Louise Pestell & Bethan Peters delivering contemporary and creative dance workshops into the non-profitable organization "Retoños de Lucha y Sueños" Uruguay.
Why did you make the decision of carrying out this project in Uruguay for “Retoños de Lucha y sueños”?
Beth and I have our own non-profit organisation called Arts Odyssey. Through this we deliver projects which focus on using the arts to bring communities together both in the UK and internationally. We found out about the fantastic work that Retonos do in Bella Union through a friend and colleague who told us they were interested in hosting a dance project. We were put in contact with the founder of Retonos and started conversations with her about what we could offer and how to make it happen.
What was the idea of the project?
Retonos work with children who suffer from malnutrition and or disabilities. This often leads to marginalisation in a community and we aimed to use dance to help combat this issue. The idea of the project was to deliver contemporary and creative dance workshops with children, teenage and adult groups who would then gradually come together for a performance for members of their community.
What was the main challenge for both of you?
The language difference was difficult for us both. Whilst we have been trying to learn some Spanish our skills are limited and didn’t always stretch to the vocabulary you need to deliver a dance project! However, we were really lucky to work with a Spanish dancer who could bridge the divide. We had also tried to learn dance vocabulary and parts of the body before we got there.
We managed to find our own ways to communicate when the language was difficult and the participants were very supportive. They were eager to help us learn and in exchange I think we taught them some English too!
Did you know anything about Uruguay and the area you visited beforehand?
Louisa has visited Uruguay for a day trip from Buenos Aires before but that was it. We knew the area we were visiting was very close to the border with Brazil so we hoped the weather would be warmer. We researched into the culture beforehand by interviewing a native Uruguayan living in London and the director of Retonos.
We were aware that the main industry of Bella Union was cutting sugar cane and that some of the areas were quite deprived.
How was your arrival to the country?
Cold! We flew into Montevideo where we were generously hosted by a lovely family. The coach trip to Bella Union was long but we had a very warm welcome from the community. On arrival we were met by a lady who works for Retonos who gave us Mate and then walked us to our accommodation with a local family. We couldn’t believe how many dogs there were in the town or how much it rained in the night!
Tell me about the experience and the people you met there.
We were very lucky to meet many members of the community who seemed excited by our visit. We stayed for three weeks and had nearly 100 people participate in the dance workshops. At the end of the three weeks we produced two performances in the local cinema to an audience of community members and schools.
We found all of the participants to be very enthusiastic and committed. We were surprised by the level of creativity and passion for dance. The majority of the participants had not had the opportunity to be involved in a dance project where they performed in a formal setting and we hope we managed to offer something new and interesting to all.
Over the three weeks we worked with nominated youth leaders who developed their teaching and dance skills in order to carry on delivering dance activity once we had left. We are delighted to hear that is still happening.
Due to the number of participants and intensive nature of this project it was very hard work but hugely rewarding. We watched young people grow in confidence and work together in a way that brought people together to achieve something special. One of the main aims of the project was to integrate the disabled and non disabled community. By the performance we had disabled and non disabled children, teenagers and adults creating and dancing together.
Tell me about the work this charity is doing there and what you learnt from it?
Maria Elena and Cholo who direct the charity are inspiring. They have dedicated their lives to the Bella Union community. Maria Elena is also a doctor in Las Laminas, the suburb of Bella Union we were working in and new the families and their needs well. The most important thing they have done is provide and build a space for these families to met and socialise. They have strengthened their community through love and support. The centre was full of smiling children who clearly adored them.
How did you feel at the end of the project, which one were your sensations before leaving Uruguay?
We were very sad to say goodbye to the participants but left feeling ecstatic after their wonderful performance. We felt very proud of what they had achieved and saw that the hard work had paid off. We felt tired but so pleased we had visited as we will never forget our experience and hope that those we worked with don’t either.
What is the most important thing you would emphasize about the project itself?
We felt that being prepared was important but not as important as getting to know the people we were working with and adapting the project to them so it was most beneficial. We also thought it was more important that the process of working together creatively was valuable than the end product being the main aim.
If you want to add anything else, please…..Future projects in mind……
We are currently in the process of applying for funding for future projects. We hope that these are both in London and abroad and would love to visit Bella Union again in the future.