FEATURE: Gandhi-inspired dancer from Halewood invites people to reimagine post-corona world

A Gandhi inspired Merseyside artist is hosting online dance classes, yoga and discussions online to help people ‘overcome and transform obstacles’ imposed by COVID-19.

Clare Brumby, from Halewood, launched ‘Salt Act’ – a 5-month long choreography project – before the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of her project, Clare was one of a group of 20 pilgrimage walkers who set out on a foot march across the Salt March trail in India, a 240 journey from Ahmedabad to Dandi.

On the 12th March 2020 – 90 years to the day since the original Salt March began – the group started their journey across the historic march path alongside Tushar Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi great-grandson.

Along the way, Clare passed through many of the same villages and towns travelled to, interviewing locals and discovering their wishes for the future.

But days after she set on her trail, the march was brought to an abrupt halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Clare quarantined in India, along with three other foreigners.

Clare explained why re-acting the trail was crucial.

She said: “As a Buddhist, I am really interested in the idea of creating dialogues, and pushing the body beyond extremes.

“As humans, we are always trying to think of ways to change and reimagine the world – yet we are all very minute-to-minute, aren’t we? With social media and everything, we’ve reached this state where we want everything now, and there’s no patience.

“In the case of the march, walking is not just exercise. It is durational, a collective experience; a chance to inform my art. So I wanted to speak to people along the way to find out about the changes they wanted to see in the world.”

Clare planned to document her experiences along the trail and utilise these to create an original piece of choreography that would ‘build bridges between India and Liverpool.’

The links between Liverpool and India are particularly potent. For nearly two hundred years, The British Salt Act forced Indians to buy salt from the British. Since salt was imported from Liverpool, sellers charged with increased rates, leading Indian citizens feeling disempowered and exploited.

In response, Gandhi’s set out on his ‘Salt March’ from Ahmedabad to Dandi on 12th March 1930, where he sourced and produced his own salt.

Retracing Gandhi’s ‘act of defiance’, Clare interviewed local people in the villages and towns she passed through – asking them about the positive changes they wish to see in the world.

One of the crucial topics, for many residents, was the prospect of creating a cleaner environment and achieving political security.

Clare said: “A lot of people were talking about sanitation. They wanted a cleaner India. Young and old, educated or not – everyone shared a mission and passion for a better future.

“Just like any of us, more than anything, they want nothing more than to be heard. If you are thinking about enacting global changes, you have to be willing to listen to what other people feel so that we can build a better future for ourselves.

“Truthfully, how many times do any of us feel as though we have been properly listened to?”

Clare continued on her journey, interviewing people in local villages along the way. However, ten days after she set foot on her journey, India fell under strict quarantine measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic – leading her stranded.

Consequently, Clare’s Salt March came to a halt 110 miles away from where she started; yet health officials urged her group to return to Ahmedabad and self-isolate.

Clare explained: “No hotels were taking any foreigners in; they would only take you in if you had some proof that you were not positive with coronavirus.

“Everyone was panicking. Worse still, people were very afraid of us suddenly. Sometimes they were unkind and unwelcoming, and some said we had brought the virus to them.”

After days of uncertainty in Varoroda, Clare was repatriated safely to the UK along with hundreds of other British citizens – but she returned home to a very different Liverpool.

Clare said: “Even in our daily interactions, we can be quite closed; and I also think with what is happening, it’s isolating people more.

“It is causing a lot of division. It’s almost like when you go out, people are keeping their distance, and they are quite paranoid.

“Quite rightly so, as it is a dangerous time – but it is an invisible enemy. The whole point of this project is about visibility, opening up conversations with one another, and recognising that danger is not always something we can see.”

As Merseyside feels the pressures of an extended lockdown process, Clare feels it is more important than ever to reconnect with people from all backgrounds, reduce feelings of isolation, and promote emotional well-being.

To do this, Clare strongly believes in following the principles Gandhi practiced in his day-to-day life.

Clare said: “The situation has left many of us feeling frightened for the future, and as though the world is full of enemies. Interestingly enough, Gandhi did not have a concept of enemy. In Gandhi’s eyes, having an enemy of any kind was almost inconceivable.

“For Gandhi, the continual focus was the impact on the heart.

“I think the idea of an enemy is often instilled within us from an early age, about how if someone or something harms us, then it becomes an enemy. in his eyes, the enemy was within our minds and hearts – and that’s what we need to transform.”

As a result of the lockdown and social distancing rules, Clare has decided to use the inspiration of Gandhi’s non-violent protest to initiate several open dialogues online with local people.

Using deep listening techniques and recording conversations about what changes they would like to see in the world, the dialogues are open for anyone to participate.

Clare also believes Gandhi’s philosophies can soothe our anxieties through the lockdown.

Clare said: “The project’s main focus has always been how people create positive social change through human connection. With the current pandemic, that change already seems to be happening, so what it’s providing us with is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine our world, post-lockdown.

“You only ever change something within the world if you change something within you. To do that, we have to honestly identify what our limitations are, and figure how to overcome and transform those limitations.

“I want to capture this significant point in history by giving people a space to connect and also re-emerge dancing from this crisis in a show of unity, strength and resilience.”

Written with special thanks to the support of Metal as part of their Time and Space residency programme.

Photo credits to: Clare Brumby, Jazamin Sinclair, Heka Ahir, Tahir Malek and Vishal Mishra.

How to get involved:

Potential participants across the region are invited to join a week-long programme of free drop-in dialogue sessions, and dance/yoga fusion sessions where people can come together to discuss and reimagine a new world after lockdown.  

No previous yoga or dance experience is necessary, and participants will then be given instructions on how to take part in the online mass mobilisation performance piece, taking place on Sunday 21st June 2020. 

To learn more about how to participate in Clare’s sessions, click here.

You can learn more and receive updates about the Salt Act project through Clare’s website, her Facebook page, and her Instagram page.