We are open
Waves crash, morning light breaks, runners gather on Hove Lawns. Adults and children, in wet suits, outside the sailing club make circles to stretch and warm. At lunch Darth Vader masked beside the pier bumps knuckles with someone passing knee-high. Two girls one by one jump up and down, bounced by wires, fly four, five, six, then seven, eight feet in the air, caught by men watching closely.
Gulls flock soar, dive for chips, as little legs clamber on shifting pebbles sounding, pulled out pushed back to sea. A wide soft horizon turns to turquoise and the light touches people kissing on the boardwalk, in person and in sculpture. Up the way behind the Dome, beyond buskers clustered, cyclists skirt Victoria Gardens as the leaves fall gold. And as The Number 5 creepsFevered Sleep - Reflections from Brighton and Hove towards Hollingbury a boy giggles in a top deck window patting a big yellow balloon. Beside where the bus stops, across from the Co-op, not far from Pound Land, a bright neon sign says come in we're open.
The Talking Place comes with us everywhere we go with Men & Girls Dance, appearing in shops and cafes and community hubs. For Brighton and Hove it appeared in a place that is all three of these things at once, The Cowley Club on London Road. As the sun spills across the city at lunchtime, hundreds of people each hour pour off the bus, come streaming by. One woman picks up a newspaper from the stack folded outside the door, flicks through the pages and walks away. A girl - who tells us she’s eleven - and her Dad appear in the doorframe, pointing to the poster on the yellow sandwich board with one of the men from our project lifting one of the girls above his head.
She loves to dance, that’s more my her thing,
I’ve just come in for her
People picked up papers and went on their way or chose to cross the threshold and come in for conversation. We sat for the few weekends around Halloween and Half term chatting with folks about men and girls and dance. About where they come from, how they grow up, how they get old, where they then move to. What wee ones might become and why. We heard about Brighton and Hove. About the sea, the Lanes, the pubs and clubs, the parks, the pier and pride. About public stages and private spaces, iconic dances in living rooms, about bopping on beaches at home and on holidays. We heard about places to walk, to talk, to dance, to be together.
Gigs…off course to dance…we’d go to the Concord, near the seafront, near the marina, The Underground, the Jazz Rooms on West Street, the Art room, Sussex Arts Club, the Catfish Club
My children dance,
they grew up in a house where we all prance about
I was a TV Topper, I danced, we all danced,
it’s good for the soul
Busby Berkley, Fred and Ginger, Pan’s People, Andy Williams, The Rat Pack
I saw Nureyev and Fonteyn when I was 12, my Dad took us to the theatre for an annual trip
On holiday, they are so out there with their bodies, big small, old, young, all kinds of different and we are swept away, carried with it, by the music, the dance
Waltzing with my dad at his wedding
And then, I remember being told at twelve I shouldn’t sit on his knee
We heard from some in schools that there seemed to be a lot more pressure to be safe and with that came controlling play. We heard from a man who’d been playing with his nieces - that he’d just met for the first time - that as he’d left and kissed them goodbye, he wondered if that was okay, and in picking up our newspaper he’d begun to wonder why. We learnt more from teachers about massage and mindfulness in primary schools and some other people who came in asked them why it stopped there. Professionals talked with us about the words they follow in their staff handbooks but never speaking with colleagues about what those words really meant to them. We heard about fun and fear and love. We heard what dancing meant to people big and small and their thoughts on what led to growing amazing minds. About magic and imagination and about what keeps us open.
It’s just about trust and play
Dance is free-making
Play, it enhances the mind
You need to imagine you can be whatever you want
Dance connects us
it’s a celebration of life
To feel embodied, truly embodied, to connect better to your-self
and then to others
What’s that? (picks up a water glass) it’s a rocket
What’s that? (picks up a pen) it’s a train
For a child it can be anything
Let them play
We met parents and grandparents, adults and teenagers, reporters and writers, researchers and academics, professional experts and experts of life. People talked about touch and intimacy, about Mum’s and Dad’s, about being asked to babysit and not because of prejudices to with being boys or girls or gay or straight. We heard about who cares for whom and who is allowed to care for whom. We heard about generations of closeness and generations growing apart. Generational shifts. The order of things, rites of passage, markers of time, how we learn, young and old, from who and how. We heard about growing up in different places, the acceptance of what, when and where.
In the war everyone used to look out for everyone,
you just stepped in and took care
Three generations of family in one house
I really love the anarchic nature of my upbringing playing in the streets
We knew the boundaries of our horizons were very limited
Learning to risk assess yourself
Kids live in a more sterile environment, all these things contribute to closeting children
Men have had a tough time
People are afraid. Sometimes I am too, when I’m playing with my nieces and nephews
I remember being critiqued by friends for letting my children go to Preston Park to play as part of Pride
We just saw a boy fall over, hit his face on a scooter and I did pick him up, but I mean…I was in the police for 27 years
But you wouldn’t, shouldn’t…
It’s so sad that we just don’t anymore.
The level of suspicion is shocking
It’s so good to talk to you I work in social care.
Sometimes I can forget why it is I do what I do. It’s good to get out into the community and see what’s happening
A sense of community and a feeling that you belong
People spoke about what this project means to men, what it means for women and about connection and power and trust and transparency. We talked with people who’d picked up the paper, read it and wanted to respond by taking the time to explain - in person - what they had thought they thought and felt. Some people told us they’d noticed how long it took to be able to be really honest, to let what they had lived surfaced, to talk about joy and to talk about fear and to say actually I’m not sure, I don’t know. Some talked about the value of what it is to be able to question, to have concerns, to be unsure, to not have answers and to not be judged.
We have to question why we think, who shouldn’t do what, it’s not just men and girls, it’s what women can do, what men can do, who’s allowed to play, who is allowed to be themselves
I’d take my granddaughter to Queens Park, I felt uncomfortable sat alone in the playground so I’d take one of her jumpers to hold,
They don’t look like dancers, they look like men, I guess I have an idea in my head of what dance looks like and it’s not them or me
I’m training to be a youth worker,
It makes me wonder if there should be a qualification to be a Dad
There’s not enough integration between generations
People are much more aware of the vulnerability of certain groups and children are one of the most vulnerable and with increased awareness it’s become unbalanced
People can exploit fear
What could those men be to those girls? They could inspire them to do anything, to be anything.
I have concerns,
I am concerned
Its great to see the male energy that loves, cares, protects and plays
Sat on sofas in corners quietly collecting thoughts or thinking out loud people shared very frankly what the themes of this project or witnessing the work meant for them. At the Attenborough Centre for the Arts, after each show, we waited and listened to folks who told us in their own words what they saw. Remembering that we all see different things.
To transmit that love, that joy, that dance of abandon
Beautiful, I thought I was open,
I am an artist
But, I felt…uncomfortable
It’s brilliant that you brought that discomfort. That you acknowledge that it’s there
It was very provocative and I’m just really happy to see men standing up for the rights of all of us to have relationships that are tactile, so that we use our power very delicately
I saw they had power
And that was used openly
This is the heart of my work I needed this, working with innocence, protecting innocence, this is innocence
It’s reminding all people now that there is goodness in the world
And as we often have in The Talking Place this year we got on to talking about words. About which one’s are useful, about how they get used and by who. What gets put down on paper, what gets said in whispers and what gets said out loud. Which words, which stories are recorded and remembered and which ones we forget are there to be heard.
It’s the art form that isn’t so much about verbal communication
Those words, they shouldn’t be, but they are
Its saddens me that we’ve lost children’s voices
I have a whole new language
We don’t have enough words for love
We heard a lot in this Talking Place that Brighton has always been a place of openness. We heard about sharing space, about honesty and invitation and anxiety amidst uncertainty. And these thoughts and words and feelings came about because of people, who took some time to look, at the newspaper, at a poster, to come and see the show and then chose to talk. In front of a bright glowing sign that says come in we’re open.
We made that sign as a welcome, an invitation. We’ve felt so welcome here in this place where we have heard people talk about their hopes and fears and dreams and prides. About celebrating children, about celebrating who you are and about what matters most. These conversations felt so welcome in these spaces for re-imagining - The Cowley Club and Attenborough Centre for Arts – and by those – South East Dance’s The Dance Space - that are being dreamt.
Here we remembered that we have ben so warmly welcomed everywhere we’ve been this year, by the people who live and work and play in Folkestone and Huddersfield, Salford and Nottingham, Brighton and Hove. And we have noticed the importance of that.
We remembered all the people we have listened to and talked with, all the men and all the girls, who have danced together. Shared their stories, their memories, their moves, themselves, so generously.
We remembered all the wonderful people who worry and wonder and love and care.
All the people who are all still beautifully open.