Dance for Peace: Open Floor in Kenya
Reviewed By: Celia Bray
Language availability: English
Open Floor teacher Celia is an Australian multi-award winning community development specialist working with NGOs, government and business communities internationally. She brought conscious dance to Kenya in 2014 to assist with trauma healing and tells us about her mission to create spaces for self expression and internal peace to flourish.
On 21 September 2013 there was a terrorist attack in my neighbourhood in Nairobi that lasted 3 days. 67 people were killed and hundreds injured. My intuition told me that the body was a way that people could authentically explore their pain and heal without having to say anything or be scared they might be taken advantage of. I could create a safe place for people to be with their pain and let the body guide their healing. I decided to organise a combined conscious dance/Gestalt therapy workshop and with the help of my teacher, Madhuma Thompson who fund-raised, we brought a teacher from South Africa. After the success of the 3-day trauma healing workshop, I started to offer movement based trauma healing in hospitals and communities and I was asked to run a body based movement retreat for the counsellors who were treating the victims of the attack.
A community formed after that first workshop in Nairobi. They wanted to continue the dance so I started teaching ‘Community Dance for Peace’ nights where we took time to be present to the reality of the violence that surrounded us in a life affirming way. They were well attended with a range of participants from all socio-economic backgrounds, people impacted by terrorism and trauma, people with disabilities, professionals in the healthcare profession, people living in the most disadvantaged communities in Kenya. I always had a ‘recommended donation’ payment system to make it accessible for everyone which worked really well and it was wonderful to see how the community supported each other to participate and connect, no matter what their limitations.
I noticed that many Kenyans I met said they do not feel emotionally or physically safe, and that self-reflection is often not prioritised. There is so much duplicity in people’s lives as they ‘preach water, drink wine’ (Kenyan saying). People would tell me that they could not be open and honest with other people as it would be used against them. This results in a reactionary ‘eye for an eye’ way of dealing with violence. Either that, or a deep sense of powerlessness and inaction without the chance to process trauma. I realized that I could not do much to prevent the violence but I could create spaces where people could feel safe to connect with their authentic self, their honesty, their soul and regenerate. And what I saw, was that having opportunities to explore their inner world through embodied movement, was appealing to Kenyan dancers.
Kenya taught me that the yearning to have moments where we are connected to our authentic truth in a safe and supported environment is critical for wellbeing and healthy ways of coping – especially in societies where trauma is a part of the landscape. Living in a culture where I felt so unsafe was exhausting and depleting on many levels and ultimately I needed to return to Australia to regenerate. The joy of walking down a street feeling safe is something I will appreciate for a long time to come. In Kenya, the dance was my oxygen.
In the words of…Moses Audi a 31 year-old Kenyan dancer “My first time to experience this kind of dance/art was a bit weird to me, I couldn’t understand the art displayed by this kind of space. But one thing I realized is; I always feel so light, sensitive, fresh and energetic after the dance, and missing it makes me feel so detached, rough and insensitive…The Dance is always like a process of formatting my Hard-drive. In Kenya many people are aggressive, detached, insensitive and judgmental in all spheres of life. When people are insensitive and detached they don’t care about other people’s feelings and this has been a catalyst to polarization and ethnic animosity and a threat to Kenyan peace. Open Floor creates a platform where community members can be vulnerable without being judged, and I think it made me have friends from other tribes and the space makes us interact freely, and when we share some of the dance music it always reminds me of the special community. For me the conscious dance is like a Tribe… I can call it Tribe-peace!”
Find out more about where to dance with Celia.
Photography: dancing photos – Leon Beckx
Other photos – Celia at peace building forums and programs around Kenya