Dancing Bodies in Coventry - June 2020 Residency

Kate Lawrence worked alongside the Romanian Roma community. Workshops and interviews were carried out in a digital environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kate was commissioned to create work that is built on a reading of the past DBiC materials already produced within the project and ask them her to interview local citizens and to explore the city of Coventry through their eyes. The residency was a meeting ground between practitioners, researchers, artists,  and local citizens.

Vertical Dance- Kate Lawrence

Vertical dance is an exciting, emerging form of dance that typically uses rock climbing equipment (ropes, harnesses and abseil devices) to suspend dancers off the ground on a range of vertical surfaces.  It takes place in a variety of locations, from theatres and their foyers to the outside of buildings and rock faces. Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence (VDKL) are one of a limited, but growing number of companies worldwide specialising in this new dance genre.  Artistic Director, Kate Lawrence has 30 years experience as a dance artist and 15 years specialising in Vertical Dance.  The company was constituted in December 2014 for the promotion of arts activities and builds on Kate’s collaboration with rigger Simon Edwards. We are proud to live and work in North Wales and are strongly committed to working with local people.

The overall aim of The Roma Project (based in Coventry, UK) is to tackle the exploitation of the Roma community in Coventry and to advance their social inclusion within the city.

The Roma Project in Coventry was founded in 2010 in response to a need within the community. It has always been a project that is run by the community and has evolved to try to meet the changing and growing needs that have been identified within the community.

The current Board that steers the project includes members of the Roma Community. They have recognised the need to build capability and capacity within the organisation in order to move forward and make more impact on the issues facing the community. The project has a goal of forming a youth committee board. Youth engagement and supporting Roma Women and children is a priority of the Roma Project.

We have won several awards for our work with the Roma Community.

Kate, Rosa and members of the Roma community had several meetings where Coventry, family, identity and home were discussed. The families each reflected on their time in Coventry in a very warm way and felt the city was welcoming and inviting. Each family discussed and described "Home"  in a number of ways. This inspired the research team to go further and explore homes in different parts of the world. 

How are homes made?  
They can be built, physically, with bricks and mortar or other materials…  But they only become real homes when the people who inhabit them give them life, care for them and make memories in them.  Those memories travel with us so our sense of home can always be with us in our minds.  This picture shows a building which has embedded historical artefacts into its walls as a living history. 

Finally, our bodies are our homes – fantastic organic structures that carry us around, look after us as we look after them.  Our bodies are to be nurtured, like the homes we life in.      

Homes in nature

This is a house built on a rock  in a river in Serbia by a group of young men who thought that it was a perfect spot for a small shelter.  Here is a home to get away from home it seems...  One of the women we interviewed said that having a home doesn't mean you have to stay there, 'it is a place to come back to'.

A connection with nature is important to us even if we live in a city.  This picture shows how someone (again in China) took this desire for a connection with nature to an extreme!

Look how cosy Dai's little home pod is!

How long does it take to ‘feel at home’?  One family I spoke to repeatedly told me they had been in Coventry five years and said that they felt at home in the city but that it took time.   Another family said they had been in the UK for 9 years and that they felt an extremely strong connection to Coventry as their home: that when they travel they can't wait to come home.  What is it that makes us ‘feel at home’?   And could we ‘feel at home’ anywhere?  What are the factors that contribute to this feeling?  I suggest that we need to be welcomed by friendly people and a friendly environment.  One of the Roma women said 'when you give respect you receive back the same'.  We need spaces that are safe, exciting and inspiring.  We need a sense of family and of community around us, even when our family is not with us.  Making a home in a new place can be a chance for a new life, for a better life, especially for the next generation, for the children.

Also in China, Dai Haifei's mobile house is near his office in Beijing.  Costing about 1000 dollars to build, it is made of bamboo strips and a mattress, covered by a layer of heat preservation and water-proof material, with patches of bags stuffed with wood peelings and grass seeds that can grow when spring comes, covering the house like a quilt and introducing a bit of nature into the urban environment.  

Can we take our sense of home with us?  Some people, like the Roma, take their homes with them – they are mobile.  So the idea that home is a stable, fixed place is not necessarily true for everyone. This is the extraordinary makeshift home of Liu Lingchau, a migrant worker who built this mobile home from bamboo, plastic bags and bed sheets, weighing around 60kg to carry as he returned home to Guangxi from Shenzhen in China.  He walked an average of 20 km per day and supported himself by collecting garbage.  This man was desperate to return home and it looks like he 'made the impossible possible', in the words of one of the Roma women we interviewed.

What is home?
My name is Kate Lawrence and I have spent most of my life looking for home.  I grew up all over the world as my father worked for the British Council so our ‘home’ changed every 5 years.  This made me feel rootless and also made me yearn for a stable unchanging home of my own.  I have now found a home that I have been in for 10 years in North Wales.  When Rosa invited me to take part in this project she suggested that I talk to the Roma community about their experience of living in Coventry.  I immediately thought of one word: HOME.  Talking to young Roma people about home, and what makes a home made me want to explore this idea further.  
As children we might have been asked to draw our home and these pictures tell stories about how children feel about their homes.  A home should surely feel safe, a place where we are protected.  I was struck by how important family is to creating a sense of home for the Roma young people.  This was tied to events where the extended family met to celebrate, perhaps for barbeques or to mark occasions.  Alongside this, I noticed how important the sense of play and adventure was as the young people described Abbey Park in detail:  a castle, trees, a lake and a network of secret passageways.  This made me think about how our sense of home is linked to our sense of the world as a place to explore; both exist in a balance.  Are we more confident in the outside world if we have a safe place to return to?   

The History of the Gypsy Roma Traveller community is complex.  This video by the Open Society Foundation offers a concise history. Europe is home to 10-12 million Roma, yet many Europeans are unable to answer the basic question, “Who are the Roma?” The remarkable history of Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers in Europe, beginning over 1,000 years ago, tells a story of diversity, creativity, and survival.

The Roma originated in India

Several scholars debate the historical journey of the Roma community. Linguistic analysis suggests that the Roma are originally a Hindi people from northern India, and that "Rom" means human.  Many of the words and grammatical rules of the Romani language are virtually identical to those of the Hindi language. The international flag of the Romani people was agreed and approved by the representatives from the various Romani communities at the first World Romani Congress (WRC), held in Orpington in 1971 in the UK. The flag has a background of blue and green, representing the heavens and earth, respectively and in the centre it also contains a 16-spoke red chakra, or cartwheel, in the center. The latter element stands for the itinerant tradition of the Romani people and is also an homage to the flag of India, added to the flag by scholar Weer Rajendra Rishi.

Passing it On

We asked young community members to explain what it means to be Gypsy.
“Wonderful. I mean being Gypsy is I don’t know I’m proud of it. It’s being confident in who you are and no matter your surroundings you keep your traditions and everything.”

And how it feels to be Gypsy in Coventry
“We’ve technically lived here our whole life so feel like we belong here now”
“We feel very comfortable because here in Coventry there’s so many different cultures, it’s a multi-cultural city and I think that’s why we feel comfortable and we’ve found our place here. And because of this there’s tolerance with one culture to another, there’s acceptance”

What does home mean to you?

Where the family is.
               Where you want to live forever.
                                       Where you’re surrounded by love.
                                                                        Where you find comfort.

New beginnings

Laura has since completed school, gone on to get full-time work in the city, and has started a family of her own. She continues to support others in her community and shares her love for art and painting with her younger siblings. When asked what home means to her she replied "Home is where my FAMILY is. Home is the safest place where I can be, the place where I don't have any constraints 😌. Home is not just a place, home is about  feelings and the people I love ❤ ".