We always referred to Lliane Loots, Artistic Director of Flatfoot Dance Company, as “Goddess”. Apart from feminist discourse and embracing yourself as an empowered woman, this Goddess taught me when to tread lightly and when to stamp my feet firmly on the earth.
I was two years into my first advertising job after college when Lliane called to ask me to be one of the 10 founding members of Flatfoot Dance Company. I remembered my days in the student company of the same name with such joie de vivre that I could not get the thought out of my mind. Advertising, at the time, was a male chauvinistic torcher chamber that did more to snuff my creativity and self worth than ignite it. I left the yellow-painted terrifying grip of Ogilvy and escaped to become a full-time dancer in Durban.
Mornings in studio began with the rolling up and down of the spine, stacking our bones above our feet and feeling the imaginary thread pulling up from the tops of our heads. Then came floor work. Here we would pay tribute to Martha Graham the goddess of contemporary dance and train the pelvis to contract and release. Standing up again, we would salute Erik Hawkins by acknowledging that ‘the arms are where the back puts them’. Laban Technique allowed us to travel from school to school teaching the privileged and underprivileged ones for R10 a class.
There was not a lot of money and we were constantly developing proposals and finding ways to survive. I lived with my parents and got two other jobs to make sure that I wasn’t behaving like the child that refuses to fly from the nest. I was infinitely happy.
Being a dancer is like tracing out the invisible lines in the planes of Life. You play in the suspended arena between reality and dream state. It is about awakening a consciousness that slumbers in other moments. When I dance, I am wholeheartedly consumed by the moment. Everything that troubles, nags and hurts disappears. I am present. I am conscious. I am alive.
I remember learning choreography and preparing for shows with the Company. We would train late into the night and just when we thought we couldn’t run the piece one more time, Lliane would make us tap our sternums and we’d find the energy again. Clare made us simple company t-shirts and we cut out the necklines as dancers do. The work was always profound – from dancing with teacups to the words of Elliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, to exploring the myth of Orion and Artemis over an anti-apartheid backdrop while learning to move like salmon, to exploring the idea of being strangers in a strange land. Lliane helped us throw ourselves into every sliver of choreography. My family and friends always sat in the front row and my brother always teased me about our body-slapping, breath-filled moves. I loved every minute.
Every time I stood in front of the audience for curtain call, I was thankful. Because somewhere inside I knew that being able to dance was a gift on loan and I knew that it wasn’t a journey that would last forever.
I chose to leave Flatfoot Dance Company for a few reasons – some of them utterly stupid – like love (or what I thought was love). Today, I work in advertising again and I don’t feel regret or bitterness because I had my time in the spotlight. But sometimes I do wonder whether I will ever feel as fulfilled as I felt as a dancer. I wonder if my mission to make good conscious dents in the world can be achieved while I look after brands. I wonder if the choreography I do in this world will move people. I wonder if after suspension, I can still find my release and I wonder if I am allowing my soul to dance.
Flatfoot Dance Company is an amazing creation born out of a true Goddess that challenged the idea of who can dance and how. Flatfoot Dance Company, you are in my muscle memory. You have a permanent space on the dance floor in my heart. Thank you for giving me a space in yours.
Thank you Lliane, Clare, Wesley, Marise, S’phelele, Sfiso, Ntokozo, Caroline, Seren, Musa and Wells.
Love and Chukkas.