Reflections on an extraordinary year by Creative Dance London Founder & Artistic Director, Elizabeth Arifien

‘It dawned on me this weekend that it has been one year since I began to offer facebook live dance sessions from my living room. This was my way of offering movement to anyone who needed it during the first lockdown. With the support of the community we reached over 20,000 people in the first few months of Facebook live sessions and have since expanded from this to something beyond anything I could have imagined.

Creative dance is such a beautiful, expressive, honest and unique way to move and in all honesty, I had no idea it existed until I was accepted onto a course at London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) for an improvisational intensive in 2018. This was led by Seke Chimutengwende, Rick Nodine and Jamie McCarthy. All of these people had such a profound impact on my return to movement. For the first time, I was moving without judgement of myself, I was free. I couldn’t believe I had trained in dance for 20 years and had never come across the artistry and liberation within improvisation. I was so moved I remember crying in one of our closing circles, my emotions were a mixture of huge frustration that I was only just finding this way of expressing myself but equally a relief to have found this new language for me to communicate through. I guess hearing how new I am to creative dance may be strange to hear, given that I founded an organisation around it. My background in dance has come from Musical Theatre (tap, ballet, jazz) and Latin American and Ballroom dance and within these bubbles, improvisation does not exist.

After the course at LCDS and other improvisation based courses, I was offered the opportunity in 2018 to manage and deliver a class for a wonderful group of older adults in Tottenham (Creative Dance 60+). This session was founded by Dr Jackie Richards in 2010 and managed from 2016 by dance-artist Molly Wright - who was going on maternity leave. This was a leap in many ways for me - teaching a very new style of dance and working with adults aged 60+. Nonetheless, I dived in and got to work. The CD60+ dancers taught me more than I think I taught them and they have provided so many life lessons, mainly around the importance of community. Above all I have learned the beauty we all hold within our bodies as individuals and creative dance has expanded my creative world no end. I now use improvisation-based practices to inform all of my choreographic work.

By combining the diverse and eclectic Wednesday morning dance class happening in Tottenham (called Creative Dance 60+), and a community organisation I had founded in 2016 to represent underrepresented voices within the arts (called Visceral Creative), Creative Dance London was born. Founding Creative Dance London seems to have been created naturally, I was just reacting to the situations I was being placed in. I don’t feel I have had the time to reflect on what has been happening over the last year, until now. And when I do, I think, ‘damn, how could you have founded Creative Dance London, so fresh to this world of improvisation?’, yet, here I am improvising my way.

We are now a growing team of six with classes running online weekly by three fantastic facilitators, with monthly offerings of a virtual live DJ set and lots more in the pipelines. I am so proud of the space that we all collectively provide within the sessions. It is so special, and I am so very thankful to Molly and Jackie along with the extraordinarily talented collaborators of Visceral Creative because they allowed me the freedom to develop our works into Creative Dance London. Let’s hope the universe continues to bless us with opportunities that bring a little more joy into the world so we can keep giving back to this hurting planet of ours.’

Elizabeth x

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