Swallowing Clouds is a dance-based teaching project that integrates poetry, music and visual art, and takes place in public libraries. The project aims to give kids, aged 8-12, an experience of the creative process, teaching them artistic skills and allowing them the freedom to shape the process and the product of the final showing. Yvonne Ng initiated and runs Swallowing Clouds with invited guest artists and took some time to answer some questions about her experiences of the program.
Where did the name ‘Swallowing Clouds’ come from?
Swallowing Clouds literally translates to Wonton (soup). Chinese dishes are often given poetic names to evoke different emotions and of course, images. I always like the play with words that evoke images, sensations, and other possibilities. 🙂
I have a deep interest in culture, especially through food and language. Being a typical Chinese and Peranakan Chinese (if I may generalize) eating is our favorite past time. How could I not name this program after a dish?
What is unique about teaching in libraries as compared with other contexts that you’ve experienced?
Today’s library is more than a place for books, reading and quietness – it’s a gathering and connecting place with an educational focus that includes live arts and community building organization. Really it’s a community centre that also has a lot of books in different formats.
Our librarians are not focused on fulfilling a curriculum – instead they are interested in wholistic learning and experience that allows for dreaming and play. In a way, it is the same as going into an empty studio to create a work in that there are endless possibilities, but of course, we do have a plan, a starting place, and a framework.
What is important to you when choosing your teaching collaborators for this project?
This project is rooted in dance. Therefore, our teaching collaborators/leads to this point have been dance artists who also include in their practice (or are studying) voice, text, somatic practices, Open Source Forms and or Skinner Releasing and music. Beyond dance background I am also looking for people who are actually interested in this type of work with youth. It’s not everybody’s thing.
What makes Swallowing Clouds unique from other teaching programs?
I don’t have to design a program that fulfills a bureaucratic curriculum. I confess, I’ve been selfish. Essentially I’ve wanted to create a program that allowed me to work more on my practices and share my practices, whether that was creative or daily practice, and experiences with others – in this case, youth – in a fun environment.
My primary practices and study include Improvisation (in Performance), Open Source Forms (certified teacher), Ashtanga Yoga (certified teacher), Butoh, Meditation, voice and music. I’ve only lately focused on poetry writing.
We have created, within our program, the time to listen to what our participants are saying or wanting to creatively explore. Because of this there is a fulfilling learning exchange in Swallowing Clouds.
Do you have a memory that stands out from the program?
Oh, I don’t have one but three memories: when one of our participants from the Oakwood Library went home and wrote a new poem, when one of the Oakwood kids quietly offered to create a title banner for the performance and drew a fantastic banner for our show, and another from Parkdale: how progressive and sophisticated one of the student’s dancing became as the program went on.
These memories encapsulate my constant feeling of honor and being continually impressed by our students.