One summer evening, I met up with the inspirational Emilie Barton, who runs Dancing Free class – a dance practice where people can move freely in their rhythm guided by her soft voice telling magical stories.
We got to know each other almost two years ago during one of the Dancing Free sessions, which quickly became one of my favourite practices. Dancing with Emilie led to unplugging my creativity, improving my well-being and, in a way, creating Birkiverse. When you let yourself feel free in one area, the others, like a domino wave, follow – and you cannot stop producing, no matter what it is: painting, dancing, writing, cooking, singing. It all can be done just for fun, without any pressure from the rigid techniques of those arts. We all have unique styles, which we should embrace and share with the world. It is what Dancing Free with Emilie has taught me. Dancing, the stories, the energy, and the imaginative yet safe vibe of the class did wonders and helped me so much. I feel grateful I can participate in such a magical class run by such an enchanting person.
I have always wondered how Emilie does it and what ideas are behind Dancing Free. That evening, I asked Emilie if she would like to tell Birkiverse’s readers about her passion, and she said yes.
We sat comfortably on a blanket in the meadow. The evening sun embraced us warmly, the birds sang their songs, and the closeby trees were rustling quietly. I made some tea and poured it into little red tea bowls. I handed one of them to Emilie. Slowly drinking the golden brew, we talked.
Monika: Emilie! I am very honoured that you have agreed to meet over a bowl of tea to tell us about your project, Dancing Free. Before we immerse in the dancing stories you create, could you tell us your story?
Emilie: Of course! It is lovely to be here with you. I guess my story would be that my name is Emilie Barton. I have lived in Bournemouth mostly all my life but spent three years in London studying for my Dance degree at Roehampton University. I always had an affinity with nature and the practice of ‘being present’. In my younger years, I always explored the local woods near our home and enjoyed how dance made me feel. I started my dance and movement journey in Classical Ballet at four years old, which grew into studying many styles such as Tap, Modern, Lyrical and Street Dance. But, I would say I started to find my movement style when I began training in Contemporary Dance. Something about Contemporary Dance clicked with me – I think it was the realisation that the movement, the body and its form, and your presence were the focus of interest. Not entertainment. Since university, I have kept working as a dance artist in performance, choreography, and teaching.
I have also found myself on a journey, balancing what I call my Artist side and my Tech side. I also love promoting things, creating things and doing digital work. I am a Marketeer specialising in digital marketing and the arts – I love websites, making films and designs, sending email campaigns, and even looking at data! I found after university that I wanted to help promote events, the arts and the marvellous organisations that do incredible things, and being in Marketing helps me do just that.
Monika: Oh, that sounds like a fantastic journey you are on, Emilie. I know you have created your unique dance practice, Dancing Free, which I love. Can you tell those who have never heard about Dancing Free what it is?
Emilie: Dancing Free is a movement class incorporating guided improvisation, meditative relaxation, storytelling and great music. It is a one-hour and fifteen-minute session at the Amethyst Cave, Southbourne, where we learn to connect our bodies to ourselves. We develop our mind-body awareness and embodiment abilities. And in that, there is a chance to understand your authentic sense of self. Often, we are taught and tense with the tension of daily life. We rarely actually think about our bodies and how they are doing today. We rarely bring our attention to our ‘self’ and our’ mind’ in the here and now.
Physically, Dancing Free is a class where we begin by consciously relaxing all the joints and muscles to ‘start afresh’. We then build up movement, loosening all the joints, playing with how our bodies can move and into some fun movement explorations. Dancing Free is a workout that does not leave muscles screaming in pain or tensed up. Instead, our bodies are revived as we raise the energy and the heart rate into more of a liberation movement.
Monika: That’s amazing! Could you tell us a bit more about the class itself? What does it look like? What can a person who walks through the studio door expect?
Emilie: Each class is different. Each week has a different exploration, story, movement cues, visualisations, and music. Everything.
I work hard on creating a gradual journey both in mind and body. My storylines are not just there to think of nice things. Suppose we are imagining that we are growing like a seed. In that case, I have developed movement cues that affect how we use our bodies, especially in post-relaxation, which is how we begin classes (in the parasympathetic nervous system). Most of the body has reset itself so that I can introduce what starts as very gentle visualisations that work in tandem with my movement guidance. We become part of a world where our bodies and minds awaken differently than the norm. And it is quite a wonderful, liberating and freeing experience, significantly when the energy rises. We move and dance however we want to at that moment – it is so much fun!
The entire class is verbally guided. And I take care to plan how I am driving the movement in each phase of the class. I take time to verbally name body parts and how we could move them in tandem with a storyline, a way of moving or a sensation. Everything we experience in a class journey, from my guidance to the music, is designed to increase movement mobility, attention to the body, space, and self, as well as a ton of other physical and well-being benefits.
Monika: You have mentioned mind-body awareness a few times. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Emilie: Yes. Mind-body awareness is about connecting your mind, thoughts, emotions, and presence to your body – your physical state. It can be developed, and most of you have already heard of practices that develop this, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, pilates, dancing, and the arts. There are many ways to build this kind of awareness. My classes utilise a handful of those methods with the art and joy of dance.
Monika: You have said that you guide the class verbally and tell stories that help the dancers move. What kind of stories do you tell, then?
Emilie: I tell some pretty cool stories! Though they might not sound as good reading about it compared to experiencing it! Most of the stories are nature-based, explorative, with a little dose of magic. One, for example, takes a journey sinking into the earth, becoming earth – a planet, one entity. Gravity is pulling us along a current through the solar system. Your surroundings become a dark blue as gravity keeps pulling you along a current, and you are now travelling underwater and growing your limbs (whatever limbs you want). Eventually, the dark blue lightens, and you start to see a floor – we slowly walk out of the ocean, feeling our human form. Stepping onto dark sand with cliff faces rising above you in the distance, we dance on the sand (enter lots of movement cues). Coming across a massive pile of wood that starts to set aflame the more you dance, we dance around the fire before pausing and feeling the burning embers. As the sun sets, we take a last wonderful dance for ourselves.
Some stories are very literal; others not so. But I create stories and journeys with skies, rain, forests, clouds, rivers, trees, sand, our feelings, meadows, animals, the moon, the sea, the wolf and much more!
Monika: I wonder how the stories you tell come to you. Does music inspire them? By nature?
Stories tend to come to me, mainly from movement exploration and music. I tend to start by asking what our movement exploration is. Where are we feeding and gaining energy from? What are we aiming to do? And most of the time, I can visualise a location or a sensation that would work with it. Such as sitting in the rain and moving your body to let the water droplets travel on your skin. And I research music to find something that works with this journey and movement exploration. Sometimes the music will come first, and the stories come out of the lyrics or the feeling of the music. Sometimes you listen to a song and know you are in a meadow or a forest, for example. A few stories have come together only from going on a walk whilst listening to music.
Monika: And how do you select your music?
Emilie: I need a lot of different types of music; meditative, steady, and upbeat. I generally select a piece that works with a movement exploration, a storyline, or a feeling. I will always have a big energetic track near the end that we can really go for it. And I will always have a track that is slower but full of feeling, and it is just beautiful right at the end. It takes a while to find new music as it must fit so many aspects, mostly how upbeat it is. My playlist goes from slow to fast, so each song needs to work with that flow. Some music, if it is pivotal to how I created a storyline and movement cues, will be set first, and the rest will follow around it.
Monika: What are your inspirations, Emilie?
Emilie: Many things inspire me. The participants that come to class are a huge source of inspiration, especially when I hear how their class experiences went and their favourite music to dance to. I think fantasy and sci-fi storytelling/fiction is a source of inspiration for me as I have always loved reading and visualising what I read. The movement itself inspires me, as there is always something new you can find when having a move or a dance.
Monika: Emilie, thank you so much for telling us about your beautiful dancing world and letting us behind the scenes of Dancing Free! It was an absolute pleasure!
Emilie: Thank you so much for having me! And thanks for the tea, it is fantastic!