“It’s a celebration of heritage, culture, community,” explains Krissi. “It is not so much about the dancing but about what it represents.” And, with the North West’s dance heritage from the ballrooms of the 40s and 50s through the Northern Soul of the 60s and the rave scene of the late 80s, there are certainly plenty of tales to tell.
I first met Krissi at Sick! Festival, where she was a guest waiter at Hunt & Darton Café. She sat at my table, and before I knew what was happening I was telling her about the dance move I used to secretly practise in my bedroom (the moonwalk, if you must know – and, no, I never managed it). This was something I hadn’t shared with anyone, but here I was telling her after just a couple of minutes. That is why The Dance Collector works – Musiol is good at making you share a bit of yourself.
“I ask people whether they like to dance, and because they are being asked by a stranger they say no. They worry I am going to make them dance,” says Musiol. “So I say ‘me neither’ – I confide in them that I can’t dance. That puts people at ease.”
In fact, it was Musiol’s own lack of dancing skills that first drew her to this idea. “Because I am a text based performer, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to make a dance piece, but I can’t dance. It frightens me, because it isn’t what I do. It makes me quite vulnerable.”
There was also the story of her parents, who met at a Polish dance event in Whalley Range. Musiol uses this story to drive the narrative when she performs as The Dance Collector, along with a sequined costume her mother used to wear. “I asked her if I could use it for the show and she said ‘yes’,” says Musiol. “It is a great talking point, because it reminds people of Eastern European traditions and it represents the entire thing – my relationship with my heritage, with my mother, with dancing and with authenticity and things changing over time.”
Her process for collecting dances is quite simple. As she did with me and my not-so-thrilling Michael Jackson moves, it is simply a case of getting people talking. She then tries to replicate the dance moves, but says that “Often the person will get up and do it there and then, so show me how it is really done.” She keeps a journal of all the moves, and already has around a hundred.
The next step for Musiol, who lectures in contemporary theatre at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, is to turn the dances into a piece of theatre, one that can be performed both in community centre settings and in theatre spaces. “The whole project is testing out how to translate those public but intimate experiences into a theatre space. Does it work, does it not? That is what I am finding out.” She then plans to write up the results in a research paper, as well as using the experience as a case study for her students.
That might sound a bit dry and academic, but really the main thing Musiol is getting from the project is a sense of enjoyment. She is clearly inspired by the people she meets, and there is one group in particular that she brings up throughout our interview. “They’re called the over-55s luncheon group – although they were mostly closer to 85 than 55 – and they had a lot to tell me about growing up with dance,” says Musiol. “There was a culture of it, every Friday and Saturday night, which is something we don’t have.”
“There were people like Violet. I can really picture the twinkle in her eye as we do the hand jive. I know all about her family structure, her dog – she dances with her dog when she goes home, and I imagine what that looks like.”
When Musiol performed the piece for the luncheon club, it was a far more interactive experience than in a traditional theatre setting. “It’s like a conversation. They might say, ‘oh it wasn’t like that. It was like this’, so I had to be very open to the fact they wanted to join in. There were bits where someone couldn’t hear and they asked me to repeat it, which would never happen in a theatre.”
Inspired by this interactive performance, Musiol is attempting to instil that community feel into the theatre version of the show. “As the audience come in I offer them a piece of cake, so there is already engagement. It blurs the edges of when the piece begins, like in the community centre when there is no ‘lights down’,” says Musiol. “I guess you could say the piece has already begun once I arrive at the theatre.”
Musiol also gives the audience name badges that relate to each dance story, allowing her to directly address people during the piece as though they were really there. “Now people are waiting for when their character will come up, which makes it far more inclusive and breaks down the gap between me and the audience.”
As well as gathering more stories and creating a finished theatre piece, Musiol is looking to tour the work to community groups through the Performing Arts Network Development Agency (PANDA). “The plan is to change it for each community I visit, interweaving stories and legends from their own area into the piece.”
Wherever the piece goes next, it is nice to know that someone appreciates bad dance moves – even ones as bad as mine. “It is about committing to that move – and in that moment you are Michael Jackson,” says Musiol. “People really believe in them, and they do it with gusto.”