Dance Around The World – Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
When my friends and family heard I was going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, they were filled with excitement and immediately mentioned tango. True, it would be perfect for me to experience and write about for this blog, but there was something in Buenos Aires I was more interested in seeing first. “What could possibly be more interesting for this dancer” you ask? The Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo). You see, I had a history with this plaza without ever seeing it.
It all began when I was 15. If you know me, you know I did my pre-professional training with BalletMet in Ohio. In our training we were exposed to all types of dance. Modern was my favorite, and Susan Hadley was one of my instructor. That year she taught us excerpts from her new piece called Commonplace that was premiered by the University Dance Company. The following year BalletMet commissioned the piece. I was asked to understudy the company and perform it as part of their educational lecture demonstrations. A few years later, as a student at The Ohio State University, I learned and performed the piece again. Then, in my first year dancing with Repertory Dance Theatre, the company commissioned the dance, which I relearned, taught, and performed yet again and for the next three years to follow. So in the end, I had performed Commonplace for a good eight years! So you see, it is a dance that is deeply rooted in my life.
Commonplace, is a dance that was inspired by Hadley’s reflections of changes in culture, political turmoil, suffering, loss, and the women who endured them. Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo is just one of the place that inspired her choreography. In Argentina, between 1976 and 1983, the government sought out individuals opposed to their beliefs or authority and kidnapped them. This period, where an estimated 30,000 people disappeared, is called ‘The Dirty War.’ Among the victims were thousands of children who were taken from their homes and given to military families to raise.To gain awareness of those who disappeared, a group of women came together and began a silent protest where they circled the plaza directly across from La Casa Rosada (The Pink House), Argentina’s executive mansion. In Hadley’s Commonplace this circling is manifested in several sections.
I can still remember Hadley telling us the story of the mothers in rehearsal. I remember imagining I was there, feeling the angst, and embodying the despair. Although I’m not a mother, I am the age of some of the children who were taken. Perhaps that’s why I feel so drawn to this piece. To this day, it’s still the only piece of choreography I’ve performed that led me to tears. That is why I had to visit the Madres de Plaza de Mayo… In fact, I visited it twice.
I first went to the plaza on a late Sunday afternoon. I had been window shopping at the San Tamlo market when I came to the end of the street to find the plaza right in front of me. I crossed the street and stood right in the middle of the circular path where the mothers marched. The emotion I felt was mixture of sadness and silence, yet my legs were compelled to dance; and so I did. I haven’t thought about the piece in years, but I just began to move, and it all came back like I had never stopped performing.
The following Thursday I went back to the plaza. To this day, mothers, grandmothers, and families still walk the plaza in protest from 3:30-4pm. As they walk, most are silent and hold pictures of those who disappeared; others chant “We want our children; we want you to tell us where they are.” Today the search for the missing continues. They encourage people who might suspect they were taken to come forward. From what I can find, only 256 children have been identified.
It’s been a long journey for me and Commonplace, and I’m left wondering if this is where it will end. My trip to Madres de Plaza de Mayo was emotional on so many levels. I haven’t danced professionally for almost three years now. After relocating to the suburbs of Chicago, I gave up on dancing professional and perused my career in arts administration and teaching. Now all I can think of is wanting to dance. Performing that small phrase on the plaza was like returning home…
Just can’t stop,
The Offbeat Ballerina