Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15
All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began
In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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marg
Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page
operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind
bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

wind

I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies
a sea of bodies

 

Spirited Bodies follow-ups: Part 1, a model from the Summer event speaks of the changes in her since modelling

I never had any expectations of life modelling – I didn’t know if I’d love it or hate it; whether I’d feel shy or be unable to stay still for any amount of time. I had no idea of what to expect. I sort of just closed my eyes and dived in.

I began to look in to life modelling a little more than 6 months ago. I was beginning to explore my own creativity and love for the arts. I have a deep respect for artists and, though I doubt my ability to hold a pencil, I wanted to be artistic in my own right, in a way I thought I could.

I used to be a gymnast, I have an awareness of my own body and how my body expresses my emotions – through illness when I’m stressed, in my expressive or closed body language in different situations – but that awareness did not automatically equate to a consciousness, and rarely to control.

Coincidentally, at the same time as I was beginning my own creative journey and recognition of my body’s expressive capabilities, I was feeling dissociated from the way my body looked. I felt unattractive, my body had changed since being a teenager – I was beginning to look more like a woman and I felt betrayed. What do you mean I won’t have abs of steel unless I exercise! Why do my curves have to wobble?! And where did that bottom come from?! I knew I was still petite, I just am that build but there was no denying my body was new to me and some how I ‘d have to learn to love it, or I’d be in for years of hell trying to regain my teenage physique.

Meanwhile, I had been in touch with an artist and tutor from Kingston University who put me in touch with you, Lucy. I decided, what better way to reconnect with my body, to regain control and accept my new body than to take my clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers! I jumped in.

From my warm welcome at Spirited Bodies and my initial meet with Esther, I was immediately put at ease. Now all I’d have to do was undo my robe…

Any trepidation I felt before stripping off disappeared the moment my robe hit the floor. This was something I could do and damn it, I would work and concentrate as hard as I can to let these artists know a story about me.

This idea of modelling being an opportunity to tell a story about me is something I keep coming back to. Each session I model I find a theme emerges from the first pose. That then dictates what kind of pose will follow and so on, until I have re-enacted (or just acted) frozen images from previous (or fantasy*) experiences. A whole session allows the kind of freedom of expression I rarely get verbally. I use the language of my body to reconnect with my own thoughts, feelings, memories and try to send those stories out to any artist who might be ‘listening’.

There are times I leave a session feeling, though exhausted, rejuvenated. It is a cathartic, cleansing experience.

I seek to connect with an artist in a non-verbal way where they hear my story and it stirs something in them and they draw accordingly. A synching of experience.

I am a singer and this same ‘synching’ can happen at times musically too. This is when you get the ‘buzz’ and you can feel it coming off all the musicians performing too. There have been times where I’ve come close to this experience through modelling and it is that feeling that I continue to seek. That drives me to concentrate and work hard at each session and to hope for a commission with an artist I connect with in such a way. I would love to be part of a working-relationship to achieve a picture which is an insight into both the artist and the model. Achieved by collaboration.

My preferred length of pose is about 20-30 minutes – at this time I ache enough to have to fight for it, not so much I begin to hate it! I find it is long enough to both test and train my concentration on that ‘tableaux’ that is in my head.

*I want to make a point about life modelling being very removed from a sexual nature for me. I try to express my inner ‘Gaia’ rather than, well you know. I feel nakedness has an innocence about it that is too often forgotten and yes sometimes in nakedness we are sexual beings but I try to avoid being provocative as it’s not something I’m comfortable with. I feel the need to raise this because so many friends (even artists!) think that it is of a sexual nature. So far the one with the greatest understanding, who I told of my ambitions most fearfully, has been my Mum! She is even considering having a go herself.