Dance wherever you may be

Transformative ...  Caroline Plummer fellow Kristie Mortimer  was locked out of her project by...
Transformative ... Caroline Plummer fellow Kristie Mortimer was locked out of her project by the Covid-19 lockdown but devised an escape plan. Photo: Supplied
The late Caroline Plummer’s vision to inspire,  educate and bring healing and peace to the community through dance empowered Kristie Mortimer.

So when the Covid-19 lockdown hit, she did not let it stop her in her mission to bring dance to prisoners. Rebecca Fox reports.

Dance has been so transformative for Kristie Mortimer she wants to share that experience with as many people as possible, especially those who might find it difficult to access the art form.

As this year’s Caroline Plummer Fellowship in Community Dance recipient, Mortimer had planned to share her passion for dance with offenders at the region’s corrections facility through weekly dance classes.

But the Level 4 lockdown came in the week before she was due to hold her first session, putting that part of her project on hold.

‘‘It’s not quite how I thought 2020 would go, so I’ve had to adapt quite a bit.’’

So, instead of going into a prison to deliver the project, she is developing a resource to help others deliver dance in a corrections environment.

The guidelines include information on the role of a teacher, aims, content and activity ideas.

‘‘The other part we are working on is sort of an instruction manual of some set classes that can be taught to help someone already in the prison setting to deliver the classes.

‘‘I’m trying to make it transferable so other groups in the community could use it as well — families, schools or youth residences. Places where it might not be accessible to bring someone in.’’

She hopes she will be able to distribute that and get some feedback to continue developing it after restrictions end.

‘‘Hopefully, community dance of some sort can continue while we are in this situation at the moment.’’

While the project is different from what she intended, she hopes it still falls in line with the fellowship’s values around the community and dance accessibility.

‘‘I want to do my best by it. I feel it’s quite a meaningful and special fellowship to have so I wanted to live up to its potential. It’s a resource that is dance that can be accessed by anybody and used in different ways.’’

Kristie Mortimer works with her holiday dance class in Auckland. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Kristie Mortimer works with her holiday dance class in Auckland. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
It will, hopefully, mean the project will have a longer life than it might have had.

She envisaged ‘‘dance’’ in the context of a corrections facility would involve a mix of hip-hop and contemporary creative movement with some fitness and conditioning work.

‘‘It would allow them to share their own way of moving. We’d need to establish an environment where they were willing to be themselves, have fun in a safe and comfortable environment.’’

Mortimer had hoped that, ultimately, they would be able to work towards a performance of some sort.

The setback has been a disappointment for Mortimer, whose previous research during her master’s degree centred around dance in prisons.

‘‘I’ve read lots about it, talked about it with lots of people. The interest has always been there but I never had the opportunity to facilitate and do it myself before. To have the opportunity to do some community dance in a corrections facility was very exciting.

‘‘I hope I can still do it. If I don’t, I have a resource I could use beyond the fellowship as well.’’

Her interest in dance in prisons began during her undergraduate studies when she heard someone talk on the topic and then got talking to them in a later class.

‘‘It quite intrigued me, stuck in the back of my head for a while.’’

Still hopeful she might be able to deliver some classes before the fellowship ends if restrictions on prison volunteers ease, Mortimer is working on her resource at her parents’ home in Blenheim.

‘‘Essentially, I couldn’t do anything in the Dunedin community, so I figured it was better to be with people in a bigger space than my small studio room in Dunedin.’’

While she had moved to Dunedin for the fellowship, she decided to sit out the lockdown with her family rather than do it alone.

‘‘I’m looking forward to getting back to Dunedin.’’

She is enjoying the rare time she is getting to spend with her parents in her hometown, where she discovered her passion for dance.

‘‘I grew up doing dance in a dance studio, doing jazz exams and hip-hop.’’

When she was 15 years old, a new dance studio set up in Blenheim, focusing on community dance and building self-confidence rather than performance.

‘‘It really affirmed my passion for dance, that it was what I wanted to do as a career.’’

So she set up her own studio in Picton at age 16 and started teaching dance.

‘‘My mum would come out with me to take the money.’’

She moved to Auckland in 2010 to study dance, doing her bachelor’s degree, postgraduate diploma in performing and creative arts and master’s at Auckland University.

While initially conflicted about whether she wanted to get into commercial dance or education, her passion for sharing dance with others won out.

Mortimer learned about the fellowship at a community dance conference in Dunedin in 2015 and had since been waiting for the right time to apply.

‘‘I’ve always been doing loads of things so I was quite excited about being able to focus on one thing — teach dance.’’

Earlier this year she submitted her PhD thesis on how dance teachers in a rural New Zealand town are responding to cultural differences within their teaching practices.

‘‘Dance is pretty much all I do.’’

Throughout her studies she has continued to teach dance, either through the university or in private practice.

‘‘Seeing a student light up as they get a movement or seeing a shy student at the front of the stage having the time of their life is great.’’

A special project of hers is a school holiday programme she runs a few times a year. She seeks funding to enable it to be affordable for children who might not normally get access to dance classes.

‘‘I enjoy providing dance in spaces where they do not already exist or have access.

‘‘Dance in general is a

really positive experience. It fosters self-confidence, a

sense of achievement,

which are useful values.’’

These are things that tie in with her work in prison environments.

‘‘Being able to move your body, share your own expression through dance can be rehabilitative.’’

When people leave a prison environment, joining a dance class where they do not have to disclose their past could be helpful.

‘‘Dance is a great way to share who you are as a person. It’s something I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid.’’

Dance also provides opportunities to form relationships with many different people, she says.

‘‘For myself, it has been transformative.’’

Once the fellowship ends in August, she has her PhD oral exam to do and then she will be looking for employment.

Ideally she wants to be able to continue her academic and dance education roles in the community dance field, but is aware there are not a lot of opportunities in New Zealand for this.

Given the current situation with Covid-19, her opportunities are even more limited.

Her real hope is to find work in Dunedin so she can possibly continue to her work with the corrections facility when conditions allow.

‘‘That could be quite exciting, but if not, it’ll be back to Auckland.’’

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