FORCED DISPLACEMENT

A putrid smell was always in the air, flies everywhere and only dirt roads. Every time a car would pass, it would send up trails of dust throughout the entire favela. I had a group of thirty children between 10 and 12 years of age.

I have worked in one such distressed community at an early age, teaching dance and body motion, in a particularly troubled area by the garbage dump. A putrid smell was always in the air, flies everywhere and only dirt roads. Every time a car would pass, it would send up trails of dust throughout the entire favela. I had a group of thirty children between 10 and 12 years of age. In the morning they went to school and in the afternoon they would take elective courses that I taught. At first it was impossible to do any activity because the children were always fighting about every thing, however small. Black eyes and broken noses were an everyday occurrence. If two children were fighting in front of me, I could stop them, only for another two or three to start fighting behind me.All my time was going into disciplinary measures rather than developing the dance program. I decided to create a system of conflict resolution, if only to stop the bloodshed. With masking tape, I made a square, 1.5 x 1.5 meters, on the floor in the middle of the room. If any problems arose between two children, they had to resolve in the square following a specific set of rules. The purpose of the activity was to push the opponent out of the square without hitting, kicking or otherwise striking them with any body part. The first to leave the square was the loser and received the burden of being a loser. I started to realize that, within the square, the children were achieving exactly what I had hoped to give them: all of their aggression was being channeled into body motion. It made them stronger in respecting each other’s personal space as well as managing the common space that they both occupy. In addition to some basic concepts in dance, such as the displacement of weight, awareness of one’s own center of mass, and that of the other, the children independently discovered some more advanced concepts, which I had not  thought to include in my lesson plan. It was there that I started to discover that in certain cases and in certain contexts it does not work to see a product in terms of method, pedagogy, etc. In such cases, it is necessary to create relational systems that link the characteristics of the participants. The children used their skills and strategies to win the “fight”. There were no outside authorities making decisions for them or suppressing confrontation, they alone took control over the game, generating new strategies and rules and circulating them throughout the school. They were no longer a part of my class; the system took on a life of its own and the fights, though not completely deterred, were reduced to dancing games.

“Force displacement” by Raul Saldarriaga, Dansateliers Rotterdam 2012. Choreography and dance methodology based in the pedagogical experience in Colombia.