El Colegio del Cuerpo

"Through dance we can teach children to inhabit their own bodies as a territory of peace and dignity."  Álvaro Restrepo

Field trips for a community school are not really about escaping school bounds; instead, we are expanding our sphere, both of physical space and of personal interaction, to incorporate more places and people into our learning landscape.  Community at Peconic Community School flows both inward and outward – we welcome community into our home as guests, mentors, and learners, and we seek places and people beyond our school walls to call home and from whom to learn.  When a local historian shows us the tools of our land’s first settlers, when we map the stars (our stars!) with an astronomer at the college, when we walk among working artists in their studio, and when we sein our bay for minnows, we offer students the opportunity to feel at home learning in the world – the whole world.  

PCS on the road

Peconic Community School is a great base; but the community is our world, and we got right out into the world this year, with a field trip the second week of school.  PCS students traveled to Greenport’s Peconic Landing retirement community to join thirty senior residents for a day of creative movement led by dancers from Colombia’s El Colegio del Cuerpo (the School of the Body).  

Founded in 1997 in Cartagena de Indias by renowned dancers/choreographers, Álvaro Restrepo (Colombia) and Marie France Delieuvin (France), El Colegio del Cuerpo is, in Restrepo’s own words, “a four-legged animal: artistic, educational, social and political,” and it is exactly this intentional, harmonious intersection of disciplines that spoke so powerfully, so meaningfully -- and yet so gently -- to those in attendance.  It was a day described by participants as “magical,” “special,” “beautiful,” whose beauty, it seems, lies in its having been simultaneously extraordinary and ordinary.

The day’s impressive schedule included a demonstration and performance of excerpts by El Colegio del Cuerpo, followed by an intergenerational movement workshop, a picnic lunch in the courtyard, and finally an original interpretive performance by the dancers in Peconic Landing’s sculpture garden.  The celebration of movement was born of an awe-inspiring collection of ideas, organizations, and artists, and was planned in conjunction with The Watermill Center of Watermill, NY. 



Art in Motion

The Watermill Center (founded in 1992 as a laboratory of inspiration and performance for a global community of artists and thinkers) hosted Álvaro Restrepo, Marie France Delieuvin, and ten dancers from El Colegio del Cuerpo as artists in residence during the month of September, during which time the company not only worked with the local community in workshops, open rehearsals and performances, but also collaborated with members of the Shinnecock Nation to create a performance/ritual to honor victims of internal displacement.

In conjunction with their Watermill residency,  El Colegio del Cuerpo spent one week on the North Fork at Peconic Landing creating an interpretive dance performance in response to Sagaponack sculptor Hans Van de Bovenkamp’s piece “Sagg Portal Bench” which resides in Peconic Landing’s sculpture garden.  Mr. Van de Bovenkamp was in attendance alongside PCS students, senior residents, and the general public to witness El Colegio del Cuerpo, in culmination of the day of creative movement, bring to life the bold stainless steel structure with body, movement, and voice.


An Intergenerational Day of Movement

Like El Colegio del Cuerpo, the Watermill Center is a four legged animal, committed to education and community action as well as artistic production, and together they organized the modern dance demonstration and movement workshop held earlier in the morning.  PCS students watched raptly as the Marie France Delieuvin and the El Colegio del Cuerpo dancers performed excerpts of their work and demonstrated foundational elements of dance. 

And they dove in joyfully as the dancers then invited students and seniors to join in a thoughtful series of improvisations that met each dancer at his or her level.  The series of exercises flowed both in progression: from one to the other, and within the moment: between and among the dancers.  As the dancers engaged each other, the movements built, and the conversation became larger, broadening and intensifying, until the room was pulsing in a multigenerational group call and response -- waves of children and seniors ebbing and flowing in gesture. 

And, it was right here -- at this intersection of individual, community, art, education, place, culture, body, and politic -- where magic happened.  But this magic was not ethereal nor was it artistic in an abstract sense.  It was a true, living magic.  It is the moment where we come alive.  It is where we come, where we arrive, in a place, in a body, and we live -- where we come alive.  And it is this very idea of living through art upon which Álvaro Restrepo founded El Colegio del Cuerpo nearly twenty years ago. 

Living Dance

Working with street kids in Bogotá for two years opened Restrepo’s eyes to the social tragedies of his home country, Colombia, and he drew on his education in music, literature, theatre, and dance to predict that “through dance we can teach kids to inhabit their own bodies as a territory of peace and dignity.”   Álvaro Restrepo’s school of dance (the School of the Body) seizes on art’s ability to be simultaneously transcendent and grounding, personal and political -- empowered to dignify the impoverished bodies of children as they grow and strengthen in their craft.  Further, dance, as a physical art, inspires a profound sense of self respect as the body becomes both the dancer and the dance, the tool and the art. “We have discovered,” says Restrepo, “that contemporary dance is an extraordinary tool to convey ethical values: self-respect, respect for others, recognition of the body as a sacred territory where life takes place.”


And it is this -- the idea of the body as living art -- that the intergenerational Day of Movement Celebrated.  Child dancers, senior dancers, impoverished dancers -- dancers whose abilities in other circumstances may be marginalized by their age or their status -- celebrated the unique abilities and artistry of their bodies.  And what felt so sacred about the territory the dance created was the joy and the ease of spirit that marked the performances, as well as the fundamental respect young and old offered each other so freely through their movements.  It is not surprising that day has often been referred to as magical.   But it may not be the dance or the art, or even the people, that were so magical and so artistic.  Álvaro Restrepo stresses the “concept of life itself as a real and meaningful piece of art,” and it may just be that it was the happening of the day, the time spent in each other’s company, the living of a day of dance that felt so powerful.  

Peconic Community School likewise celebrates the extraordinariness of the ordinary.  As a place-based school committed to an  emergent curriculum, we find great value in our current moment -- in the bodies and minds of our able learners, in the resources of our local community, and in the potential of our unique moment in time .  A day spent out in our local community engaged in a day of joy, ease, and art, like the intergenerational Day of Creative Movement is an opportunity for which we are most grateful.

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