Dancing Ventriloquism

Dancing ventriloquism 

I often wonder how  each dance is called up in the hospital work. How it’s summoned somehow by the patients desires, symptoms, pains or pleasures/relief seeking. 

The dance happens as a consequence of being affected by another. It’s a human Butterly effect. 

One flap of  a wing makes an ocean wave appear. 

One look from across the ward by a patient, raises my arm like a flag, proud to say hello from where I find myself standing.


On the way to the ward I  was puzzled by the question of preparation, how do i prepare to be unprepared. I try doing some yoga, then I improvise in my living room, but then I make tea and pick up a book about animals, and I read about seals and how there were tales and myths about people transforming into animals so that they could cross over into other worlds. 

I have to empty myself, let myself be an empty cup, light, yet strong, willing to be filled, 

But empty like the wind. 

My daily preoccupations of my self, dissolving somewhere. To be filled by the messages that are coming through from the bodies around me…

The presence of that particular collection of people,  or that person in their bed, on this very day.

How to prepare to enter the ward of a busy London hospital, with nothing but my dear  dancing friend louise , a speaker, and our bodies.

These presences of the patients begin to shape the story that gets told in our movement.

The resonant bodies that lay in front of me, each person with their own unique story of having arrived on the ward, each body emits communications.

Messages are flying in all directions at once.


The way the eyes are still, the way the eyes longingly reach out of the window, how that left hand clings so tightly to the corner of the bed sheet, and how that thumb traces the edges of the yogurt pot as if it’s a rare treasure. 

Each detail enters my body, and it does what it does, but it’s precious information that contributes to the shaping of a response. 

All the bodies are speaking, all in their own unique way ,all at the same time. 

An orchestra of illness and of healing, of recovery and of movements towards end of life

All tuning up..

The work it seems is learning to see and to feel how each body tells its own tale, 

its own hospital odyssey. 

The way the hands rest on the chest. The way some patients eyes roam the room, seeking attention of something, or someone, by lifting their faces like a sunflower toward the air, waiting to be held with any attention thats available, seeking with their face a nurse thats going by with great speed. How a face, and often a whole body burrows itself into a pillow, or a  bed sheet,  deep into the creases, leaving only a limb, hanging out of the bed like an unanswered question.

The best way to describe this dancing on the ward is like a dancing ventriloquism.

The dancers body becomes a vessel, we use the language of our bodies to speak through what we intuit.  We use our bodies, to speak out some transmission we receive from other bodies,  perhaps we translate, or metabolise, exaggerate the body’s story, we converse..

Not speaking the illness as such, but perhaps speaking and seeking the health within.

The patients sometimes name it as a relaxation, or healing in some way, a rest from the preoccupied self that’s ‘ill’  and a foregrounding, even just for a moment of a part of them thats well.

‘You don’t need words one patient said, its not about words, its about feeling’

Emotion arises and tears move.. we hold a hand, we move the next thing that moves..

We move together… we are dancing..

Where are you from? What kind of dancing is this ?

Swaddled feet under bed sheets move to the music, like someones released  a couple of wild rabbits in the bed.

I find myself running across through the corridor and I high five the the nurse in the station, i don’t know why and how it happened. But something moved me, its was a risk I think. But it paid off, she smiles and we connect through our eyes.

Part of this work is in disturbing something,  in a way thats hopefully positive.

Like opening a window on a spring day to give the house an airing. Allowing another atmosphere to exist alongside the one that is known. Small doses of strange wonder..

Louise my dancing partner stands at the foot of the bed, a woman lays there, eyes almost closed, her hands crossed over her chest, looks like she is on her way… 

slipping out of this world, 

or preparing, rehearsing her own death with her daughter by her side. 

The moment is familiar… the image, on the cusp of grief.

She twitches, and her eyes sparkle, her hands reach, Louise catches her twitch and sends it back in a different form.

her daughter begins crying, the nurse arrives.  

Louise keeps dancing

holding the attention

We keep dancing, the woman in the bed opposite begins crying,

i hold her hand and squeeze it softly,  she’s moved by the music, by something changing in the air.

I look up at the  her name above her bed. I scan it quickly,  and i say her name at the same time as I squeeze her hand.

‘Grace’ and hand squeeze simultaneously 


I keep dancing, we keep dancing

As she is crying she says ‘ are you from Brazil?


say i… 


She laughs and then more tears come.

I move to sit on the bed with an elderly woman, she touches my arm, up and down. Lightly stroking the skin, I lean into her so she can feel my weight, like we have been friends for years.  The kind of sitting you might do with a friend on a bus, off for a trip for the day.

This sudden intimacy. Is this ok?  she’s smiling touching my arm, she’s had a stroke,  

‘I can’t move this one’ she said 

I realise I have lent her my arm, a surrogate arm,  she touches it like its hers. And I watch her touch my arm and feel the gentle tips of her fingers.

She smiles at me and smiles as she dances her third arm 

or borrowed arm…

I don’t realise this at the time, only later on the train on the way home. I remember the touch of  her fingers, and then the image of her other arm limp and unmoving, like an old cat in her lap. 

These encounters and their meaning are often hidden inside the gesture and the moment. 

Hidden in the unconscious body.

On the train on the way home while my body is held in the rhythm of the moving carriage the moments bubble up to consciousness, their meaning arrive of their own accord.

A full gestalt.

What seems like chaos,  isn’t chaos at all. 

The nurse in her pale green outfit stands like a human size caterpillar amongst the wires and machines.  She comforts the daughter as she witnesses the paradox of her mothers aliveness …  now dancing with such joy, 5 minutes ago she was a vapour of her own self now she has substance, like clay, moving shaping herself alive. Imprinting her presence in the air.

It seems like prior to our arrival there was some other news about her,  the nurses carry the back story and context, they do this every day. They are amazing.

The daughter thanks us while blowing her nose. 

Can we dance for you because you work so hard I say to the nurse.

We gesture around her body with our hands..

‘Oh its beautiful and relaxing’ 

It benefits us too you know’ one nurse said that day.

I run and high five the nurse in her station for the second time, breaking the line of the corridor, any fourth wall has fallen down, not that there was one

Although this is theatre in some small way..

I realise these spontaneous moments of choreography  are part of weaving the field of attention.. again I am drawn into this gesture…it happens by itself…

I imagine presence like a web and with our dancing we weave these structures of attention, a little here, a little there, holding the moment just long enough for aliveness to visit through the door of necessary chaos, then we let go 

and the web vanishes.

This time as I go to high five,  she was waiting for my hand, she smiles and i continue

A young man with a broken leg lays in the bed.. he is smiling..

I  chant ‘may your leg get better really quickly’

and I joke  gesturing like a magician,  and hold up my hands, he laughs,  

and move my hands across his leg like magic , although i’m not joking. I really mean it through my hands with a smile on my face.

I hope it does, I hope his leg really does get better quickly.

It’s relaxing he says.

We stop near a man sitting upright.. in his bed…

‘How are you both’ do you remember the other day, oh the day was a good one.

We have not met before but we fold ourselves into the moment

Yes wasn’t it just wonderful I say.

In my mind I entertain the thought of an imaginary picnic or a ride on a gondola that we may have had.

( he indicates to the music)

Oh this is a good one, its from… something

Yes it from something…. yes something.. indeed… I don’t name anything to solid, because his reality seems like a river liquid and moving, we simply join its rhythm.

And as quickly  as we folded in to that moment, we fold out again

Well lovely to see you both, they are waiting for you..

The writing here is in some way an attempt to reflect, retrace the steps into what was.

It’s an attempt to dance it onwards I think through writing.

To tease out, understand something and perhaps let out what’s held within.

Theres a moment in a film called Indiana Jones and the last crusade, where he is on a quest. He faces a vast cliff and a chasm in which he has to cross. He knows that crossing this requires a certain amount of faith, so he kind of repeats a text, ‘have faith’ like a  prayer and as he does steps into the unknown and a bridge appears underneath his feet, from nowhere, In which he can cross. 

(Indiana Jones and the last crusade)

 I feel the writings like that,  the works like that, a kind of falling into space, a stepping into the unknown. Then here I throw words over the day for just a moment to find form here, so I can cross back Into into the very heart of these dancing encounters. 

Cai Tomos


Leave a Reply