Expert Talk: Let’s dance!

Movement is not only a blessing for mind, body and soul. It’s also beneficial for nurturing relationships and communities. For the integrative project „Tanz die Toleranz“ („Dance for tolerance“), movement and dance is essential for bringing people together from different cultures and backgrounds. In our expert talk we asked Monica Delgadillo-Aguilar (director of „Tanz die Toleranz“) how she and her dedicated team are using dance to invite everyone to art and culture. By Marion Topitschnig (Pic above: Laurent Ziegler)

For a start: Do you think everybody can dance?

Of course. Dancing comes naturally and is an easy way to move your body.

What can dancing and movement offer, especially to an integrative project?

I believe dance has a lot of power, as the experience happens within your own body. Especially since language is not the primary way of expressing yourself, dancing becomes the tool to communicate through movement and posture. It allows you to get in contact with other people in a mutual way and helps breaking down the barrier of different languages.

As the director of the project „Tanz die Toleranz“, what is your goal?

The mission of this initiative is to offer access to art and culture and to get everybody involved and to participate –regardless of talent, experience, age, gender, skin colour, religion or social background. All programs are free of charge and have no requirements what so ever. Allowing everyone to take part.

Brunnenpassage (c) Laurent Ziegler

How did this project come about?

„Tanz der Toleranz“ was founded in 2007. Its mission is to create a room to meet and engage as a community in a creative environment through the medium of dance. By participating in the creative design process of projects, the participants can develop their artistic skills. Getting involved in the choreography of dancing and moving across space and time helps with social engagement.

It all happened thanks to Werner Binnenstein-Bachstein, the initiator of this project. As former general secretary of the “Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien” – a charitable organisation of the Catholic Church of Vienna – he was convinced of the positive effect a creative dance-project can have for a community. Referring to the movie „Rhythm is it“, he wanted to launch a similar social project in Vienna. In 2007 it started with more than 250 participants at the “Wiener Festwochen”. Responsible for the choreography was Royston Maldoom under the condition that the project would turn into regular courses.

In your opinion, do you see dance as a universal language?

Yes. Dance does not require any words. It has the ability to connect people, regardless of social and cultural background or language. Dance offers a different take on communication and interaction, and promotes a feeling of solidarity. It shows that you don’t need to speak the same language in order to participate and interact in a creative process.

More so, I see dance as a great tool for integration. Intense communication in the rehearsal room allows to dismantle any prejudices. It stimulates a constructive atmosphere to reflect on the challenging social developments, such as growing migration and the refugee movement.

Monica Delgadillo Aguilar (c) Karin Cheng

Has there been any international role models? Or do you know of any similar projects abroad?

Pioneer to this idea was the Community Dance in Great Britain. Tamara McLorg, Janice Parker and of course Royston Maldoom are a great source of inspiration to our work. There are similar projects like „Dance United“ in Northern Ireland, „ResiDance” as part of the Peter “Gläsel Stiftung” in Germany or „Associazione Barriere al Vento” in Italy and many more. We are in a close dialogue with them and co-operate on artist residencies, joint advanced trainings, festivals or joint productions.

With “Caritas Moldau” we worked together on a one year project for kids and teens and an advanced training for local choreographers. We also took part in projects in the Ukraine and in Ithuba, South Africa.

Which people do you want to reach and are you able to do so?

We offer diverse projects which are open to everyone. So you can’t really speak of one specific audience. Or, to put it in other words: we encourage all kinds of people to join us, no matter what their experience, age, gender, skin colour, religion or social background might be.


(c) Laurent Ziegler

How much self-initiative do you contribute to your projects? How big is your team and what is their background?

At the moment, we are six people in the organisation team. The majority is also responsible for artistic tasks such as choreography, choreographic assistance and workshop management. Most of the choreographers are project-based and enrolled for a certain period of time.

I’m Mexican and have been working for „Tanz die Toleranz“ since 2009. In 2011 I took the creative lead. Like my colleagues Claire Granier and Juliett Zuza I am a professional dancer. We all have performed, and sometimes still are performing on stage. So we are able to bring this discipline, love and affection that we learned as dancer to our actual job. Claire is from Switzerland and studied cultural management in Vienna. Her job is to manage the program since 2016. Juliett has been working with us as an artist since 2010 and is handling the project coordination since 2016. We all work full-time.

Also engaged part-time are Carlos Diaz and Cristina Blodek. Carlos is studying stage dance and Cristina, who is originally from Columbia, studied international development. She is also responsible for project management. Iliya Hosseine is helping us with administrative tasks while completing his compulsory integration year. He joined us back in 2015 when he came to Austria.

Which workshops do you offer? How do you select the theme, program, dance style etc.?

We offer a very broad and diverse program. At „Saturdance“ or „Ballet in der Brotfabrik“ you can participate anytime without registration. These are open workshops. However, there are also workshops where you have to enrol and commit to participate for a certain period of time. For example 2 weeks, 2 month or one semester. For those long-term projects, commitment is important. The goal is to create a choreography, which will be performed in front of an audience in the end. Therefore regular participation is key to a successful outcome.

Since 2007 “Saturdance” is a continuous part of our program in the “Brunnenpassage”. Every Saturday you can learn a different style of dancing. The goal is to provide easy access to dance and movement. Especially to those who don’t have the chance to get in touch with art or movement in their daily lives. Guided by professional dancers, participants of all age groups and social backgrounds are encouraged to experience movement and community in a positive way. Based on our experience all different types of dancing – from Afro-Columbian to contemporary – are enjoyed. Every week 40-60 people take part in this one dance class.

Project for kids in Moldova (c) Dinu Bubulici

Any specific courses for kids and young adults?

Other projects like „Youth Dance Company in der Brotfabrik“ are more mandatory than others. After a try-out phase for two weeks young, people between the age of 13 – 23 are welcomed to enrol in this project for a couple of months to work together on a choreography. Contemporary dance helps them to communicate in a creative way amongst each other. The kids are supported to explore their own way of moving in a prejudice-free surrounding. They are able to practice with the guidance of choreographs and experts in the field of participatory dancing for the public performance. In the recent years even musicians, visual artists and spoken theatre experts have gotten involved.

Were there any positive or negative experiences with a project?

In general all the projects received good feedback. With the project “Adult Dance” for example we had such a great interest that we had to limit the group to 70 dancers. Some adults are even taking part since the beginning of this group in 2008. At the same time though we reach out to new participants each time.

We’re quite lucky as we haven’t experienced many negative things yet. One example was a cooperation with a project partner, who unfortunately was not interested in a successful outcome of the project. This was very frustrating.


(c) Laurent Ziegler

Any obstacles you had to tackle?

The biggest challenge is to reach people who are not interested in dancing or even have prejudices against it. This might be because they think they are unable to dance or because they are not open to new things. But as soon as we’re able to get hold of these people I would say that the majority is positively surprised and willing to fully commit.

Last but not least: do you think that the world would be a better place, if more people would exercise or in your case dance (together)?

In my opinion, there would be more empathy in the world. A place where our common interests are important and not the things that divide us. It would be a world in which we live together happily.


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