Sculpting society

Álvaro Restrepo
The language of dance as a social tool is at the heart of a master class offered by a pioneering dance teacher from Colombia.       


By Jasmin Stephens ‘20

Álvaro Restrepo, one of Colombia’s pioneers of dance, establishes cultural and educational spaces in his work with young dancers. At the heart of his approach is El Colegio del Cuerpo, or “The School of the Body,” in which he guides children in expressing themselves through the body and through contemporary dance. That training will be at the center of a master class Restrepo will offer Oct. 12 at Harvard Dance Center. Participation is free, but due to limited class capacity, online registration is required for both participants (ages 18 and older only) and observers. Priority is given to Harvard undergrads. He and I spoke by phone last week. An edited version of our conversation follows.

Álvaro Restrepo
What influenced your decision to become a social change entrepreneur and help with the foundation of El Colegio del Cuerpo?
I started training as a dancer when I was 24, and I already had a lot of questions about the social and political situation in my country. I could use the arts to create beautiful work and train beautiful dancers but also have social feedback in the transformation of life and reality. It was about creating art but also seeing life as the real and most important piece of art. I always had this idea of not only sculpting bodies and creating beauty but also sculpting society and citizens through the language I had chosen, the language of the body, the language of dance. I decided to work with the kids from the most deprived areas because I knew there was a lot of talent. It was a powerful tool to reach out to the kids and community.

How can contemporary dance can change the world?
We try to interact with the social, political, economic and cultural reality of the society where we work. My country has treated the body with such violence. Being able to propose to the kids new ways of taking care of their lives and respecting others has a great impact. The education of the body is very powerful because the body is everything we are. If we transform our bodies we transform our lives.

Describe your greatest experience as a dancer and the effect it had on you.
The opportunity to come to New York and study at the world capital of dance with Jennifer Muller was incredible. I was able to come into contact with amazing people such as Martha Graham and my Korean master Kyoo-Hyun Tho. It was like a resurrection and my most important teaching career. This was the beginning of my life as a dancer in New York.

What do you hope to achieve in your master class at Harvard?
It’s such an honor and a privilege to be here at Harvard for the first time. The fact that i can establish a dialogue between such an important university and a nonprofit organization is powerful. We can share our experience as a society that has suffered so much. This can be beneficial to a university with so many strategies of learning. We are able to share our philosophy and methodology. We can communicate about education for the arts and with the arts. I will learn a lot here as well, and hopefully the participants will, too.