Timing, Tango & Training for the Knowing-Dancers – #lettersfromladyn

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

                                                                  (W.B. Yeats)

Shall we dance?

LightandSpaceIt was at high noon last Tuesday that the unlikely dance-partners – the lovely Sheelagh Colclough and myself  – took to the unlikely dance floor of a QUB’s Lanyon Building lecture theatre under the direction of Federica Banfi who was presenting, by means of a workshop: ‘From ‘active perception’ to connection: Engaging the Senses in Argentine Tango’.

Rhona’s Dance Studio

I love dance – all types – but my preferred kind of dancing has always been couples dancing. And it seems appropriate while attending a conference that dealt with the topics of memory, perception, sensoriality and imagination, that I revisited, in a  half-remembered, half imagined way, my old dancing days at Viva Dance Studio in Cork. The shapes and touches in Tuesday’s workshop throwing up all sorts of old information like so many messages-in-bottles coming in to shore.

‘A few and bad’

‘A few and bad’ (poco y mal – excellently translated) was how a Spanish friend described his dancing and it always makes me smile. I wasn’t actually terrible. In fact, I might have been quite okay except it really was a hobby for me and I didn’t have the time or the willingness to go the more competitive route, which was, to be fair, less about winning things and more about mastery.

Couple Dancing – Men and Women

The Coulters’ set up particularly appealed to me because women never danced with other women. They begged, borrowed and stole male and female bodies to ensure equal numbers in every class. (Yes, there were classes where women had to be drafted in to make up the numbers).  As I continued with the classes it came to me that the project was as much about teaching men and women to be in a cooperative space – albeit for a very short time, with little talking and sympathetic music – as it was about learning dance-steps. On a lighter note I also suffer from petite-womans’ guilt which Sheelagh reminded me of with her ‘tall women always get to play the men’s role’. In Rhona’s dance studio, me and the less height advantaged men, particularly, had a good thing going.

Couple Dancing – Leader and Follower

I remember the leader/follower shake down as happening like this. The men didn’t need to say anything – they had to be the leader and I don’t have any recollection of any of the ‘leaders’ saying ‘This is a bit out of my comfort zone – I’m more of a natural follower’. In the follower’s camp – team woman in this instance – opinion was more divided but only somewhat. Most women owned that leadership position was more in their line – and participated in a way that I like to call ‘leading from the back’. I was the only one I ever came across who had a distinct and happy identification with following. In that world, at that time, I was a natural follower. I always felt when I said it there should be shame attached. But I felt none, what it meant for me is that I punched well above my weight very often in who I danced with. I remember being taken out for a test drive by one of the very serious competitive dancers who was looking for a new partner. He danced me round the room with one arm, metaphorically, hanging out of the window – it felt like flying.

A Balloon and the Individisble Dance of Two People

On Tuesday, Frederica asked us to dance with a balloon in the middle as the only thing holding us together – the idea being to sense the connection that you make in that instance (which was the project behind all exercises). It was a bit up-close-and-personal and I was grateful to have somebody I already knew there on the morning, but I’ve got to say Sheelagh and I weren’t ideally matched for this particular exercise given the height difference but we did what we could in the happy cause of process and understanding.

For me, the balloon was like some kind of brilliant indicator species – here indicating the change in connection from two people battling for control of the space, to two people cooperating – with one taking the forward motion route, and the other the guided path.

The thing about when you are controlling you tend to breath in, in anticipation of resistance. The body tense and held away, many (from my perspective of a follower) of the bodies natural communication channels closed down with a single dominating idea of what should happen and the expection that the other person won’t be on board or able to do what you need them to – or worse a dual between two dominating ideas (from my perspective of, euphemistally-speaking, leading from the back).

When either person went into control mode – the balloon lightly flew off, like a canary, in it’s own direction – connection lost, the space collapsing into ‘yours and mine’.

It wasn’t the purpose of Tuesday’s workshop to work on that core-to-core connection, but my memory brought back some wonderful instances where there was such a flow between me and the man I was dancing with that there was a sense of all-one-ness about it (gathering in the music, other people, the room, everything). I can’t really explain it, like there’s been a shift in gears. Did I mention it felt like flying? It’s as close I think as I will ever come.

Vulnerability and the Knowing-Dancer

And the minute either got a controlling thought, the flight would begin a tail-spin. Easy to correct. In a poem of mine called ‘Social Dance’ (Darkhaired), I talk about the traditional roles of leader and follower being worn away. I mean this, of course, in the gendered sense but also in the sense that the leader and follower roles, no matter the gender/sexuality of the body that plays either role, have to have an equal place in the dance – no matter who the dancers are – or the thing won’t take off. Even in the above, I’ve gifted the leader the poll position but, in my heart of hearts, I know it is not so. The follower has to be equally proficient in their own space – otherwise in the poetic words of an ex of mine ‘it’s a battle for light and space’.

Learning the steps jointly, and two people jointly doing them right, is easier than the vulnerability of giving up control – communicating from the core of yourself – body, mind and spirit – until you arrive at a place of trust of both yourself and your dance partner. But my small experience tells me that what I’m calling the ‘Knowing-Dancers’ (the ones who are dancer and dance and who can tell the difference) have to travel that vulnerable road.

Timing and Leadership

And who sets the time? The composer, the musician or the leader? This line of thinking is prompted by (but not in any way explaining ) an earlier paper in the same conference – ‘Sensing Timing in Participation: an Enactive Approach to Musicking’ by Juan Loaiza Restrepo.

Even if you dance without formal music- an earlier incarnation of the ‘Knowing the Dance‘ dance~poems had natural sound as the accompaniment – the measure it seems to me is taken from the outside and this entrainment, as it were, is a different kind of leadership. A disinterested and not quite visible call to the floor which continues whether  the dancers are flying or falling or sitting it out, but one to whom the partners must surrender in order to move gracefully in the updraught of the air.

A Word of Appreciation

Thanks again to Federica Banfi and all those at the Evolving Fields conference for including ‘Knowing the Dance‘ on the programme. It seemed a very good space to showcase the work of the project and my thanks to those who generously participated in the space/workshop exercises. A big thanks, too, to Paula Guzzanti the dance partner in this project which explores the meeting place between poetry and dance and holds it as a creative place in its own right – and to Martin Della Vecchia for bringing music to the space.



In-between and midstream – #KnowingtheDance #EvolvingFields

“Where between is liminal, in-between is arterial; where between is intermediate, in-between is midstream.” – from The Life of Lines by Tim Ingold

WP_20170529_15_23_39_ProVery excited to be sharing a showcase space with dancer/researcher Paula Guzzanti and musician Martin Devek as part of postgraduate conference ‘Evolving Fields: Sensoriality, Imagination and Memory’ taking place at Queen’s University, Belfast. We are sharing some of the Knowing the Dance work with some creative engagement for the participants as well.

Within the framework of the Knowing the Dance exploration of the middle place between poetry and dance, this performance/workshop will throw a spotlight on some of the fascinating features of the dance element and how the explorations in our collaboration may inform research practice generally.  While we are still on the arterial route, I think this is going to be particularly useful because dance – like creative writing (never mind the subset that is poetry) – covers a multitude of different approaches and fields of endeavour. Paula’s particular practice is, in itself, a key component of how the converation between us has been developing.

Paula is currently in the midst of a practice-as-research PhD at QUB. In her research, she uses movement improvisation as a philosophical tool, which means that the theories she is investigating and her practice are deeply interwoven. She uses movement to expand her her level of awareness. You can read more about her work and the Knowing the Dance project from this perspective in an interview created to complement the ‘Evolving Fields’ conference programme HERE.

The Conference itself is really interesting with it’s emphasis on the imagination, memory and sensorial perception (but are the latter part of, or feeders to, the imagination – I wonder?) across the humanities.

And I am out-of-my-mind with excitement that the keynote speaker is Tim Ingold (the key-correspondant of all that moves in lines – straight or otherwise – in this lovely world). I’ve just finished ‘The Life of Lines’ – his latest book and it is all of my favourite things and that is all I have to say.

The conference takes place on the 6/7 June. The full conference programme can be found HERE.

Framing the Landscape #Knowing the Dance

As part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project, dancer/choreographer/researcher Paula Guzzanti and I have been meeting up to create a performance which explores innovative ways that movement/dance and poetry can meet where there is, what I am calling, parity of esteem between the two artforms and where the base of inspiration can move backwards and forwards between the two artforms.  Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, have been the most generous hosts in providing studio space for us to conspire, inspire, experiment and create what I hope will be very interesting and affecting pieces.

Quoile Pondage


WP_20170309_14_52_25_ProOne of our experiments is to use the same landscape as a base of inspiration for a piece of work, where Paula would take the movement forward and, I, the poetry. March, here, can be so fine and last Thursday (9 March) provided the ideal conditions to try this out. Paula and I installed ourselves at Steamboat Quay right at the end of the Pondage – and took a half an hour  with our own process. It was lovely that walkers on the Pondage that afternoon seemed very content with us being there.

An interesting synergy emerged when we shared our work. Both of us had been considering where our attention was being drawn to, and how we we responded to that. When we moved to the studio to work on the piece of work which will, I think, be a key piece, this question stayed with us, acting as a kind of binding of sorts between the two artforms. This is very, very inspirational work. It is a real privilege to be working with Puala – including the fact that she has a writing practice and her current PhD research is examining ‘affect’ and this is adding a dimension to the work which won’t be there without this collaboration – a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation entirely.

The time has come – the Walrus said #lettersfromladyn

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings-“

Oysters don’t be alarmed. My earworm for this week is one of those shorthand phrases that families have. For the Broderick clan it meant – it’s time to take action (often marking the end of one thing and the move to the next – like the end of a day at the beach and the clear-up to go home). For me, this week, it means getting my schedule organised and on the road.

Some wonderful things on the horizon in the next month:

  • Castle Ward Book Fair: Traditionally held in November, but now moved to a June date. In 2016, 11 & 12 June. This little bit of paradise for the average bookorm is organised in conjunction with the wonderful second hand bookshop at Castle Ward.  ‘Words for Castle Ward’ will be hosting a reading on Sunday 12th – and my plan is to also host one or two open workshops during the day. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Belfast Book Festival, 9-19 June:You wait all year for a celebration of books and two come along at the same time! BBF16 is a mighty programme this year. There are two evenings of readings by Templar poets. I’m planning to attend the reading on the 11th. A generous helping of new writing both poetry and fiction, and some great workshops as well.
  • Newry Writers’ Festival, 17-18 June: This is an exciting new development from SRC Newry Campus. A number of members of ‘Words for Castle Ward’ are reading at the evening event at the Sean Holywood Centre. This showcase also includes the launch of SRC’s Creative Writing Journal. All events are free but need to be booked in advance – although I think the evening event may be fully booked at this stage.
  • Remembering Ann Zell, 19 June: I had been a member of the ‘Word of Mouth’ poetry collective for a number of years and was very fortunate to have had sound feedback and encouragement from Ann Zell – as well as the privilege hearing her work as it arrived. Everybody who knew her or her work are warmly invited to a celebration and poetic rememberance of her life at the Crescent Arts Centre at 6pm on the 19 June.
  • Poems on a Sunday Afternoon, 26 June: It’s lovely to see how this gentle space has grown and flourished over time. Particularly this year, we’ve been meeting some wonderful new writers. My thanks as always to Down Arts Centre for partnering on this venture with me. They are stellar to work with. It’s on 2.30-430pm and as always we are looking forward to the opportunity of hearing your words (or songs) on the day.
  • Dundrum Imaginarium, 30/09, 1 & 2/10: Save the date. The programme is just this week finalised for our 2016 Imagainarium. The organisers have had some exciting developments themselves (this nourishing creative retreat can be powerful as well as relaxing). We’ll be putting out a call for participants from June. Exciting times!

In the meantime, I have some great digital/comms work going on as always.

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Dundrum Imaginarium: December Retreat

There’s a view of the Mourne Mountains at the top of the road that I live on. Like Heraclitus’ River – the view is never the same – but even when the Mountains are completely hidden by fog or low cloud, the impact is never less than extraordinary. Sometimes I try and ‘read’ the view, the way that we found faces and shapes in clouds when we were children.

This time of year is particularly wonderful because the air is so clear and the mountains shine their deep blue – and then there has been the smallest skiff of snow giving that lovely distant whiteness to contrast with the indigo.

Dundrum Bay and Murlough are, however, the true domain of the Mourne’s as they sweep down to the sea. The hands of the mountains practically knock on the door of viewers’ imaginations.

Needless to say, I am so looking forward to our second Dundrum Imaginarium. I am in the midst of preparing my bits!

We have a great group booked in for the creative retreat and I am so looking forward to be part of the  gentle creative acts of discovery, connection and exploration that will take place from the 4-6 December in Dundrum and environs.

If you think this might be just what you need, we still have a small number of spaces that we’d love to fill so if you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact dundrumimaginariumATgmail.com (replace AT with @).

Header image: The Great Cat delivers a kitten to the top of the mountain (what do you see?)



Images and uisce beatha (non-alcoholic variety)

No matter where experimentation takes me, I remain profoundly influenced by imagism. For me, the haiku as I understand it (a kind of happy accident between two zen moments which takes you down a third path) is a kind unit of currency in this kind of poetry.

Recently I faciliated a series of workshops which, by way of happenstance, centred on images – finding them; considering the place where verbal and visual images overlap and where they have different strengths and potentials.  We created legends for existing images, selected visual images but presented them in words (why this one and not that, why highlight this but not that?), recreated those images which live only in memory because you didn’t have your camera that day.

On Saturday, I attended a workshop facilitated by the brilliant Colin Dardis and Geraldine O’Kane looking at micro-poetry (‘little miracles’). For me, the short poem is the best because you are pushed to really look at your selected images – anything out of place is quickly discovered.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I’d bought a Hugh MacDiarmaid Anthology and what has held my attention is one of the epigrams with ‘A Glass of Pure Water’ – which reads ‘praise of pure water is common in Gaelic poetry’.  I hadn’t come across it but I love the idea. In fact, I have to admit I like the image of the pure water that he extends out from in the poem to where the poem actually goes – which I need to sit with a bit, I think.

But that idea of the praise of pure water has stayed with me in my imagination. One of my practice pieces at the workshop on Saturday was an attempt at a cinquain based on a jug of water and glasses on the table of the workshop room in the Linenhall Library.

This morning I wrote three short poems (of the non-formal form variety) – one on a selected image (as per Saturday), one giving a legend to an image that I have been carrying around me with for the right time for words to come, and finally, something from my childhood that I very much wish I had a photo (although if I had taken it I suspect that I’d have appeared stranger in my grandmother’s farmhouse in West Limerick than I already did) – two plastic buckets that held springwater, the only drinking water available.

The below is the image I have been carrying around with me. ‘Water, water everywhere…’ as the old poem goes. It’s Monevasia in Greece, July 2011. How haunted we were by the fear of dehydration.




Dundrum Imaginarium

Well a lot has happened since last I posted!!

Not least the inaugural Dundrum Imaginarium – which took place on the first weekend in June in Dundrum, Co. Down and hosted by Rachel Kennedy, Jane Waugh and myself.

Thanks to the intrepid pilot participants who made the weekend retreat to take a breather and to re-imagine the next steps on their journey. May peace and increase come to them all.

And we are plotting and planning a second run later in the year.

Keep an eye on the Dundrum Imaginarium website in the next few months to catch up on how it went, and what is next!