Like nobody’s watching

Dancers in the darkTwo-and-a-bit afternoons of shooting, many more of editing, and some frustratingly slow file transfers all the way to China ended up with this (see below): a 7-minute clip about using dance for adults with disabilities.

Challenges? Not enough time to shoot, you might say – but there’s never enough (though I would’ve loved to film the dancers at home or around the city). Attempting to interview people with learning difficulties who spoke no English? With a good interpreter – once I’d clarified she had to translate my questions, not answer them herself – it actually worked out ok. The really difficult bit, the thing I hadn’t even really thought of till I was standing there, camera in hand, was pretty basic. How do I film these people?

How to film people, some of whom aren’t fully aware of what you’re doing, who aren’t really involved in anything around them? It felt voyeuristic, uncomfortable, sometimes. At the end of the second day’s class, I was filming them all gathering up their things, parents chatting and moving towards the door. One of the most severely disabled young men, the one who refused to be touched by anyone, spent a long time swaying gently, his eyes focused on something we didn’t see, while his father stood in front of him, holding out his son’s jacket and cap. The son kept up his movements; the father waited with a patient, silent acceptance that must have been honed over years or decades, asking nothing of his son. Eventually, he took the cap, took the jacket, and they left. And I deleted that footage, and wondered how on earth I was going to put together a film that respected their privacy yet told their story.

Maybe next time I’ll do a story about the old folk, pictured above, who dance every evening in Beijing’s public squares. Lit by the flashing neon lights of a massive chain hotel and to the sounds of the traffic whizzing past, it wasn’t quite as romantic as it should be. Not that the dancers minded. Not so much a case of dancing like nobody’s watching as dancing like you deserve to be watched. And they did.

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