Still Dancing Across Cambodia

Post image for Still Dancing Across Cambodia

We first saw 4Motion Dance Theatre Company perform it was 2009 and we knew then we had to work with them one day.

We are so proud to have them onboard, and they have devised a full show despite being in Cambodia for a 2month residency workshop right up until the end of August.

We caught up with Elaine Macey the Artistic Director of 4Motion Dance Theatre Company, Freelance Dance Artist, and Arts Project Manager, before they left in June and asked her to tell us about herself and 4Motion Dance Theatre Company.

Over to Elaine…

“With The Epic Arts organisation, EPiC,  I am a passionate believer in ‘if you can dream it you can do it’, and carry Walt Disney’s wise words close to my heart in every step of my creative journey.

As Artistic Director of 4Motion Dance Theatre Company, along side co-founder, Artistic Director Dean Soden, I find myself actively seeking for the dream to guide and take me off on the next adventure!

The ultimate dream was to run a dance company; the important threads to sew the dream together involved lots of dancing, planning and scribbling on brightly coloured post-it notes and working with people of all ages and abilities to experience the once-in-a-lifetime creative adventure, and WOW, what an adventure it’s been!

4Motion in rehearsal with Epic students

Back in 2005 I shared a little dream with a friend who was also a big dreamer: Dean and I joined creative forces to refine our aspirations of running a dance theatre company, merging our individual skills – myself as a dancer, project manager and choreographer and Dean as an actor, film-maker and director. The ethos of the company is primarily based around the belief that everyone is and can be creative, when offered the right environment, experience and energy to explore this.

This has been inspired by the fortunate experiences myself, Dean and our creative team had whilst growing up – attending primary and secondary school, college or university, going to after school clubs, visiting galleries and theatre, exploring different countries and cultures, being able to play, and experience being a child and young person in a safe and creative environment.

You may wonder why I list schooling as a fortunate experience and even the ability to play safely as a child, but it is these fundamental experiences that we realised are sometimes taken for granted when we worked with the children and young people on our international adventure to Cambodia.

In 2009 4Motion was invited to take up a one-month residency in partnership with Epic Arts in Cambodia; visa’s, accommodation and local support was kindly offered and in return, we volunteered our time for one month – who could say no to that?

devising in a train station, Kampot

It was an invitation too good to miss, so with backpacks ready and heaps of ideas buzzing around my mind, Dean, professional photographer and friend, Matthew Russell and I, hopped over to a small town called Kampot to kick-start January 2010 with a 4Motion bang!

After many long and dusty road trips from Bangkok and 48 hours later, we bounced into Kampot town centre with the enthusiasm of hyperactive teenagers on their first residential trip away from home! Slightly overwhelmed by the intense heat and humidity, yet filled with excitement to discover what the next month had in store, we navigated our way to the Epic Arts café in town to be greeted with beaming smiles, a collection of resounding Sok Sabi [informal Khmer greeting] and peaceful hand gestures that suggested we had arrived at the right place!

Epic Arts is an arts charity based in London and Cambodia. They facilitate arts projects for people with disabilities, with a clear focus on the philosophy that Every Person Counts (EPiC). The Epic Arts organisation in Kampot runs a café in town that is run by deaf Epic Arts staff and reinvests profits to fund projects for the young disabled people Epic work with.

With a brand new arts centre built that was opened in April 2009, the arts charity soon expanded its educational provisions for the local community, establishing the Vocational Training course for eleven young people between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one.

Nine of the students are deaf, two wheelchair-users, all have experiences of social exclusion and discrimination, and all have a vibrant talent and burning passion to do something with their life.

4Motion had the fortunate job of working with these great people every day from 8am-4pm, for one month, facilitating choreography and dance theatre classes, and devising a documentary film on dance with the young dancers.

We were aware that we would be working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but hadn’t really worked out how we would communicate – what with our lack of Khmer speaking and sign language skills!

working with the deaf and without Khmer

What could have been perceived as a ‘barrier’ between the students and us, actually turned out to be a wonderful communication journey and interesting choreography process. As a team, over the days of working together in an intense physical environment, the most obvious and beautiful language developed – the universal language of movement, a process that connects, inspires, portrays stories, meanings and emotions, all without the need or want for speaking.

After the first week of fun-fueled games, trust exercises and movement phrases, we begun to explore the theme of ‘landscapes’ in the second week. 4Motion wanted the movement material to be derived from the young peoples personal connections with their community, their home, and their landscape. To inspire this theme we all went out en-masse on our bikes to choreograph, sketch in our journals and create movement in different locations: a derelict train station; a riverside by Bokor Mountain; and the Epic Arts café.

The daily workshops were very demanding physically, not only because of the relentless heat that felt like you were dancing in a sauna, but because we were encouraging the students to explore their individual physicality and push the boundaries of what they were capable of doing.

Katie Goad, the founder of Epic Arts, has worked with the students on a daily basis for many years, and she has developed such a beautiful movement vocabulary with the students, that their technical skills were as good, if not better, than some of the young dancers we work with in the UK.

Although skill is important in many styles of dance, what 4Motion seeks to discover are the individual gems that make us all unique. Once a tiny part of these gems have been revealed, it’s about honing that talent and helping them develop a style that is completely different to anything else you have seen before.

final performance to 200 people

At the end of the four weeks the students had produced a 30-minute performance and 10-minute film, and we celebrated their hard work in a final performance shared with the local community.

The students are still performing the piece we choreographed with them, touring to local villages to raise awareness about the arts, disability and the great work of Epic.


When talking to a few people about 4Motion’s volunteering experience in Cambodia, some initial responses have been directly associated with the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge rein between 1975-1979. Yes, the horrific events of the genocide are still lying beneath the surfaces of the communities and memories of people living in Cambodia, but what is apparent is their fighting spirit to never give up – delivered with such generosity, kind hearts and open minds.

Going back to basics, stripping away the expectations and fast pace of life in the UK, and experiencing a renewed appreciation of the simple things in life, our one-month residency with Epic Arts was a life changing experience. Our experience of teaching in silence, using limited verbal communication, had a huge influence on our teaching methodologies back in the UK; we now often lead classes totally in silence using gestures and signals to communicate.

This has had a terrific effect on the way our younger students are engaged in class: their attention is more focused; their inquisitive nature is calmer and more specific to the task; and their energy is consistent throughout. We have had parents who have witnessed these classes tell us how quiet, calm, and happy their children are, and said they may try that silent approach at home!

Apart from the tangible skills that we have developed from working with Epic Arts and the young people, we have been very lucky to collect a goodie bag full of memories and lesson in life – ‘dis’ability makes us unique and offers movement possibilities to develop a new style, technique or performance approach; appreciate the simple things in life like paper and a pen as valued and effective tools; and to always remember the power of creativity as it connects us with so many wonderful people and memories.

easy smiles

A memory that has stuck with me since our trip to the derelict train station involved a group of very young children, we set up our basic camera equipment whilst the Epic Arts students started working on their choreography on the broken floor tiles and crumbling seats. The children appeared amazed by the small camera we had set up, as if MTV had just rocked up in their home town, and fascinated by the students dancing and sketching in their journals. I tore out pieces of paper from my journal to give to them and handed out pens, demonstrating how to draw what you see on the paper. Their faces lit up as if they had never been given writing utensils to use before.

Their kind nature radiated when we were packing up to leave and the young audience circled me to return the paper and pens – it was my gift to them and it was their gift to me for sharing their innocence, appreciation, and smiles.


Elaine Macey is the Artistic Director of 4Motion Dance Theatre Company, Freelance Dance Artist, and Arts Project Manager. The artistic vision of 4Motion is to be able to share work, continue to learn with others and join together with different cultural communities to devise a totally new 4Motion experience.

4Motion worked with Most Mira charity in Bosnia delivering a youth arts festival, and worked with children living in segregated communities.

In Kampot in July 2011, a bigger 4Motion team lead a six-week residency with Epic Arts, working on a collaboration performance, film and photography project with the students and 4Motion team.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: