IRL Stories: Grooving with Alvin Collantes by Rita Couto
While dance floors were forced to close facing the sudden reality of a pandemic, an unexpected movement was born. Filipino-Canadian dance artist Alvin Collantes revolutionised dance culture from transforming each bedroom into a dance floor, to throwing sessions in Berlin parks attracting hundreds of people. An experience that connected people globally through the signature of ‘Dose of Pleasure’.
Grooving with Alvin Collantes is part of the series “IRL Stories”, a personal project by Berlin-based photographer Rita Couto, focused on how performing artists are adapting to these times of radical change. Started in the 2020’s pandemic, it is an intimate look into the life and work of artists who are using alternative means to (re)build a connection to their audience and community. Each story is photographed on medium format film and written first-hand by Rita with a participatory approach to storytelling.
As we grow up, we learn to connect to others in different ways, from the power of thought to physical intimacy. A simple greeting is one way and the reciprocity of such gestures can help us make sense of ourselves as well. Technology has thrived like never before during these isolating times, with apps and digital services filling the gap of real-life social engagement. People have continued to look for ways to remain connected — be it offline or online. I myself have searched for that connection within my own community, keeping in touch with friends, peers, and creatives who inspire me daily.
One time, during 2020’s spring lockdown, I decided to attend a movement session led by Filipino-Canadian dance artist Alvin Collantes, whom I first met at a live performance that February. In fact, the last event I had attended before the Corona crisis set in. Alvin had been offering these sessions to share his meditation practice with a circle of friends. Alongside, he offered ‘Dose of Pleasure’, donation-based movement meditation sessions for those who felt like dancing wildly from their bedrooms — a 45-minute throwback dance floor momentum.
As I tuned in to meditate, I was guided by Alvin’s unique wording, charging my sensitivity by bringing awareness to earth elements around me and within me: my breathing cycle, the outdoor breeze blowing in, my body temperature, the nearby candlelight, the sound frequency from Alvin’s playlist and, well, the noise in my thoughts. Halfway through, I was asked to visualize the inner child inside me: “Look how passionately it plays, how freely it moves and how it connects back to you.” To be reminded of my inner child in the year 2020 was just what I needed to stir up my passion in documenting the work of my fellow creatives and start the series “IRL Stories”.
Diving deeper into Alvin’s universe, I continued attending his sessions online and, later on, in real life. In-person, the sessions are more extended and spark a turmoil of emotions building up from a simple warm-up into pure ecstasy. Participating in this practice has been extremely liberating and rather nostalgic. The playlist prepared by Alvin as well as his collaborations with guest DJs is strongly tied to disco, dance music, and technoculture which, given the current clubbing hiatus in Berlin, worked wonders for many of us. However, this is not simply a format where one can dance or learn how to dance. Alvin’s passionate guidance in channelling our groove through movement meditation allows us the experience of embodiment, one beyond the physical and the conscious. Experts in movement and bodywork refer to the embodiment as an awareness-based subjective aspect of the body. It is considered an umbrella term to the spectrum of body-mind arts such as yoga, dance, meditation, and martial arts; also known as somatics, from ‘soma’ — meaning ‘the body as perceived from within.
Dose of Pleasure quickly became a global movement, with strongly attended sessions from people’s bedrooms, parks, and other outdoor venues. Inspired by seeing Alvin’s initiative grow sustainably in the midst of a pandemic, I decided to document his journey and all the facets of his work.
Rita Couto: Let’s get straight to the core: what’s your relationship with movement? Alvin Collantes: Growing up, dance was always a part of my life. Every summer in the Philippines, my cousins and I would always make 90’s dance numbers for my grandma’s birthday, Christmas, and on all family occasions. Later, the movement became available to me when I was in college and found a way to funnel an outlet of emotions and feelings. I started taking ballet and movement classes, which gave me a lot of space to express myself. I fell in love with languages that promote freedom in the body. Gaga, for example, is a movement language originated in Israel in the late ‘90s by choreographer Ohad Naharin, based on activating the awareness and deep listening of the body through rich imagery, multi-layering of information, and free movement.
The movement has also taught me to let go and hold space to listen to my inner voice and to connect with the true nature of my potential. To me, movement is also crying, laughing, and shouting and when allowing my emotions to flow through my body, I realize how dancing can be cathartic, delicate, orgasmic and so powerfully healing to the mind, body, and spirit.
Rita: How has your personal background journey been reflected in your work? Alvin: I grew up in The Philippines passionately serving the Church from the age of five. Despite living in a loving household, I was having a personal battle within myself. Coming out of the closet, I struggled to accept my sexual orientation in an organized faith. Within the gay community, I also struggled to find acceptance while experiencing racism, discrimination, shame, and rejection. The journey of trying to fit in has led me to backpack in many countries, learning new cultures, and submerging myself in many communities, hoping to find a place where I belong.
After years of searching, my connection with dance became the thread of what weaves these experiences together, whether it was dancing in the subways in New York City, dancing Gaga in the beaches of Tel Aviv, or performing with KDV Dance Ensemble in one of the most iconic venues in Berlin.
Discovering dance communities and queer spaces became a catalyst in the process of self-acceptance. These radical spaces allow me to celebrate all of my beliefs, passions and practices without putting myself in any specific box. Being able to express my queerness gave me the voice to be comfortable being in my skin and finding the beauty in embracing my imperfections in the most authentic way.
Rita: What led you to initiate Dose of Pleasure, and how did it become a movement? Alvin: I’ve been teaching Gaga classes in Berlin for two years and I’ve grown a community since then. When the pandemic started and the first lockdown was in place, I wanted to create a platform to connect with people. Not to teach dance, but as a way to reach out and share what we were going through and use this as a source for movement. Through this offering, I wanted to help others feel alive and empowered in this sensitive moment. Dose of Pleasure emerged into a guided movement practise combining Gaga, poetry, dance music and dance floor grooving. We use the power of the groove to recognize resistance, let go of blockages and yield into acceptance and flow. Then, by early spring last year, I was offered a residency in Dock11, a dance studio here in Berlin to continue running the online sessions and from then, the movement started to grow.
When summer arrived, the local restrictions eased up allowing outdoor activities, so I was able to safely take this initiative to the parks of Berlin. The first session started with a group of around ten people in the Tempelhofer Feld [a former Nazi airport in the city centre, now transformed into a vast public park]. Then, by word of mouth, the support of my peers, and sponsorship by Soundboks who provided me with stage-like speakers, it rapidly grew into a crowd of over 100 people, who joined us in other iconic and really special outdoor spots, like Treptower Park and Drachenberg [man-made mountain consisting of debris from the Second World War].
It’s really inspiring for me to witness people’s ecstasy during the sessions. And everyone’s groove is different, we all have our own path and challenges in life, but when we let our body freely move to what we hear, we start to connect with our own story, our own rhythm. At the same time, I think it’s a beautiful experience to share a space together as one, and still own up to yourself. That is the best feedback I can take from creating this initiative, to see how people come to take ownership of their groove. And that fuels my work too — as a facilitator in this practice, I learn a lot from it. To me, the movement speaks closely to what we need at this moment in time.
Rita: How was it possible to make this practice sustainable within a pandemic? Alvin: Dose of Pleasure has thrived in a pandemic by adapting to the restrictions in place. Going into the winter, the movement evolved through a silent disco app called Mixlr, where people could participate from anywhere and without the need for a screen. In terms of the practice itself, you don’t need to be close to someone to make it an enriching experience, because energy is not measured by distance or by touch. Sharing energy is a lot about giving and receiving from wherever you are in space. So the practice becomes sustainable because it meets the distancing measures by nature. It is for you, by you, and with yourself.
Recently, the initiative moved into an online membership system where Dosers get to be a part of a global community and explore movement collectively, with access to all sessions and an extensive archive of content and research.
Rita: How do you envision the movement growing from here? Alvin: While the movement honours dance floor spaces attracting a like-minded crowd, I view the practice to welcome everyone from all walks of life including those who are not so in touch with their bodies. Despite our own beliefs, political views, and background, my goal is to provide a safe space where we meet and connect to a language that binds us all. As it grows, I have a strong desire to bring this practice to new places including where I grew up in Canada and The Philippines. I visualize the movement to celebrate the cultural fabric of these cities while curating sessions with residing BIPOC LGBTQIA+ DJs, artists, and facilitators. I see us co-creating movement sessions for voices to be heard and bodies to be expressed safely, non-judgmentally, and wholeheartedly. While the sessions can be very different from city to city, the essence remains the same: grooving together as one!