How Sidra Bell Uses Dance to “Navigate Personal Rituals and Translate the Exquisite Rawness of Being Alive”

September 1, 2023

The dances I perform exist as companion spaces and as alternate universes that I can dwell in and move inside of to escape and project into imagined realms. They are constructed environments to explore visual images and my energetic presence, and to propose new ideas for the physical body.

Over the course of 37 years, I have devoted myself to the practice of dance to develop worlds that harness and contain the multiplicity of my bodily reactions, dreams, sense of power, vulnerability, and desires. There has not been one day since I was 7 1/2 years old, studying at the Dance Theatre of Harlem School and The Ailey School, that I have not danced or communicated with others through the dance. The relationships formed through my movement practice have been an extension of family and a map of my evolution as a woman.

Dance is a vehicle to navigate personal rituals and translate the exquisite rawness of being alive. Human feeling is beyond language and is amplified in the complicated web systems of the body. Our bodies are ever-changing networks of tiny spirited dances that collect and manage our memories; the corporeal, mysterious, and cognitive. When I dance it allows the thunderous echo of my heart and constant oscillation of my breath to spread to others.

a female dancer standing in the grass, legs crossed and arms raised
Photo by David Flores Productions, Courtesy Bell.

In the swelling of the body there is an endless peeling back of my human layers while never reaching the core. As I shed the skins of being, I feel healed and restored—reborn without fear. Our movement patterns shift the platelets and constitution of our being and soften the borders of our edges and fears. The language of the body expands and contracts our capacity to feel, empathize, and evolve dimensional understanding of the world we live in. I love the idea of the body’s technology as a way to experience the process of developing and aging. Our bodies make sense. They fold into and echo the natural world’s ability to rebuild and multiply.

Whenever I am grappling with change, dance is an old and trusted friend that I can confide in to decipher clear pathways and make meaning. Double consciousness is cultivated through dance’s ability to allow one to look at oneself transparently and come home to the body’s abundance. My other face is revealed through the many surfaces of reflection that dance offers. A dance is a space to both hold on and let go inside of—to embrace the possibility of transformation at all junctures of life.

Having recently returned to performing as a soloist, I am rediscovering the feeling of adrenaline and abandon that is the exchange between the witness and the dancer. It is a beautiful sensation to be seen imperfectly, shape-shift, and explode into action. Performing again has allowed me to reconnect with the daily commitment to the practice, care, and regimen of the body.

It is humbling and exhilarating to continuously negotiate the body’s limits and limitlessness. To connect with feeling again and again. Remembering: the soft touch of a mother’s hand, your warm embrace, the cold aftermath, dislocation, a restless feeling, coming to the surface from the dark depths, the resurgence of blood to the flesh, laughter, delirium.

One breath is the beginning and the end of one’s life cycle. These breaths weave together to create a cacophony of feeling as I dance—little births and deaths. I keep regenerating within the cycle of breath again and again, with gratitude to the form.