slept in blankets on the floor of the dance studio in the corrala one night of springtime last year. I hadn’t intended to visit the house whilst visiting Seville at the end of a holiday, but my host, an ex’s flatmate, assaulted me and by the time I realised it wasn’t safe for me to go back to his house as planned, the dance studio ended up being the only room in the Corrala that P was happy to offer up. P was my old landlord, who built the studio years before. We had been close but over lockdown he started grabbing my ass, always when my hands were full or while I was in a zoom meeting so I couldn’t slap back or yell at him. It was a bit creepy lying in the dark in the windowless studio with the mirrors reflecting the bats flitting about. The right of sanctuary, whereby a fugitive could take refuge in a church, dates back to at least 600AD. Whilst criminal sanctuary was abolished by James I in the UK in 1623, its standing in Spain endured much longer and in 1796 religious asylum was expanded to include the homes of priests and the outside walls of religious buildings.
The studio felt more like a church than ever that night. In the morning before grabbing my suitcase from my rapist’s house and catching my flight home, getting to dance and to return to the rituals that gave that space that meaning was such a delight.
I try to cycle over to the studio once a fortnight. In the studio I spend some time looking out of the window at the trees. There’s a tree outside the research studio with beautiful yellow blossom in spring. I walk around a lot, stretch, swing my arms, enjoy my favourite music. It’s been years since I’ve been to a dance class so I don’t have anything to practice or any outcome in mind. That’s part of what reminds me of the practice of going to church. I stopped attending church in my teens when I started being concerned about productivity; church was the one thing in my schedule that had no outcome at all, so I swapped it out for running sessions (exercise could always be productive as the outcome was fitness), or extra studying time. Despite spending most of my working and leisure hours thinking about Christianity (I’m coming to the end of an MA in Religion and run a bible study group), I feel like the slot in my life for a third place that combines ritual and introspection, meditation on a physical space and a very low-stakes mode of relating to my peers is better fit by the dance studio. I won’t ever really achieve anything by going there, fixing myself a cuppa and saying hi to people, moving in the studio for 3 hours, and rinsing off in the bright orange enormous communal shower in the mens room. Sometimes I come out of it feeling more at home in and proud of my body, or with a sense of spiritual wellbeing, sometimes I come out more irritable and frustrated than I went in.
Paul is an academic and boyfriend currently living in London. He enjoys dancing alone and with others, and writing about scripture and translation.