Curtain call

When I first started this blog, my personal objective was to understand the relationship between dance and the environment better. Through coming up with ideas for the content and primary research, I learnt more than just what I was hoping to.

First, it was learning about the real impacts of the wasteful habits in the dance community. My understanding of this deepened from “too much waste is being thrown away” to “the act of overconsumption generates large amounts of carbon footprint”. I feel that it is important to be able to draw the link between an action and its ultimate environmental impacts (almost like a life cycle assessment). Gathering different information also enabled me to compare which habits are more environmentally damaging than other habits. For example, I was surprised to find out that pointe shoes are used so liberally in the ballet community and they have such a big carbon footprint.

I also gained an insight into the general consensus of the attitude of the dance community. Despite the small sample size of the survey, I thought that the results gave a decent rough indication of how aware the dance community is on environmental issues and how willing they were to make a change. It was especially interesting to see dancers being self-aware of their wasteful habits and sharing their own environmentally-friendly habits. Having this information could be useful to educate dancers in the future.

Lastly, this blog helped me evaluate my own dance habits and pushed me to actively choose to abandon the wasteful dance habits I practise. I am also guilty of impulsively buying dancewear and comfort food after dance practices. Writing about the exact impacts that I am causing poked at my conscience, hence encouraged me to reduce these habits.

Overall, it has been enjoyable growing this blog. I hope you, the reader, have managed to gain something out of reading it too.

THE Dance With Nature

In the course of writing this blog, the idea of putting together an environmental dance concert began to grow in my mind. Dr Coleman, one of the professors of the Environmental Studies programme at NUS also inspired this idea. I realised that many of my friends who are dancers also show concern for the environment and actively try to reduce their negative impacts on the environment. Hence combining our passion for the environment and the effectiveness of dance as a means of communication, an environmental dance concert could be helpful in spreading the awareness of climate change and encourage people to make a change. Read this post to brainstorm with me!

So what does an environmental concert encompass? My objectives are

  1. To produce as little carbon footprint as possible in the production of the concert
  2. To put up thought-provoking and emotional dance pieces
  3. To educate and spread awareness on the environment

If you read my post on the wasteful by-products of concerts, you would understand the huge amount of plastic, paper and textile waste that can be generated from just one dance concert. Fortunately, there are easy fixes for these problems. In terms of plastic waste from food, there are two solutions: 1. Catering a buffet-style meal for the dancers and crew and getting the food using their own lunch boxes. 2. Collecting everyone’s lunch boxes and buying food in those containers. Depending on the size of the dance team and crew, one solution might work better than the other. Having a small team would probably call for the second solution as catering a buffet may risk food wastage. A buffet meal would be better for a big team due to logistical issues. For paper waste – it’s easy! Instead of providing paper programme booklets, e-booklets work just as well. For textile waste, it would be necessary to sacrifice uniformity for sustainability. Using personal clothing, borrowing clothes from friends or thrifting are all great alternatives to buying new costumes that will not be worn again. There could be limitations to making all the dancers in one particular piece look coherent, but a good compromise could be to have a common theme or colour to the clothes that the dancers wear.

Next, the actual content of the concert. I am thinking of having dance pieces exploring several environmental aspects. The first act could be about the appreciation of the beauty and diversity of Mother Nature, including Earth’s flora and fauna. The second act will explore the urgency and severity of climate change and a slowly degrading Earth. This part of the concert will probably showcase more dark and strong emotions that seek to draw empathy from the audience. The show will end on a more hopeful note, reminding everyone of what they can do to help to save the environment. I’m not too sure how to convey this part because acting out the actual actions that people can take (i.e. consuming less, the 3 Rs etc) may not fit in the context of dance, but merely exuding the feeling of hope and change may be too abstract. Maybe combining dance with supporting background visuals, sounds and effects could be helpful in conveying this message. Feel free to comment below what you would like to see as an audience.

Finally, ensuring that the audience understands the intention behind the concert is important. This would have to rely on the publicity of the concert as well as the e-programme booklet. The significance of each dance piece should be included before the start of each piece as well to help the audience better appreciate the concert.

I am definitely excited to keep growing this idea and hope to realise this sometime next year!

Attitude.

One of the main purposes of the sustainability survey I sent out to dancers was to find out their thoughts and awareness on environmental sustainability. I was surprised to find out that many of them were concerned about the environment as well. A whopping 97.1% of the respondents believed in the importance of environmental sustainability.

Additionally, some respondents raised some interesting wasteful habits that dancers have which I did not consider.

Firstly, 6 respondents highlighted the problem of unnecessary overconsumption of electricity in dance studios. This mainly manifests in two ways: forgetting to switch off the air-conditioning and lights, and using the maximum capacity of air-conditioning and lights even when not many people are in the studio. Air-conditioning units can leak hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) into the atmosphere, which are also potent greenhouse gases that can trap 1000 times the heat that carbon dioxide can (source). Moreover, the huge electricity usage of these units fuels the burning of fossil fuel that releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thought these impacts are well-established and common knowledge, the severity seems to be diminishing and being slowly normalised. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that a significant number of respondents brought up something as trivial as such; this goes to show that dancers are still subtly aware of the environmental impacts they are making.

Next, a few respondents brought up the problem of buying too many shoes and makeup products specially for performances. These habits contribute unnecessary waste and increasing the water and carbon footprints of dancers. The solutions to these problems lie in the change in mindsets of dancers, and as one respondent aptly put, “it’s important to educate dancers about this matter!”. It is up to the dance community to maximise the use of their shoes and makeup by repairing slightly damaged shoes or sharing makeup with other dancers.

This links to my next point on how willing dancers are to sacrifice their personal comfort and convenience for environmental sustainability. In the survey, 92.9% of the respondents reflected that they would sacrifice convenience for sustainability.

Whilst this is a heartening and hopeful statistic, I can’t help but wonder how many of the respondents will consistently enact actual change in their lifestyles to accommodate environmentally friendly habits. Even as someone who consciously choose to not use one-time-use products (lugging my reusable box, bottle and utensils around) and eating a plant-based diet, it is irresistible once in a while to indulge in refreshing bubble tea when I forget to bring my bottle or blasting the aircon on a particularly hot day. Nevertheless, the high percentage reflects the general positive attitudes that dancers have towards environmental sustainability. 😊

Dance(r’s) Routine (2)

BOTTLES. Plastic ones. Lining the back of the dance studio like this

Screenshot from 1MILLION Dance Studio’s Youtube channel

This picture is a screenshot from this video on 1MILLION Dance Studio’s Youtube channel. 1MILLION Dance Studio is one of the most popular dance studios in Korea, and its Youtube channel has 18.3million subscribers at the time of this post. The plastic bottles you see here probably provide much-needed hydration to the 60 dancers in this one class; after all, dancing can be a rigorous sport.

Survey results on how dancers hydrate themselves

In the survey I sent out to dancers, almost 30% of the dancers buy drinks that come in one-time-use plastic containers when they go for dance practices.

Survey on recycling rates among dancer

 

Out of the people who bring plastic bottles and cups to dance sessions, a large percentage of them don’t recycle the plastic or only recycle the plastic sometimes.

When I first started going to open classes in 2017, this was a problem I noticed as well. The convenience that buying water that comes in plastic bottles is difficult to resist – travelling light, not having the weight of all the water you need drag down your bag and the taste of the sweet drink motivating continuous movements. Some dance sessions can be spontaneous and oh shoot! – I didn’t bring a reusable water bottle with me.

The problem with one-time-use plastic bottles is a recurring on that has been constantly brought up over the past decades. Even so, it is still a problem that is far from being solved and the negative environmental impacts should definitely not be ignored or treated lightly. Not only do the plastic bottles take up precious space in landfills (did you know Pulau Semakau is projected to be fully filled by 2035?), they also end up in ecosystems such as the ocean and ingested by animals. Plastic bottles are not biodegradable – they only degrade into microplastics that are even more prone to being ingested by fishes and other small animals (source). The microplastics travel upward in the food chain and could eventually end up in humans. The rate at which dancers use and dispose of plastic bottles only further aggravates the problem. It is important to educate dancers on the severity of the plastic problem on earth.

Recycling rates among dancers are disappointing as well. It seems like the biggest deterrence to this is the lack of recycling bins near dance studios and popular dance spots, as 2 of the responses rightly pointed out. The fatigue from a difficult dance practice can be overwhelming to almost debilitating; I completely understand why dancers would be unwilling to recycle the plastic bottles. A great way for dance studios to encourage dancers to save the environment would be for them to install more water coolers and recycling bins to boost recycling rates and reduce the demand for plastic bottles.

Dance(r’s) Routine (1)

The dance experience doesn’t just start and end during the dance practice itself. Different dancers have different habits when it comes to making their entire dance experience better and more enjoyable than just the dancing itself. What helps me enjoy my dance practices better are 1. Wearing comfortable, airy, fashionable dancewear 2. Having a good meal before the practice and 3. Looking forward to having something cold and sweet (bubble tea? Ice cream?) after the a particularly tiring practice. However, some of these tiny guilty pleasures accumulate to a substantial amount of environmental damage. To find out more, I sent out a survey asking about the habits of dancers and whether they are aware of the potential harms of their actions.

Dancewear seems to be an important essential for many dancers. Out of 70 respondents, 58 of them, which is more than 80% of the respondents, buy clothes specially for dancing.

Fig. 1: Survey results 1

 

When asked whether they bought dancewear unnecessarily, 54.3%, or 38 of 70 respondents reflected that they did that.

Fig. 2: Survey result 2

Textiles are major contributors of carbon footprint from the materials that are used and the processes through which they are made. One cotton t-shirt produces 2.34kg of carbon dioxide in its lifecycle (source). Out of 70 respondents, 36 of them mentioned “oversized shirts” or “baggy shirts” as examples of dancewear that they buy. Indeed, oversized graphic tees are wardrobe staples of dancers; I love wearing oversized shirt to dance because they make my movements look bigger and (honestly, to me) makes me look better as well. One person commented that “I think compulsive buying of oversized shirts is something that we do very often”. Could this unsustainable practice have alternatives? I think yes!

In recent years I’ve adopted the thrifty, exciting and satisfying hobby of shopping for second-hand clothes around Singapore. I got my fair share of pre-loved oversized shirts from stores such as The Fashion Pulpit, Refash, New2U and the Lucky Plaza luggage flea market. Thrifting for clothes reduces the consumption of new clothes and the resources used to make them. You can also find many vintage pieces that are more exciting to wear.

However, there is sort of a psychological barrier to wearing second-hand clothes. One respondent brought up the issue of hygiene, explaining why they wouldn’t buy second-hand clothes even though they understood the importance of environmental sustainability and would sacrifice their convenience for the sake of sustainability. Hence there seems to be a need for people to be more aware of and more receptive of the idea of donning second-hand clothes and the hygiene procedures that each second-hand store has. Personally, I am unaware of the common hygiene routines of the second-hand clothing stores in Singapore. It could be useful more them to explain how they process the second-hand clothing that they receive to more effectively persuade people to buy pre-loved clothing.

Lime green snow

“Save my world, save my world, today!” If you’re Singaporean you’ve probably heard of this song before. Honest opinion: this song can be annoying, but it did its part to push out the green message in Singapore. Art forms, like the Save my world song, can convey impactful messages through performance. Today’s post explores how dance, as a performance art, can create social change through spreading an environmental message. Earth Day Network put things into perspective when they explain that art forms “are able to depict images and set forth narratives that put climate change on a human scale first, and then connect with emotions to create a personal experience”. Dance can be an effective means of communication because “no other art expresses a narrative as viscerally as dance” (source).

The piece “Dead Reckoning”, choreographed in 2014 by KT Nelson for ODC, is about “a human being’s relationship with the natural world”. In an interview with KQED arts, Nelson explains her motivation for creating the dance piece: being wowed by the sheer power of nature and hoping to instill human emotions for the environment. Although there is ample scientific knowledge and data gathered to spur a movement to combat, she believes the “missing ingredient is our emotional world” (source). The piece uses both movement and props to symbolise humans’ relationship with the environment. The dancers spill lime green confetti from their hands, eventually engulfing the stage in a shade of artificial lime green (“nothing in nature is like that”), which represents “how we have transformed the world into a place that we do not know”. The music composed by Josie Jeanrenaud specifically for “Dead Reckoning” includes sounds of trees falling and dramatic, fast-paced cello music. The musicality and the rapid movement of the dancers bring out the “panic”, “franticness” and “futileness” that Nelson tries to show in the piece. This speaks humans’ eco-anxiety and a sense of urgency. Despite having an unconventional theme, the entire piece was performed beautifully and full of emotion. You should definitely check out the video here! I think I would’ve really enjoyed the live performance.

Dead Reckoning, screenshotted from Youtube video

 

While I was doing research on environmental dances for this post, I realised that many dances I’ve done before were about the beauty of nature. Many of which were Chinese Dance pieces – about the excitement of flowers blossoming during spring or about the magical moment when the first raindrop fell. A particular piece called “呼唤绿荫” (translation: calling out to the nature)is about the joy of being immersed in greenery. If you watch our performance here, you’ll see us holding a piece of plant prop (made of plastic hmmm) and dancing with it, almost like we are worshipping Mother Nature. Despite being in the item, I hadn’t realised the significance of the dance, which I now interpret as a showcase of the beauty of nature and the love that humans have for the environment.

呼唤绿荫, screenshotted from Youtube video

The important lesson I learnt as a dancer as much as someone who cares for the environment: while it is awesome that there are so many dance pieces about the environment, it is so important for the dancers themselves to be aware of what they are representing in the dance and be aware of the issues they are shedding light one. Ultimately, it’s about touching the audience’s hearts with the emotions that shine through in the dance.

Pointe of sustainable dancing

I never did ballet as a kid, contrary to popular belief. And I must confess that I nodded off watching a Don Quixote ballet performance in 2015. Nevertheless, I’ve always been in awe of the amazing strength, flexibility and grace that ballet dancers have – it’s amazing to watch them move on stage! As a young child, I was especially fascinated by the ability of ballet dancers to go on pointe. Questions like “don’t their toes hurt?” and “how do they bend their feet like that” crossed my adolescent mind.

Just in case you’re having the same questions I had, here is a brief explanation of the parts of a pointe shoe and how it works. A pointe shoe typically consists of the box, the shank, the wings, the vamp and the platform (Tatiana G, 2018). The box is a hard, well, box, that supports the dancer’s toes when she goes en pointe.

Structure of pointe shoes. (Taken from bestpointe.com)

In terms of materials, the toe box is made of layers of fabric bind together by a thick, glue-like paste; the shank, or the sole, is made from cardboard and leather; the rest of the shoe is made of cotton, leather and satin. Watch a video of how the shoe is made here.

Kat Sullivan (2015), estimates her pointe shoe to contain 2 oz of leather, about 1 of cotton and about 1 oz of cardboard. Based on her calculation, these total to about 470g of carbon footprint per pointe shoe (source). Which is not a lot, until you add in the carbon footprint of shipping and the sheer number of pointe shoes a dancer can go through (see previous post – up to 3 pairs of pointe shoes a day!). Pointe shoes are strong, but they’re not made to last.

I found an interesting article of this young ballerina, Abigail Freed, who strengthened the shank of her pointe shoes using carbon fibre to make her shoes last longer. Researchers L. Colucci and D. Klein (2008) have also pointed out that the pointe shoe has gone through little innovation over the years. In their study, they redesigned the ergonomics of a pointe shoe and experimented using more durable materials such as carbon fibre and Tyvek. Innovations like this could possibly lengthen the life of one pair of pointe shoes and create less waste from practising this traditional art form.

Eventually, pointe shoes inevitably lose their shape and are discarded. However, a company called Petit Pas upcycles the shoes to make bracelets and even bags for dancers to hold on to a memory. They use the leather and satin ribbons to make their products.

Repurposing dance equipment may still be in its nascent beginnings, but as more people become aware of the point(e) of dancing sustainably, there is a huge potential in reducing waste from dancing.

Wardrobe Malfunction?

A large part of the excitement I feel during concert productions comes from trying on the costumes for the first time. Chinese dance costumes are always very elaborate; the choreographers plan every single part of the costume from the headpiece all the way to the shoes. I never knew (or bothered to find out) what our costumes were made of, but the fabric felt so soft and comfortable and the sequins and rhinestone details created a visual spectacle. In our dance studio costume room, we have hundreds of pieces of these handicrafts left by previous generations of dancers. During our annual clean-ups, we would admire old costumes, almost like appreciating ancient artefacts.

At some point in time I realised so many past costumes were just sitting in the costume room, unused and collecting dust. I felt upset because 1. these beautiful costumes only had one time to shine and 2. what a waste of resources! There was this performance we did that was inspired by the Jiangnan spring in the southern part of China. The blue costume was so pretty and comfortable to dance in, and we even used umbrellas as props to dance with. The costume had 2 layers, made using at least 3 different kinds of fabric, some plastic pink flowers and LOTS of silver and blue sequins. As much as I loved the costume, we only used it once and never again.

Other classical art forms such as ballet also seem to be facing the same problem. Olivia Boisson (corps de ballet member in NYC ballet) uses up to 3 pairs of pointe shoes a day (source). The making and transport of pointe shoes create a large amount of carbon footprint, and with a shift from handmade to machine-made pointe shoes, more energy is consumed from the operation of the machines. Ballet costumes are even more exquisite than Chinese dance costumes. Tutus are customised for every performance and can be made of up to 15 layers of tulle for the tutu plate (source). Each piece of tutu also represents the storyline, the feeling of each ballet movement. In this video, the beautiful tutu has many lilac flowers for the lilac fairy.

There is a dilemma between creating new costumes to preserve the cultural significance of each piece of costume and buying fewer costumes to save the environment. Should we compromise art for the environment? As a dancer, I understand how important the costumes can be in a dance performance – a well-made costume not only accentuates the dancer’s movements but also enhances the depiction of the storyline and what the dance is trying to express. My Chinese Dance team tries our best to reuse past costumes for new performances, but we are mere recreational dancers. It might not be feasible for professional dancers to wear past costumes for their high production quality performances if the costumes do not fit well, or are really old and have lost their shape. These questions do not seem to have answers for now, but with the advent of technology, maybe certain fashion solution could help to repurpose old costumes or make dance costumes using more sustainable resources.

The BTS that no one sees

Do you like watching dance concerts? I always get super excited about attending a dance show because watching the dancers enjoy themselves on stage makes me so happy. Sometimes I also feel deep, inexplicable emotions that make me tear up. Most of all, I’m inspired by the power and movement of the dancers to improve my own dancing. Sadly, there’s the Behind-The-Scenes that the audience – and sometimes not even the performers themselves – see.

Last April my dance group were deep into preparation our production “Medley”. We were scheduled to attend three full-day rehearsals before the actual concert.

Early morning of our first rehearsal, our 170-member team arrived at the concert venue, full of excitement. After a productive morning, our logistics committee appeared at the door of our dressing room with bags filled with much-needed nutrients to fuel our afternoon rehearsals. Here’s the problem: 100 disposable bentos per meal, for four lunches and one dinner – that’s 850 single-use plastics thrown away for one student production. Imagine bigger, more professional productions: a bigger crew to support more performers and props, more rehearsals. And more mouths to feed.

Then the audience comes in. Each person takes a programme booklet, browsing to see what “Medley” is about. They get excited when they spot a friend in the pages. Here’s the problem: more than 1 000 programme booklets were printed for this show, but most will be thrown away immediately after the concert, if not a few days later. So many trees sacrificed – was it worth it? E-booklets are a great way to overcome this problem. For instance, I went to a concert that had a QR code shown on the screen for the audience to scan and get an online copy of the programme. The programme booklet was well-designed and interactive, and you don’t need light to see it when the theatre is dark!

As much as it is easy to expose such harmful practices in a production, it is difficult to instigate a movement to change these practices. The use of disposables makes logistical sense, saves time and allows the dancers to concentrate on practising. How much effort are the dancers and producers willing to put into creating a sustainable concert when they are already exhausted from practising so hard?

Introducing – Our Dance With Nature

Hello, my name is Sarita. Welcome to my blog! This blog explores the relationship between the art of dance and the environment.

When I told my friends about my idea for the blog, most of them went “huh, are those two things related?”. Here’s my story:

I started dancing when I was seven years old in primary 1. My mum decided it was a good idea for me to learn the art of Chinese Dance so that I can appreciate my own Chinese culture more and grow up to be a graceful person (I don’t think it worked). I honestly did not have a passion for dance till Secondary 3, a full 8 years later. I started to understand my body more, to enjoy the different ways that my body could move and appreciate the beauty of dance performances. Concerts and productions were always super exhilarating; I savoured every moment on stage and dancing together with a close-knitted crew. Somehow, I only remember the glorious parts of these productions, but often forget how much resources were exhausted.

Environmental issues became a big part of my life when my close friend in secondary school decided to go plastic-free. It was my first contact with the concept of environmental degradation and the point of realisation of the amount of waste we are producing. Since then I’ve been actively learning more about different environmental issues, including deforestation, pollution and wastage. As I become more aware of how much harm to the Earth humans has caused, I developed a new perspective on my lifestyle.

After gaining this new perspective I cannot look at dancing the same way again. Many people enjoy watching dance performances and appreciate what is presented on stage; many are also aware of the rigorous training, the amount of effort and dedication that goes into a dance production. But few of them realise the amount of waste that is generated from practising this art form. This blog marries both my passions in hopes of learning how to be a more environmentally responsible dancer. I am as curious as you are to find out more about this seemingly strange relationship. So join me on this journey of discovery! Stay tuned.