Poetry and Dance: Let the Words Move You


Dance doesn’t just have to be choreographed to music, the spoken word can work beautifully too.

Reach for the sky and spread out your palm. As the leaf in the poem drifts from the tree, start to twist your hand down, circling your wrist. Let your body follow your hand to the floor. Feel the words with your body. Become the poem.

Contemporary dance and poetry can easily be combined, you just need to stop for a moment, stop reading the words with your eyes and instead, listen. Feel them with your body. Translate the emotions, the punctuation, the words and moments into motion.

The similarities between yoga and poetry are very much like those shared by poetry and dance. Each employ form, breath, flow and mindfulness. In some ways, this relationship is more obvious with dance and poetry, as they can be married together in choreography, with the contemporary dance responding directly to the content and motion of the poem.

As with music, the spoken poem has movement, rhythm and pace, which can be used to create beautiful choreography that enhances and compliments the words being performed.

As the leaf settles on the floor, let your body hang with your hands at your feet. When the breeze lifts the leaf, let your arms flow up and lead your body into a playful pirouette with your arms in fifth, arched above your head. Step out and follow the leaf as it dances across the stage, through the poem. Dance with the leaf.

One of the beautiful things about poetry is that it can convey an emotion or moment in time by describing it in a more loose, free and subtle way. It can be subjective and abstract. Meaning can be woven into seemingly ordinary things, or extraordinary things. There are almost endless possibilities. A poem can capture anything the imagination can conjure. Dance is similar. It is only limited to the physical limitations of what the body can achieve.

Contemporary dance, with it’s founding in ballet but creative freedom of form, is the perfect dance for poetry. It can shift and evolve; you can create different and new movements in response to the words. Similar to illustration, you can have a conversation with it.

By adding music to the equation, you can create something quite magical. A visual, aural and emotional experience that can raise the hair on your skin and give you goosebumps.

The breeze is now a storm and the leaf no longer dances but tumbles and is thrown across the stage. The words beat faster. Your heart beats faster. You tumble, you jump, you spin. You are the leaf, trapped in a whirlwind. Your feet fly across the stage and you create a myriad of movements as you embody the leaf.

At the festival this year, we have some great dance performances lined up. This year’s theme is all about connection: connecting generations of poets and connecting different creative practices - and we’re looking forward to celebrating the complimentary natures of poetry and dance. With community dance pieces as well as other entertainment booked throughout the festival, there’s going to be lots of engaging, creative pieces to enjoy.

After dancing, spinning and losing control, the leaf is caught in the hand of a child, who places it safely in the nook of a tree trunk. Your heart slows as you come to a stop, welcoming the stillness. Your body gently folds, your knees bend and your arms drop to embrace your legs in the comforting belly of the tree. The dance stops.  

Join us in exploring this connection between dance and poetry.

Become the leaf.


by Charlotte Rayment