Long before I had first visited Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), I knew of MESS, the International Theatre Festival held annually in Sarajevo. The festival brings together some of the top theatre companies throughout the Balkans and the world to perform in the capital of BiH over the course of two weeks. Thus, when I found out that my company had been invited to hold a series of children’s dance workshops as part of this year’s 51st international MESS festival, I was ecstatic!
On Friday, September 30th, I took the 2.5 hour bus ride from Mostar to Sarajevo with a bag packed full of dance clothes, music and my portable sound system. Over the last two years, these items have become my most prized possessions – equipping me to teach dance anywhere I find myself.
Upon my arrival, I met with MESS Executive Producer Nihad Kresevljakovic and reviewed the final details of my workshops. These workshops are part of MESS’s vision to make the festival accessible and applicable to children. Perhaps there is no better way to engage a diverse group of youth from all parts of Sarajevo than through a series of open jazz-ballet classes that utilize a high energy, engaging pedagogy to increase youth’s self-confidence and sense of self-expression.
Thus, on Saturday, October 1st, I found myself standing in front of a group of 35 youth who had a simple question: why are we here? My answer: to dance. Second question: why dance? My answer: to have fun. Third question: dance is fun? My answer: Let’s start! (“Pocnimo!”) About 2 minutes later, there were 35 youth smiling, giggling, laughing and dancing in front of me – clearly having fun.
Why is dance able to engage young people so quickly? In all of my time working with children around the world, I have found the same thing: dance is fun if you allow everyone to participate and “be free”. As cliché as it sounds, it is why this art form has persisted over time and never completely faded away despite the technological and financial pressures.
By the end of our first 3-hour MESS workshop at the Cultural Center Sarajevo, these Sarajevo youth had created an entire piece of choreography working individually, in small groups and as a collective. For this particular choreographic work, I had asked each student to answer two difficult questions: what is the most important thing to you in your life? And, if there was one thing in the world you could change, what would it be? I use this structure frequently to teach mixed groups of children. On this particular occasion, however, I heard some of the best answers ever: the most important thing is air, and the thing to change is time. To see these children create movement to express such intelligent ideas proved to me once again the power of youth. Just imagine what can be accomplished if such an activity would be repeated day after day – anywhere and everywhere in the world…
To read more about RDDC’s MESS workshops, please visit: