The Peacock Project

It all started almost a year ago, after the Shimmy in the City competition. A couple of people independently had the same idea: could a group of solo dancers come together and learn a dance well enough to perform in a competition? Forming a dance troupe is nothing new, but forming a dance troupe whose members live in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Exeter and London is pretty ambitious.

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Geography was not in our favour, but we thought we could work round that with regular emails, phone meetings and video sharing. What was in our favour was the fact that we were all friends already and had similar styles of dance. Caroline, Elspeth, Hannah, Moyra and Zafirah all knew each other from their time in Edinburgh together, Zafirah and I go way back and I met the others because we kept on seeing each other at Randa’s UK workshops 🙂 so we knew we could get on as a group.

We needed a name though…at first we just referred to what were doing as “The Project”, with the understanding that we’d think of a proper name later. That turned out to be a bit harder than we thought, weeks went by and still noone had any ideas. It wasn’t until we were discussing costumes that inspiration hit. We were discussing colours, Zafirah suggested peacock colours and there was a collective “Oooooooooh!” on the line. It was a short step from there to “The Peacock Project”. There was some discussion of translating it into Arabic, but having heard Arabic names mangled by many MCs over the years it seemed that English was preferable.

The first step of the project to choose our music. A magency was the obvious choice, it’s a good piece of music for a competition anyway and the structure would allow different people to choreograph sections without the difference in style being too jarring. After a bit of editing to bring our music in under the time limit we all chose sections and got to work on our own. We wrote notes and made multiple videos – after all it’s hard to demonstrate the parts for six dancers on your own! The fluffy chicks were a particular highlight.

We had a deadline to work to: our first weekend rehearsal together in Edinburgh. This weekend was focussed on teaching our sections, learning the other sections and seeing if our grand visions could play out in real life. By the end of the weekend we’d learned the whole choreography and had our formation changes mapped out. With videos to help us we went our separate ways to practice, practice and practice some more.

Our second weekend rehearsal was also in Edinburgh, but this time the pressure was on because we were going to perform our dance at the Edinburgh Big Dance on the Sunday afternoon. Elspeth was also taking part in other Big Dance activities, performing with her students and coordinating a bellydance flash mob at the museum. If that wasn’t pressure enough our Friday night rehearsal was much shorter than planned after torrential rain caused landslides which left Zafirah and I stranded on trains for hours, so we had even more to do on Saturday! We remembered a large amount of the group work, and started hammering out the rest of the details, asking questions about issues that had arisen in our solo practice, making decisions on what worked and what didn’t and finding our style as a group. It all worked out in the end and we did our performance on a very gusty stage to an enthusiastic crowd of shoppers.

Our third (and final!) rehearsal was an afternoon in London and sadly one of our flock couldn’t be there due to prior commitments. This was our chance to really dig deep into the details of the choreography and tighten up our formations ready for the competition at Shimmy in the City this Friday. It was also our dress rehearsal, in costumes made by the talented Celia of Edinburgh as well as our in house peacock designer Hannah.

Let me spell it out: we’ve been planning for a year but we’re doing this after five days of dancing all together, and not everyone was there for all of those days. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together. Everyone has contributed in different ways, whether it’s choreographing, teaching, finding rehearsal space, organising travel, editing music, making videos, making costumes or feeding hungry peacocks. I get really tired of people characterising bellydancers as catty divas, this project has shown just how well a group of solo dancers can work together. We’ve formed a cohesive group but you still get a sense of our individual personalities when we dance. As a choreographer it’s been liberating to be able to write choreography for a group of dancers where I know exactly how many people are dancing (ask anyone who has tried to choreograph for a class performance why this matters!) with no restrictions on what I can ask them to do. As a teacher it’s been educational to learn how other people hear and interpret the same piece of music, and be reminded of the different ways we have of learning and remembering. As a dancer it’s been amazing to work with people who love this dance as much as I do. The Peacock journey will not end on Friday!