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Norrlandsoperan tales: safe spaces and dancing queens

An intensive exchange of experiences between project participants and dance artists in Umeå in northern Sweden.

Among them is Riitta Lindahl, a retired social worker and university teacher. In the Dancing in Your Shoes program, among other things, she has been giving her all to choreographer Sofia Södergård's voguing workshop: "We felt like queens!”


Step by step in safe spaces – these are the key principles behind the Dancing in Your Shoes program staged in Umeå by organisers at Norrlandsoperan. They are actively seeking participants from networks for people from Sweden and other countries looking for new friends, but also seniors interested in culture, as well as young people from the LGBTQ+ community. Anyone with an interest in identity issues and dance is welcome.

Since the spring, people have been participating in study circles – a meeting model that has a long tradition in Sweden – to exchange knowledge and experiences on equal terms. That's why the project is developing organically together with the participants.


“It is challenging and exciting as a producer to let go of control and see what happens. Keeping in touch with about 35 people on background material and timings is also a challenge, but it is the personal contact that creates a sense of security

says Linda Wiklund, Producer at Norrlandsoperan


“Many of the artistic works we present at Norrlandsoperan explore the world from a queer perspective. In this project we want to broaden the concept of identity by creating meetings across generational and cultural boundaries. So in the beginning it has a lot to do with absorbing different perspectives and trying your hand at movement, and then gradually starting to create more together”

explains Birgit Berndt, Dance Director at Norrlandsoperan.


To date the project has staged several interactive performances, film screenings, talks and workshops with dance artists and costume designers. In the beginning these were mainly held outdoors or online. Now are increasingly taking place in the same room.

Together with choreographer Marit Shirin Carolasdotter, participants have examined indigenous peoples' attitudes to the land from a Sami perspective.  While Sindri Runudde has guided them through a sensory dance world beyond visual impressions.

They have also made friends with dancers from the Norrdans dance company and immersed themselves in voguing and the ballroom culture by watching the films Kiki and Paris is Burning. Not only that, they have also strutted their way down the catwalk under the direction of choreographer and drag king Sofia Södergård.


One person who really appreciates these exercises is dance enthusiast Riitta Lindahl.

“It's absolutely fantastic! Sofia brings out a side in us 'sixty-plus women' that we are usually aren’t allowed to show. Now instead of being invisible we feel confident and strong. I think it's great that Norrlandsoperan has included us seniors in all this. We’re really going for it because they believe in us!”

Riitta Lindahl feels the project has given her new insights into the choreographers' different ways of working. Trying on their methods yourself, gives the experience in the blackbox a fresh dimension. Just what the choreographers themselves get out of the project Riitta is less sure about. Maybe they understand the audience's needs a little better, she feels.


Sofia Södergård confirmes that the learning experience goes both ways.

 “Oh goodness yes! I would honestly like to skip all my own ideas and just hear more about the participants and watch them create. But we’re taking things step by step. I continue to ask them to bring music that means something to them. Getting to know these people and seeing them interact is very rewarding to me.”

The participants have recently met in separate groups for the first time, and this autumn they will collaborate in new constellations. The youngest participant is 14 and the oldest 86. Dance Director Birgit Berndt, who herself has participated in several workshops, is fascinated by how empowering and natural it feels to meet through dance.


This project is just as much about compassion as self-respect. If I am confident in my own identity, I find it easier to be curious about other people's experiences.

The body has a lot to do with identity. How you move, how you occupy a room. It's not that strange really. When we are children, we do everything with our bodies – we seek contact with others, we play and we express emotions. That is what we all have in common.

So really we are just rewinding the tape and exploiting the potential that we all already have within us”.

Want to know what's the project about? This is the place.

 Ph: Isabelle Forsberg


Hanna Kangassalo