The curiosity of artists can be useful in conflicts

Using the basic principles of dancing may be helpful when dealing with conflict situations, says Dana Caspersen, a year-long performer of William Forsythe’s choreography, who now specialises in dealing with conflicts.

The Exchange projectThe Exchange project (Source: Almut Elhardt)

When working with people, she often mixes up the tools used in both verbal and non-verbal communication, creating situations that allow people to enter conflict in a way that later helps them to deal with it.

Caspersen will hold a workshop in Bratislava, organised in cooperation with the Goethe Institute and the [fjúžn] festival, aimed at finding out what different people think about violence.

The Slovak Spectator spoke with her about the workshop but also about the methods that make them unique.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Originally, you were a dancer. How and why did you become a mentor trying to help the others deal with conflict?
Dana Caspersen (DC):
Maybe about 10 years ago, I had a lot of different kinds of conflicts in different areas in my life and I got sick of my own inability to handle them well. I wondered if there was another way for life to be. So I started studying, to see how it could be different. The more I studied, the more I got excited about the way the situations change and relationships blossom when we find different ways to deal with conflict. For me, it’s not about getting rid of the conflict, but how do we step into a conflict in a way that makes it help us.

TSS: Was it hard to switch your mind-set from dancing to mediation?
No, it was super-exciting. It was like a new room opened up in my brain.

TSS: Do you use some of the principles of dance in your work as a mentor for these conflict situations?
Yes. When dancers work, they look at where they are, they imagine what else might be possible and then they try to figure out how to get there. It’s the same in conflicts: where we are now, what’s the situation, and what would it look like if we went to another place, what would need to change for us to get there. The curiosity that artists practice is also useful in conflicts. For events like the one I’m doing this weekend, I’m using choreographic ideas. To choreograph means to organise the ideas physically. I’m creating physical situations where new kinds of conversations can happen.

TSS: What are the principles that make your method unique?
I’m creating physical methods that anyone can use and can step into to have a different kind of experience. I’m taking the idea of a performance, which is a kind of a ritual, a container. I understand how its power holds and allows a new thing to happen. So I’m creating a situation that’s only happening because of what we do with our bodies and creating a way for people to come into dialogue.

I’m creating physical situations where new kinds of conversations can happen.

Dana Caspersen

TSS: So they can experience the situation on their own?
Yes. It’s a place they can gain experience through their body, without being embarrassed. It’s not trying to dance. We’re using bodies as a way to make it easier to connect. You mix this verbal and non-verbal communication.

TSS: The main focus of the workshop in Bratislava is violence. Why did you choose this topic?
I’m very interested in how individuals can affect big systems, like racism, sexism or violence. I found out that the way we think about each other and talk about each other can be violent in tiny ways and I’m curious about how we practice it. I want to understand with this project, why violence is so persistent and what power do we, as single people, have to create change by the way we think and act. It’s research that I do with people into the question of how we, as individuals, affect the level of violence in the world.

TSS: Will you somehow use the results of this workshop?
It’s research in the sense of how we’re all thinking together about this question. What people then decide to do with it is up to them.

TSS: What will the workshop look like? What are people supposed to do?
They will be in different groups. There are three different things that happen, and the groups will move through all these things at the same time. There’s a section where you speak, just as one person, and everybody’s talking at once about what’s your definition of violence and what did you learn about these things. There’s also a section where you’re listening to short stories. And there’s a section where you’re answering questions with your body. So you’re like moving in and out and answer questions, while the other people are talking and the other people are listening.

TSS: What would be the result? Does it give them instructions about how to deal with violence in the future?
No, it’s research about what we believe and why. It’s also a way to see what other people think. Because we haven’t really asked ourselves questions like what is violence, what do I think is okay, why do I think that’s okay, what does my society or my culture think, how are we being affected by the violence. It’s not teaching, it’s a reflection of how we think and also a kind of exchange of other people’s thoughts.

TSS: How do people respond to the workshops you are doing and the methods you are using?
People are excited and have the desire to connect with other people around these topics. Those conversations don’t happen very often, so people have a hunger to have conversations and connect. People are nervous about coming because they don’t understand it and it’s hard to describe. But when they get there, they say: “Oh, this is great, if I had known it would be like this I would have brought my friends”.

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