Imagine you are in a city square that looks old but is new. And now imagine a mermaid, older than the square or even the city itself. She is the genius loci of Warsaw and is no ordinary mermaid– she wields a sword and shield. Her tail is bifurcated, as if she means to walk on it– or perhaps dance. (It’s not a stretch to imagine her doing some slithery Berber walk floor work).
During my recent visit to Warsaw I was able to meet up with fellow FCBD® Sister Studio, Agata Zakrzewska. Agata and other ATS® dancers named their troupe Siren Society, after Warsaw’s mermaid. She showed my artist friend Edith Abeyta and I around the Old Town, which is now a UNESCO site– completely rebuilt from the rubble left after WWII. Agata said, “We Polish are tough– you tear down our city; we will rebuild it.” The Old Town was rebuilt, using the original bricks if possible, and the rubble was sifted through for decorative elements that could be reused.
My artist friend Edith Abeyta can always see the big picture and asks questions that get to the heart of the matter. (After all, she has the word “question” tattooed on her knuckles!) She asked us if we saw this dance as grass roots, and if the practitioners were self taught. I hadn’t thought of it that way but many of us flung around the globe doing ATS® have taught ourselves the dance using DVDs and traveling to workshops. Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, our teacher, has described ATS® as being a dance that looks old but is new, not unlike Old Town in Warsaw! Aspects of the North African styles that have inspired ATS® are ancient but much of it is lost to history and colonial devastation. The dance has been rebuilt from fragments as well as influenced by modern aspects of different styles of dance. ATS® dancers have built our communities from the ground up, in a community grassroots way.
Both Agata and I came to the dance for the same reasons– it transformed our relationships with our bodies. The culture of Warsaw seems to embrace ATS® and understand it. Discipline, courage and beauty is evident throughout this city with its history of resistance and survival. The powerful ATS® dancers I met in Warsaw impressed me with their seriousness and dedication. Dancers in the UK have a lot to learn from our Warsaw sisters! Though Yorkshire may never embrace the dance in the same way– and truthfully the culture here seems to resist these ideas– when we dance ATS® the miles and differences dissolve in the beauty of our shared language.
Agata owns her own studio and has just moved to a beautiful new premises at 30 Kopernika. The ceilings are tall and the mirrors stretch around colour drenched walls in saffron orange, sea blue and deep magenta. Indian block prints cover the inviting changing area and Agata has plans to decorate the studio in lush textiles reflecting the dance once the dust settles!