Emilia teaching children at the Rainbow School in Thailand via Zoom
My name is Emilia Ramsay and I am a final year student on the BA (Hons) Dance Degree at the University of Suffolk in partnership with DanceEast. I have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to many opportunities as a result and today I am sharing one of my favourites.
February 2020, unknowing of what the rest of the year was to bring, I was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity from one of my lecturers, Takeshi Matsumoto. I was asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him and a selection of other artists to deliver his annual Stateless Children project in Thailand, a dance film project. Extremely surprised and honoured I accepted the opportunity. This would be my first professional job and opportunity to work with like-minded people.
The project works with Rainbow School on the Thailand and Myanmar border. The school is a residential school for vulnerable children from local Kanchanaburi tribes. They provide accommodation and a primary education and the children continue further education at nearby schools but are able to continue living at Rainbow School. The ethos of the school is to allow these children to build their own identity and individuality while having the opportunity to build balanced living style through engaging with both nature and technology. Respecting nature and preserving indigenous culture is also a core value of the school.
I was interested in this project as it incorporated dance with humanitarian work. So often I have felt that my job is insignificant compared to those who provide international aid. This gave me the opportunity to combine what I love and excel at while tackling the global issue of statelessness. The desire to tackle wider, global issues through the medium of dance, was something I felt Takeshi was able to relate to and therefore, was someone I was keen to work with outside of university.
March 2020; Lockdown announced. Borders closed across the world and travel was restricted. The trip to Thailand could no longer go ahead. However, with much patience, resilience and a second lockdown, we had, like many other artists, planned to deliver sessions via Zoom. I was as ecstatic as I was when first given the news. Takeshi asked if I would like to teach the group independently, working on Ballet and Contemporary technique as well as preparing a piece of choreography for a show. I was keen to be involved in any way possible and changed our approach to focus on teaching instead of film making, the aim to keep the children involved with dance even when unable to support in person. I was so excited to teach my own class and have the opportunity to create with these wonderful children, I began devising and delivery.
Yes, it was different, but I feel it has worked out so well, if not better. I have not been confined to two weeks of intense delivery but instead been able to have weekly classes with Rainbow School, rehearsing for their upcoming showcase (date TBC). I have been repeating ballet and contemporary exercises each week to cement correct alignment and technique. Afterwards, we spend the rest of the class rehearsing set choreography. A piece without lyrics I felt was best as it would not present any language barrier. I ended up choosing the theme of ‘War of the Worlds’ and devising a disco alien inspired piece. I was nervous about this idea as it seemed a little crazy but luckily the children really enjoyed it, and that was all I wanted. We are also now working on movement material for a film the school is making, following the experience of a bear exploring nature and his own self-worth.
Emilia performing in her End of Year Show (2021)
Photo by Lesley van Dijk
I have learnt so much being involved with this project and have gained so much confidence for independent delivery. Communicating ideas and instructions effectively with a language barrier and translator was particularly daunting but a great learning experience for delivering material clearly and concisely. Also working with younger children was something I previously had little experience of and learning how to keep young dancers engaged and while delivering virtually, has been a very valuable lesson I have learnt.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and feel incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity. It has been incredible to work internationally, and the children are so keen, dedicated and an absolute joy to work with. Takeshi has been an excellent mentor as well as interpreter throughout. I hope I will be welcomed back to the school for other future projects and one day maybe even in person.