Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, so when the Facebook page of Adelaide-based dance company for adults Move Through Life (MTL) got trolled for its support of ‘body diversity’ last June, its response was emphatic. Rather than bicker or beat a timid retreat, the company not only revived its original adult performing company, but it started a second mature performing company. In 2021, MTL’s body and age diverse dancers will bring two new works to the stage, with a season in March during the Adelaide Fringe Festival and a second in May.
Founded in 2004, MTL was always about creating a space for ‘every body’ to dance. The company’s creator, Jo McDonald, a dance lover since the age of five, was not ready to give up her passion when she turned 30. “Suppose I wanted to keep dancing, what then?” she recalls. “So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a vehicle for mature dancers, or for those who didn’t quite fit the perfection aesthetic of ballet or the big dance companies?’”
Since then, things have come full circle. MTL shifted focus from performance to classes. McDonald served a couple of terms as President of Ausdance SA. And social media and pandemic-inspired virtual lessons altered the dance landscape. Now, having survived lockdown and withstood angry trolldom, MTL will return to the stage with a renewed mission and two new works – one for its revived main company and another for its brand new ‘mature’ company, comprised of dancers aged over 50.
“The spark for the mature company came from one of our students,” McDonald reveals. “When she suggested it, I thought, ‘Of course!’”
This, together with the negative assertions of the troll, re-inspired McDonald. “The D word, diversity, gets used and abused, but fact is, we are diverse. Our bodies are not the same. So why should we all have to be the same size and shape to dance? Why, if we have the energy and the desire, shouldn’t we tread the boards in our 40s, 50s and beyond, when all it takes is for a group of determined and passionate people to make it real? Our youngest dancer is 19, and our oldest is in her late 70s.”
Throughout MTL’s two performing companies and multiple class groups, that passion inspires people across the spectrum of age, ability, body type and ambition. “If diversity was a dance, we’d be doing it,” McDonald says. “This isn’t PC or marketing; it’s people getting together to do something they love, even if others want to ridicule us.”
Fast forward to 2021, and MTL will premiere a new work, Windswept, at the Adelaide Fringe, before the mature company makes its stage debut in May with The Ruby Room, a work set in the jazz nightclub world of 1920/30s.
As McDonald observes, “So many of us look in the mirror and don’t like our bodies. We wish it was more this, less that. Move Through Life is all about creating a space for every one of those bodies, whether it be dancing for fun, health, social connection or to fulfil a dream and be on stage. Our thing is, dance first, worry about how it looks later.”
The success of MTL’s body diverse approach is apparent. Their extended family of dancers have continued to fill the classes and turn up for rehearsals. Indeed, MTL is a living, dancing embodiment of age and body diversity in action. “Some people might think it’s virtue signalling; we think it’s dancing around and having a great time together,” McDonald states.
In a world of COVID, online nastiness and ideological dispute, MTL is placing its bets, on stage and in business, on inclusion. While we can’t all be Misty Copelands or Carlos Acostas, we can all experience the pleasures and benefits of dance. Moreover, the world stage is finally big enough for many more of us to shine.
The two new Move Through Life companies debuted at the launch of the 2021 season on 5 February. Windswept will premiere on 12 March at Marion Cultural Centre, and 13 and 20 March at the Blackwood Memorial Hall. The Ruby Room will premiere at the Blackwood Memorial Hall on 8 May. For more information, visit www.movethroughlife.com.au.