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A Conversation with the Founders of the Glasgow Open Dance School

Everyone is a dancer and everyone is a teacher at the Glasgow Open Dance School (G.O.D.S), a non-profit organisation that programmes and facilitates free dance and movement-related workshops. For this year’s Glasgow International, G.O.D.S facilitated a weekend of explorative provocations and events that looked at connection and support, racial politics, and the ways in which we can sustain ourselves under capitalist patriarchy. The G.O.D.S weekend was held at The Old Barn at Pollok Country Park.


ANYA BOWCOTT    There was an immense feeling of calmness when walking in to the Old Barn, which was revitalising amidst the chaos of GI. Did you put a lot of thought into creating that space or did it happen naturally?

JULIA SCOTT     Yes we did, think about it that is; but it’s also because we have been thinking about and creating these spaces for years and through that accumulation of thoughts it’s also become natural.

ASHANTI HARRIS    Yes, going back to starting G.O.D.S, we’d all studied Sculpture and Environmental Art (SEA) at The Art School, and there’s something about that course;  you’re encouraged to look beyond what’s in front of you. Part of wanting to start G.O.D.S in the first place was because, at that time, the space that we were talking about didn’t exist. If you wanted to engage with your body, you had to join a set of 6-8 week workshops and commit to doing all of them. You never felt that welcome if you weren’t a professional dancer or teacher.

JULIA SCOTT    SEA heavily focuses on context, and I still definitely think in that way. When I DJ, I need to know everything about the night to be able to even think about what I’ll play. I think it applies to everything that I do. I think that’s what we do: we build a context for a space.

ROMANY DEAR    I think it’s really basic stuff too, like reminding people: you’re here out of choice and you can leave if you want. Even though there is a hierarchy when someone is giving a class and someone is receiving a class, we try to create transparency. We want to make spaces where people are able to speak, or question, or leave, or do what they need to do.

ANYA BOWCOTT    Can you talk a bit more about the facilitation work you do?

ASHANTI HARRIS    We try to facilitate the possibility of other people doing workshops, and that can be any kind of movement- based practice: whether you’ve had no teaching experience or if you’re a trained dancer, we work with all types of people in a much more open, and non-hierarchical way. We’ve been doing that for years now but this weekend was the first time we programmed ourselves to teach. All three of us have our own, really different, movement based practices. We’ve always avoided programming ourselves in to teach because we’ve always had this focus on hierarchy and we address it all the time. We held a residency two  years ago that was open to G.O.D.S members where we talked about these ideas of hierarchy and openness, and how to create non-hierarchical situations. What we found is that not all hierarchy is negative and that it can actually be supportive.

JULIA SCOTT     Especially with movement, it can be reassuring to be guided through what to do.

ASHANTI HARRIS     Programming ourselves in to teach for the GI weekend felt like we had finally got to a place where it didn’t feel nepotistic or hierarchical. It felt nice to share what we do.

ROMANY DEAR     It felt great to give something back.


ASHANTI HARRIS     We’ve all been in different places this past year developing our own movement practices. So, recently, it feels like we’ve all started to go in our own directions. It felt really nice to come back together and share our practices and find that there were still commonalities there.

ANYA BOWCOTT     What kind of commonalities do you think you share?

ASHANTI HARRIS     I think a main commonality is this idea, which has come from doing the course, which is using your body as a tool: whether that is as a method of communication, a method of understanding or learning, or a method of changing the way you feel. It is also the main way that you experience the world.

ROMANY DEAR     And we all have a body. It’s not an unattainable thing. We all have a body no matter what it looks, feels, sounds, or smells like: And we begin from there.

JULIA SCOTT     By having a body, you have a practice. Whether  you think of it that way or not, you have habits, you have ways of moving, you have ways of living and surviving. And, to an extent, it’s a history of your experience.

ROMANY DEAR     I think that really is a commonality, even though it sounds like an obvious one, it’s not actually a commonality that exists across a lot of dance practitioners.

JULIA SCOTT     Yeah, it really tends to be about difference and excellence, and what you can do that someone else can’t do. There’s a lot of care in this  way of thinking of everyone having a practice - a body that they function through.

ANYA BOWCOTT     From hearing you speak, I get a sense of your approach being very DIY, which goes against the rigid dance class, and it feels refreshing. Can you talk a bit more about how you approach projects?

JULIA SCOTT    It started with shared learning and propositions with a group of friends in a garden. It would be like “OK everyone name a plant” and we would copy each others’ plants.

ROMANY DEAR     It was really basic, we would send a text round to friends like “Anyone want to do a thing on Sunday?”

ANYA BOWCOTT     That sounds so fun! Can you talk a bit more about your choice of location for the GI G.O.D.S weekend?

JULIA SCOTT     It was intentional within the context of GI to be outside the city, in a place that people go to nourish themselves, in a giant park.

ROMANY DEAR     Again, the context completely relates to the idea of care.

JULIA SCOTT     Forcing people to come out to Pollok Park in the chaos of GI.

ASHANTI HARRIS      And we’ve also always had this dream of doing Dance Camp Glasgow! We go to a Dance Camp in Spain every year and it’s so DIY. It’s in the mountains, and there’s a ballroom floor which they saved before it got demolished, and they put a roof on top. We teach there pretty regularly, but at the beginning we went there just to help out. It’s entirely built on this idea of when you give something, you get something back. We’ve always had fantasies of doing something similar in Glasgow but it’s so cold! The Old Barn was great, it’s one of those places where it’s in the middle of the city but you feel like you’re far away from everything.

ANYA BOWCOTT     Can you talk about the resource room that was in The Old Barn?

ASHANTI HARRIS     The resource room was to give people full access to all the research and things we do, and to not claim that anything you know or that you’re teaching is solely yours. It’s understanding that all of this comes from a million different people and places.

Because G.O.D.S is made up of members, you join the mailing list, you become a member and when we were doing monthly workshops, it functioned a lot more as a community. Everybody got to make decisions and we were just the people who facilitated them so that they could happen.  All the members would lend us books or send us videos of work they like; that was the original resource room. It was full of everyone’s movement-loves and inspirations. We wanted it to be a space that you could go to if you didn’t want to engage in the workshop, and instead have time to yourself to learn about things.

We also had the reading group for this GI weekend. It was generally people we’d never met before. We collectively chose what to read together. We have this technique where you read every paragraph twice, out loud. So if you read, you can hear it for yourself. And then we would break and have discussions about what we just read. Then it becomes more about your body and your connections to people; you can take a thing that is normally associated with being removed from a movement experience and make it about the body and the way the body receives knowledge.

ROMANY DEAR     Everyone gets to speak and listen that way.

JULIA SCOTT     And people really bring their practices into the reading group.

ASHANTI HARRIS     We also learn a lot from those spaces as well.

ANYA BOWCOTT    It sounds so open and inviting.

ASHANTI HARRIS     I think the openness can often be confusing for people. It was one of the only engagement things as part of GI, and there were a lot of people getting in touch about that. There’s only a certain extent to which we can explain to people what we’re doing, because a lot gets decided collectively. That kind of openness or the unknown can make it a bit confusing.


ANYA BOWCOTT    Your workshops explored racial politics, surviving under capitalist patriarchy, sustainability, connection and support. Do you think the body is the best instrument to explore and break down these politics and ideas?

ASHANTI HARRIS     The body just is the starting point anyway, because it is the receiver of all of these tensions, so it makes sense for it to also be the means to dismantle them.

JULIA SCOTT     It does, it’s just important that you collectivise. We’re fed this idea that we have this impermeable edge but the skin is the biggest organ and it’s entirely permeable. We’re fed this idea that we’re individual beings with edges, so I think it’s important to acknowledge that it has to be a collectivised dismantling.

ASHANTI HARRIS    It’s about reclaiming your physical experience of something, and acknowledging that the body is the receiver, or has things projected onto it. Especially thinking about Julia’s workshop which was about reclaiming our body within the oppressive structures that surround us.

ANYA BOWCOTT    In terms of the people who come along to the workshops, does it tend to be mainly women?

ROMANY DEAR     Yes, but I think that’s also context specific, like something of here, because when I was working in Colombia this past year and a half, that was not the case at all. Within G.O.D.S it tends to be mainly attended by identifying women, but it also depends on the workshop, because sometimes it’s the other way round or sometimes there is more of a balance or mix. The GI workshops were heavily attended by women, and heavily attended by particular audiences or peoples, partly due to the context of it being in GI, and this is something that we as G.O.D.S are always working on. Who is in the classes, and who is not? And why? We still have much more work to do.

ASHANTI HARRIS     GI was a funny one because the workshops were full before we knew it. I guess because GI has such a massive audience.

ROMANY DEAR    It was quite specific because GI has such a wide outreach that reaches certain people and not others, it’s very art focused.

ROMANY DEAR     It was important for us to go out to places and hand out flyers to the groups of people who do not receive GI e-mails.

ASHANTI HARRIS     Since we stopped doing monthly workshops, which were in different places around the city and was a lot more community based, we’ve generally only been able to do projects that have been supported by another organisation. For example, when we did exhibitions in the CCA and in Market Gallery, it was always really important to have a physical thing that explained everything we do. It was important to make it about the people that inhabit that area or that space, as well as the people who are more of an art audience that attend. When we stopped doing monthly workshops, it really changed that community because we wouldn’t see the same people regularly. But it was great to see the same faces that used to come to the monthly workshops and know that the G.O.D.S community is still there.

ROMANY DEAR     It’s nice that it changes for every event; it’s a growing community that changes in the different contexts, depending on what project it is and where it is.

ANYA BOWCOTT     I want to ask one thing before we end – which direction does G.O.D.S want to go next? What is your dream?

ASHANTI HARRIS    Dance Camp Scotland in a mountain somewhere! It’s funny because someone actually asked us this the other day. They asked what we would do if money was no option, and we said we would just keep doing what we’re doing!

JULIA SCOTT     Money to do what we do already!

ROMANY DEAR     The same for me, money to do what we do and for it to be more regular, and for it just to be more stable, for us to have more time for it. I would love it if this was my full time job. There’s so much more that could be done. I would love to have the time to think about what else it could be, and think about who is coming and who’s not and how to change that. We just need a big sponsor. But because what we do is so project based and isn’t so regular, it sustains our energy.

ASHANTI HARRIS     Also, we found out something really cool the other day: someone from the CCA was talking to us about the GODS resource room we had there, and they said that it was one of the most attended exhibitions that they’ve ever had. I mean obviously there were workshops, but there was this resource room that people could come and sit in, and there was a photocopier so people could take research away for free. I mean that was really different because that was in an art gallery but it was a place that people could stay in for as long as they wanted, and feel welcome in. The art gallery can be a difficult place to make that happen, so that was really cool to hear.

JULIA SCOTT    It has always felt like we’re hijacking art a bit because people in this city think of the three of us as artists in some way. Like they ask us to do stuff, then we hijack it for GODS. Moving that money into shared movement practices validates physical experience on a broader level.

ANYA BOWCOTT    I definitely look forward to seeing what happens next and to taking part in future projects and workshops. Thank you so much for your time.


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Anya Bowcott is studying for a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Performance Practice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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