Chisa Hidaka gets to do something many dream of doing: she gets to dance with dolphins.
As a child, the Japanese American found herself drawn to dolphins but found them especially enchanting after a documentary she saw on TV. The most memorable shot for her was at the film’s ending: Robin Williams is suspended in water with an aged Atlantic spotted dolphin, quietly staring into each other’s eyes. ”After I saw that, I felt an inexplicable need to know what that was like, to be mind to mind with a wise old dolphin,” says Hidaka.
She went on a journey that spanned several years before she found the same dolphins from the show. What she discovered was how their graceful movements were not unlike people dancing. When she dove into the water with them, she found herself with underwater dancers.
Hidaka was struck not only by their graceful movements but also by how their interactions were similar to that of people dancing and how like humans, dolphins have a desire to connect. Her bachelor’s in dance from Barnard College, experience with a dance form called Contact Improvisation, and MD from Cornell University provides her with more than enough expertise to interact with the dolphins while working with scientists to better understand inter-species communication. She started the Dolphin Dance Project in an effort to create collaborative inter-species artistic expression to inspire protection for dolphins and whales and a shift in perspective on how we perceive the natural world.
The Project’s first project was Together: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins, which won the Best Experimental Film at its world premiere at the Big Apple Film Festival and was recently screened at the Egyptian Theater for the Artivist Film Festival in LA at the end of August. Scouting for the trip and “rehearsing” with the pod of Pacific Spinner dolphins began in October 2009 and filming began the following January.
A typical dance session begins with eye contact and can last anywhere from several minutes to an hour with multiple dolphin interactions. The dolphins are never fed, coerced, or bothered, especially when resting. Once the nonverbal contact is made, the rhythm of the dance is created, which is dictated by the need to surface to breathe.
“It always amazes me how much they ‘listen’ to me as a human dance partner and accommodate for my relative physical ‘deficiencies’. They fall into rhythm with me immediately,” says Hidaka. “It often feels as though the dolphins actually lead me to the surface for a breath even before I realize I need one.”
For Hidaka, her work with the dolphins has transformed her view on nature and with her film and future projects with, she hopes to make impact on how we as people understand our responsibilities to the environment.
Dancing with dolphins as collaborative equals and seeing how self-aware, creative, thoughtful, and curious as we are, I have experienced a profound transformation in how I perceive my own relationship to the natural world. This work challenges our cultural presumption that humans are somehow “above” the rest of nature and have a right to exploit it without consideration for the needs of all the other creatures with whom we share it.
What personal steps are you taking to improve the environment?