Dance, solidarity, and happiness.

In 1960s England some people had an attitude of “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish”.

Can you imagine being a migrant, perceived as the ‘other’, the job-stealer, the threat? For some asylum seekers in Ireland today, that kind of xenophobia is a reality.

Catherine Young. Photographer: Eilise Sullivan.

Direct provision became official state policy in March 2000, and by February 2019 there were 6,355 people living in the centres. 30% of them were children.

How do we move beyond statistics? Every person has their own unique tale to tell, and even if you don’t know the full story, one way of cultivating empathy is to imagine things from another person’s perspective by stepping into their shoes. To take it a step further (pun intended), some of us just love to kick off those shoes….and dance!

A warm welcome

Catherine Young set up The Welcoming Project four years ago to integrate migrants, locals and asylum seekers with the intention of creating “a counter-narrative to what we’re seeing in International media. A message of welcoming, inclusiveness and hospitality”.

I jumped at the chance (literally) to be involved with the project at Dance Limerick when the opportunity arose to learn sequences from Ireland, Palestine and Africa.

Photo: Eilise Sullivan

Multicultural moves

Brought together by a passion for music and movement, our collective formed in January 2020. Céilí Afro Dabke was a truly international affair. Gazal, originally from Iran, enjoyed spending time with people from different countries as she finds it difficult day-to-day to meet people. Like the rest of us, she absolutely loves dancing! Mike from the Democratic Republic of the Congo only speaks French at home with his family, so while he found conversations difficult within our group at times, he benefited by learning English pronunciation. One of his comments summed up the project nicely; “It always feels good sharing smiles with others”.

Photo: Caitríona ni Chatháin

Caitríona from Ireland likes languages. She joined the project for fun, and there was plenty of it. Shilpa, who is from India, came along when her husband Vikram offered to babysit their daughter. As a stay-at-home mother she was glad of a “change in life to sharpen body and mind”.

The room was full of beaming faces after every practice. Many people commented on how refreshing it was to have the opportunity to forge connections in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with alcohol: I really appreciated that element of the project too.

Photo: Eilise Sullivan


Every week, groups travelled to Limerick from various direct provision centres for rehearsals. My own journey to the venue took 80 minutes into the city from West Limerick, whereas one of the lead dancers, Eilise, completed a round trip of 6 hours for every class!

Drummer Brian is based in Dublin and he was on-site for the duration of the project to guide and uplift us with his firey rhythms. The commitment of teachers, musicians, asylum-seekers, families, lone parents, workers, and students alike made the experience special. We were dedicated and determined!

Photo: Eilise Sullivan

African dance

African dance is physically demanding and we worked hard. Plenty of mistakes were made; we stepped on each other’s feet, clashed elbows, confused left with right, laughed, stumbled, sweated buckets, and sang our hearts out. Over the five weeks I definitely built up more stamina, muscle memory, and confidence; all accompanied by giggles galore! Agata from Poland mentioned that she had never felt fitter; I am sure it was the same for many in the group.

Agata and family. Photo: Eilise Sullivan

Intense and exhilarating, dance has a myriad of physical and mental benefits. Artistically, movement and music are very satisfying too. I love that there is zero waste of materials, no storage required, and no accumulation of ‘stuff’ when we use our bodies as living sculpture. Dance is the ultimate ephemeral art form. Every breath, each strike of a hand on drumskin, every single movement matters: is pure feeling.

What next

As part of the What Next dance festival we performed live on February 8th and everyone was as lit up as brightly as the the full moon that night. The finale saw drummers joined by Irish trad musicians to create a magical hybrid of sound. After we performed, the whole audience was invited to try out some folk steps from Palestine, expertly led by Salma. Then Catherine brought everyone through an African sequence. After that,we had a céilí; grinning is contagious!

One chant that we sang during a segment of the choreography included the phrase “le chéile”. Pronounced le kale-eh, it is Irish for ‘together’, and I am so glad that we gathered together.

Dance is energy, pure and spiralling. It gives us wings to fly above politics and problems. In rhythm, spirits soar in solidarity as with happy dancing feet, our hearts pound in unison. I am sp grateful to everyone involved. And the beat goes on…

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