Desert life and the joy of dance with Zoe Mitchell

Desert life and the joy of dance with Zoe Mitchell

Zoe Mitchell is a social worker and the co-founder of the inclusive community dance troupe Bring A Plate. She’s based in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and alongside a nurturing and at times challenging practice in her work life, she brings the joy, pleasure and therapy of dance to her community in her spare time. 

As an old friend of ours, we’ve long been inspired by Zoe, and have pulled together a few questions to hear about her experiences out in Mparntwe and her journey building community through dance with Bring a Plate.

With winter fast approaching and the desert now cool enough to enjoy, Zoe spends the cooler months going on camping trips, cooking on the fire and sleeping under the stars in a swag. And what better way to get cosy than with a couple of Seljak Brand blankets. So, along with one of her bestie’s Tess, also a social worker, we sent the pair a Fig and Ink blanket to take on their adventures – perfect for indoors and out. 

Check out some of the magic Zoe and Tess captured in the Red Centre, and hear from Zoe about her journey so far.

Zoe and her good friend Tess relaxing on a camping trip

You're living out in Mparntwe. Paint us a picture of your desert life.

Before moving to Mparntwe, I remember seeing the work of Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira and being struck in awe. Namatjira paints the picture of white gum trees and vast rolling desert landscape like the eyes drink it in. I fell in love at first glimpse, and five years later I continue to be deeply moved by this place and the people who live here. 

Recently there’s been plenty of rain with ephemeral rivers flowing, so naturally I’ve been leaning in to my salamander traits and spending lots of time submerged in streams, rapids and bodies of water. I think this might be my new favourite hobbie. 

Day to day, I practice as a Therapeutic Specialist for Australian Childhood Foundation, who specialise in supporting children and young people heal from trauma. I provide support to individuals, groups and practitioners from other organisations, using a range of modalities inclusive of counselling, child-centred play therapy and reflective practice. I feel really passionate about my work and enjoy how dynamic the role is. Whilst it can be challenging, it is mostly inspiring and rewarding to be walking alongside little people on their healing journeys and bearing witness to their stories of survival, resistance and strength. I’ve always been a big fan of reflection, and this role allows me to catalyse exploration and understanding for other practitioners, which I LOVE. 

River swims, stargazing and campfires are a big part of what desert life is about

Tell us about Bring A Plate – what is the concept and what compelled you to start it? 

I co-founded Bring a Plate Dance (BAP), alongside my dear friend Erika Goldsmith, in 2017. We had a shared vision for creating safe dance spaces outdoors that fostered inclusion, joy, creative expression as well as connection to each other and our environment. We understood that this kind of dance class was missing, with most dance classes taking place in a mirrored studio. We felt the need to challenge Australian society’s perceptions of who can dance, where to dance and how to dance, hence BAP was born.  

A Bring a Plate dance class in the bush

We love that you brought Bring A Plate with you when you moved out to Mparntwe. How has it been received out in the desert?

We held our first dance workshop at Wide Open Spaces Festival in 2021 on the outskirts of town. It was incredibly well received, and due to public demand regular monthly classes were born. Despite Mparntwe being a fairly transient place we have had regulars, alongside new faces, every class for the past few years. We have received feedback from the community that they look forward to class, meeting new people, having a laugh and feeling the joy of moving as a collective.  

Bring a Plate was tried and tested at festivals and camping trips

What's your connection to dance?

I think I started dancing well before I could speak. Officially, I started dance classes at three years of age, up until I was in my teens. I have always felt a deep connection to dance as a form of expression, communication and healing. 

I spend so much of my day sitting in the left hemisphere of my brain - processing, analysing, planning, that it feels so important to move into the right hemisphere and express through movement and creativity. I also love seeing what this body that I inhabit can do, challenging it to try new and adapted ways of moving through space. Nothing beats the joy I get from dancing with others at a BAP class. 

Zoe sees movement as a kind of therapy

What do you recommend to people who are shy about dancing, or haven't done a class before?

 Over the years many folk have shared with me initial trepidations about attending their first ever dance class and subsequently how they wished they had jumped on the BAP groove train sooner. There’s something so magical about the atmosphere that is created and fostered by the community that is drawn to BAP, no matter where it is – from bustling Meanjin to outback Mparntwe, the inclusive, joyous and welcoming vibes are strong. If you are the slightest bit interested in coming along to a Bring A Plate class, I encourage you to dip your toe in, take the plunge, as it is an amazing way to begin the journey of moving and grooving in company outdoors.

Tess cosies up with a Seljak Brand blanket beside a freezing cold waterhole
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