As an MFA student, Leung’s project is self-driven, with no specific guidelines. She also has the freedom to explore a range of creative outlets.
“I actually like to make videos that have surreal qualities, with no plot or script imposed on participants. With this project we just join up on the internet and see what happens. We chat, get more comfortable with each other, and then we dance.”
To enlist participants, Leung uses platforms like CouchSurfing and Facebook. She’s also reached out to care centres for older adults and to hospitals through volunteer channels.
As “Dancing with seniors” has evolved, Leung has made some notable observations. Most of the male seniors she’s corresponded with, for example, seem more inclined to move with abandon. Leung encourages participants to choose their own music, which helps loosen them up.
“I can move to any music they want to play — whether it’s ‘Limbo Rock’ or a James Brown tune or Spanish folk music. Everyone has different tastes.”
‘I’ve learned a lot by engaging with so many people’
The Skype sessions with seniors — which can last up to three and a half hours — often include provocative discourses.
“They just want companionship,” says Leung. “It doesn’t matter what we talk about — they’re just happy to talk to someone, even remotely. One of my participants, a retired professor, likes to teach me about astronomy.”
Leung came to Montreal from Hong Kong to study in 2017. She lives alone in a small apartment. Ironically, she says, she’s had more social interactions since the outset of the pandemic, and more time to accomplish her work.
“I’ve learned a lot by engaging with so many different people. It’s led me to think about my life in a new way.”
The culmination of Leung’s collaborative project will be a short film and a YouTube channel. Ultimately, the Concordia student wants to ensure that as many people have the opportunity to see “Dancing with seniors on Skype during COVID-19” as possible.
“I don’t want people to feel forced to watch the whole thing in an hour. I’d like release it in excerpts. Like an archive — an archive of people dancing.”
Seniors interested in Wan Li Leung’s project can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.