Interview with Brit Shneuer, by Monique Weber, the Netherlands
Brit (53), who lives in Israel, is married and a mother of an adult daughter. Brit has had a passionate affair with art, music, theatre and dance from a very young age. We met during the Feminenza Gathering in Crete and managed to find some time, late one night, for this conversation. We had no electricity in the room, so we improvised with a small ‘campfire’ of candles. It felt like olden times, sitting on a rug on the floor, around a ring of fire and it felt like it connected us to all the people who have ever sat around campfires and sung, made music and danced in response to life..
Talking with Brit one feels she ‘breathes’ both dance and her passion for the further discovery of human potential, feeling and brilliance. Dance should be experienced and to talk about it is not easy, but we gave it a go anyway……
Brit: ‘I vividly remember at 5 years old, when my mother took me to a relative, who was a ballet teacher. She was in the middle of giving a lesson to girls of my own age. I was sitting on this long wooden bench in the studio waiting for her to finish the lesson, and I never forget this one thing that really etched itself into my memory. One of the girls was copying the teacher’s movements as they were sitting on the floor. In one sweep she moved her arms up in a big arc above her head. It was not the movement which caught me, but the flush of red that appeared on her cheeks.
‘I still recall it today, something happened when she moved her arms. I didn’t know what it was, but she had a certain inner flare, because of what the movement caused in her. After that I nagged my mother to let me go to ballet classes; I think even then my soul recognised the possibility of liberation through dance. I wasn’t able to go to lessons, but still, I danced here and there and I always loved it.
‘After having served my time, conscripted into the army, I went to drama school for 3 years and got a diploma. I went straight into repertory theatre for ten years playing Shakespeare, Feydeau, Dostojewski and appeared in television programmes and movies. I think I went to theatre school because I felt I needed to protect something in my inner life, but after all those years in the theatre, although I was quite successful, I felt it was not ‘it,’ I felt I was missing something. I was still looking for something and so I left the theatre and started a journey of personal development. Quite soon after this, which was 20 years ago now, I was introduced to Electrobics* by John Turner who had come from England to present a course about it. I will never forget this experience in my life. I was exposed to a way, which I never felt before, completely and entirely strange and new. I loved it absolutely. For me it started there. I always had a theatrical inclination, but this Electrobics course brought things together in me and caused an ignition, and from then on I started to work with all kinds of dance and theatre groups’.
‘Brit has worked with many groups over the years, because she loves to work with people and also because it allows her to further explore dance and theatre. During the last four years she has been particularly involved with groups of women. She has conducted workshops in Israel, Canada, Germany, Cyprus and the United States. In New York she presented a workshop about Sacred Dance, together with Joanna Francis.
‘One of things that motivates me in my exploration with women is that I see that they have everything they need already inside. Women need opportunities to discover it and to bring it into being from this abstract world of feelings into the world of definition and form. I facilitate this through the medium of movement, the voice, posture, perception, poetry or whatever else may best express what they feel inside. In the workshops I can offer ladies the opportunity to see what is inside them and this is endless and absolutely fascinating.
‘I also became fascinated with the usage of props. Women are naturally sensitive to beauty and to quality things, to shape and form and the feel of various materials. I brought huge pieces of cloth in strong colours such as blue, yellow, green, white, silver and gold. In some workshops we put them on the floor, and I have some ladies gather around for example the huge blue cloth. It is interesting to observe as they touch it, that it’s in how they pick it up and what the relationship between them is, it’s how they look at one another and suddenly the mind switches on and everything becomes very telling, every move is a whole dialogue, where the cloth, because it is so flexible and doesn’t have a shape, takes on the form of what is going on, it is like soft clay, you can do anything with it.
‘Then I started a whole discovery to do with fans. I began by not using the fans, but got everyone to say to themselves, ‘I am a fan’ and when you start to look at it, almost every movement of the body is like a fan. When you lift an arm, it is like opening a fan between the arm and the body. Opening the eyelids is like a fan and so is the opening of the mouth. You can fold the leg and open it and imagine there is a fan opening behind the knee. You can close and open the fingers and it is like opening a fan….it is incredible, and it gives a whole different view of the human body.
‘We also had a whole session with blue, gold and silver Christmas balls, which was absolutely magical. You know there is much in simple things, just seeing the ladies holding these Christmas balls in each hand, and just walking around with them. Then playing music and feeling free to respond triggered all kinds of images. I am always looking for music, music to quieten down, music to switch on, music to cause mutuality, music which is feminine in nature, such as the Indian songs by Matriarch, which are very evocative and which we used for some of the dances we did in tribute to the planet.’
‘In the beginning, what really fascinated me was the female life in us, because I felt that the female is utterly suppressed. To my amazement, women are not in touch with their bodies. For them to just put their hands on their womb was already a major thing to do. So at first it was my mission to create time and space for the female. This meant to increase well-being, to have quietness, to release stress, to exhaust all sorts of pressures, to liberate the soul, to play, and to work with the body parts that are particularly to do with the female life, which are the front and the back of the torso and the legs. So we danced to all kinds of African and Arabic rhythms, to cause release and to reconnect with the ‘Earth’ parts of our body. What we can do together is to bring easement to the female lives of ourselves and to provide her with time and space and to listen to her often-suppressed needs.
‘One exploration of this female life we did in pairs, where one woman was invited to do a free-style dance with her eyes closed, whilst responding to the music. At the same time her partner put her hand on the base of the other’s spine as a support and she would follow her movements. This was incredible, just to feel that touch on the lower back, to feel that support, which is so natural between women and also because this is usually an area where stress tends to accumulate.
‘Then we went into the area of the woman life and one of the revealing things we did was the theatre of the hands and face. We had a big black cloth with holes cut in it so that we could stick our hands through it and not see the whole body. We observed the hands, just focussed on how expressive they are. Then we put just our faces through the holes and concentrated on each other’s facial expressions. This was quite difficult, because it was quite exposing, but also very liberating!
‘We also ventured into giving expression to qualities. One time we had 30 women in a workshop and at the end they all formed up in two lines. Each one of them walked through the two lines and when she passed someone they would whisper to her one of the qualities they could see in her life. This was very powerful.
‘I am at a turning point now and one of the things I might try soon is to work with a group spanning different generations, e.g. to have mothers and daughters working together, or to have a range of different ages over a longer period, perhaps a year. I would like them to know in advance that we will finish with a performance about the liberation of the female gender through dance and theatre.
‘Another time we experimented with coffee and tea trays and tried out different postures using them. It was like we could plug into different cultures, places and times and could really connect to the long line of service women have given and still give in the world. It was really different to hold the tray on the hip, than on the shoulder or the head. They promoted very different feelings and sensations. I would like to take these props, like the trays, fans and materials and create new dances for the present.’
Five years ago Brit started a dance company that works in a very exploratory way and performs once a year, bringing the audience into a unique experience.
‘This company is called ‘The Spiral’, and it is comprised of 12 men and women, some of whom have been coming since it began. They are not professionals and I actually love it, because they are a very mixed group of all shapes and sizes, of young and older dancers, the experienced and the beginners; it is a people’s dance theatre. Our next performance is at the beginning of July. We already have the theme, which is the connections, communications and ties between the genders, between people and between things.
‘In my workshops I hardly ever work with a fixed routine, a movement, or a step people can learn, or a formula, or a specific dance, which we would then repeat. My starting point is, let’s explore the dance of now, or a new dance of patience, or a new tribute to the planet. Or how would we express mutuality, intimacy or warmth between us? It is challenging, but it is absolutely liberating. I find that spontaneity is something that is suppressed in adults. The ability to respond from within oneself is something which is suppressed and also emotions are suppressed. The ability to touch and to be touched, to be held by the hand, can feel awkward, whilst people are yearning for the intimacy of touch, and are really starving for warmth and intimacy, and the kind of closeness and mutuality which is possible, especially between women. Dance itself can heal that and liberate it.
‘There is the whole territory of elegance and smoothness of movement to open up. I feel this continuation of movement is to do with the conscious awareness of connection between the brain and the body, the nerve life and the muscles. We can train to make those connections and make our movements much smoother and more elegant, and harmonious, rather than dispersed. I feel that through this, women have a chance to return to their bodies and to themselves, by collecting back their awareness and by drawing their power and strength back unto themselves. Often daily life and the many things we need to do in it (especially women) tend to disperse our awareness. Recently we have managed to touch upon technologies for inner stillness and be a bit meditative, and this has worked extremely well in increasing our well-being.
‘I have noticed in working with women, that when they are open, miracles can happen. In two hours (which is the average duration of the workshops) they suddenly feel the warmth and friendship that one normally feels when one has known someone for a long time. Dance, movement and theatre are such intimacy causers, because you hardly use words. When you sit quietly or move together, there is so much unspoken dialogue, things pass, from one to the other.’
And this is how Brit expressed her NOW feeling response and perception about what dance means to her life.
‘I think it is like an enormous toolkit, because dance theatre is so varied. When I dance, healing happens; when I dance with people it liberates the soul and the inner lives, or it is the liberation of what is possible. For me dance is a tool for better mutuality between people. My first love is music and it has transferred to dance, because what is dance, if not music, because it is everything to do with rhythm. If you don’t dance with music, it is still to do with rhythm. My connection and love of music is expressed through dance. Sometimes I just put on some music and dance and as I dance, I understand it much more than just hearing it through my ears. Why I am drawn to this is because I make contact, on a very deep level. It allows one to make contact with oneself, one’s inner lives, or contact with the other people. Contact with not the seen part of the person, but with what lives in them and what they feel. Once I danced the idea of human unification and it was a very unusual and powerful experience. I am on a journey of discovery and dance theatre is a useful tool that brings me closer to art. I think all artists are looking for the true meaning of what is real art. Dance keeps me close to the mystery and search for art. I love the fact you can do movements which have no meaning, but they create a shape, they cause an atmosphere, they bring something out from a world which is completely abstract, the inner world of self, into the world of form, which is the outer world. It can elevate the feelings of people who watch it. There can be something very sacred in dance and when you look at religions, one of the first things they had was a ceremonial movement, a ceremonial dance. All tribes and cultures around the world, always have a dance. It is a tool to create realities. Through rhythm and repetitive movement, something is generated, which people need. Maybe one day we will reach the sacredness of it in our own way and style. There is a knowing within me that something wants to be born, to set itself free, and I am making continuous attempts of letting it come out and giving it an opportunity to express itself through movement. I don’t know if it is something from within that wants expression or if it is something that wants to come through me. Musicians probably feel this as well and they express it through their music as an artist does through painting…it is endless.
When we dance we sometimes connect to something real, which to me is utterly religious.’