The Nomadic Dancer: A Story of Courage

Born in France, Marie-Aude Ravet is a freelance dancer, choreographer and teacher. She also describes herself as a language freak who speaks French, English, German, Japanese and is currently learning Chinese. In 2010, she gave up her stable life in Germany where she was a dance teacher. She chose to go on a nomadic journey to meet the world, its inhabitants and its dances. Living from a single suitcase, she stayed with local families in the 30 countries she visited and learned their daily culture and dances. Her journey lasted 1228 days. She returned to France in 2014 where she is currently based. Marie-Aude now tells about her nomadic journey through original shows which are a mix of words, photos, videos and dances she performs in traditional costumes.

What motivated you to leave Germany where you were based to travel to 30 countries to discover local dances with, as your only belonging, one suitcase?
There was no specific reason. I had the wish to do it and I had dreamt of doing it. It was more of an intuition, a feeling deep inside me that prompted me to go on a nomadic journey around the world. I had to do it at this very moment, or never. I left Germany within two months. I told my parents and friends in October that I was leaving and I left in December. So my departure was very quick and sudden. Everybody was quite surprised.

What are the inner and outer obstacles you faced when making such a decision?
I thought my dream was not reasonable. I believed that it would turn into a big problem or a disaster. During many months, I tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t do it. But, when you have an intuition in your heart, in your soul, in your body, if you don’t listen to it, it kills you. I stopped sleeping at night and I felt unhappy and sick until I finally decided to just do it. I then felt much better. I simply had to do it! I would have regretted it all my life if I had not done it at that moment.

I had no finances. I didn’t have a budget for my journey. It was not a round the world trip. Some people take one year off and they go around the world with their backpack. It was really different for me because I changed my life. I had a normal life with a flat, a job as a dance teacher, friends. I decided to put a cross on all of that. I changed my life from a sedentary life to a nomadic life. So of course, everybody around me said I should not do it because they felt it was not reasonable. My parents were scared for me. I was alone. The fact that I am a woman could also be an obstacle in some countries.

What are the qualities that enabled you to make this choice and to live your dream?
Confidence in myself and trusting the world. Trusting is not being naïve though. Certain people travel to some countries and think that the world is marvelous, peaceful. They believe it’s a huge playground where all humans are friends and of course, this is certainly not the truth. The world is big and dangerous at times. Trusting people and trusting the world doesn’t mean you have to be naïve and think that we are all friends. You must be realistic. Trust comes only if you can be realistic. If you just think that everybody is happy, everybody is a friend, everybody loves you, you are going to be in huge trouble!

I remember a very weird (but great!) feeling as I started to travel. I should have been scared or at least nervous, starting this new life, being in such foreign environments… But it was the opposite! Somehow, I felt invincible. Whatever challenge I was confronted to, I systematically thought: “I can do it”. And yes, why shouldn’t I be able to do it? And I did it.

What did you learn from the experiences in the various countries you went to and from the people you met?

I learned many things. I learned that we are all so different from each other and that is what’s beautiful. I do not wish that we become all the same one day. I wish that we all stay different. That we all keep our cultures, that we all keep our habits, that we all keep our traditions because that makes us so interesting to each other. If we were all the same, then there would be no point in travelling and in meeting other people because they would be just like us. I was amazed that we are all humans but all so different. That was magical.

I also learned from this journey that we should never forget that traditions are like roots. Nothing can grow above the ground. If you cut the roots of a tree, if you cut the roots of a plant, it will die. You can keep cut flowers in a vase for a few days and they might look beautiful, but they are already dead actually. The only way you can keep a flower, or a plant, or a tree alive is to leave its roots in the soil. So never forget your tradition, never forget where you come from. Whatever these traditions are, they are important for your own growth. They are important for your people’s growth. They are important for your civilization’s growth.

Another lesson I learned is to live in the present. Not to live in the present in the sense of “seize the day”, this is boring. But more in the sense that you can be happy with what you have now. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have plans and projects. It means you can stop the time for a moment and enjoy what is around you at this second, be conscious of what surrounds you and realize you can be happy just with that.

Last but not least, I learned and experienced real patience. Like many of us, I would also like things to happen quickly and the way I want them to, if possible. We all know it is impossible and yet, we keep on being impatient. I remember literally surrendering to Patience. Like the Patience of the seed in winter: spring WILL come. As I surrendered to this power, I felt how peaceful and serene patience can be. I may not know what will come, when this bus journey will end, where these people are taking me. But we are going somewhere. Some time.

Is there an experience or a tradition in a specific culture that really struck you, or spoke to you?
There were so many. I really couldn’t pick one right now out of the blue. I remember smiles. I remember touches. I remember sharing a bed or walking hand in hand with someone. It was concrete. It was human. It was not as if I was sleeping in a guesthouse, meeting people and then returning to my guesthouse. I was spending 24 hours a day with the people I met. I was sleeping, eating and bathing with them. I was doing everything with them, in big cities and in small villages. The experiences were always new and different. It was always a challenge but it was beautiful because it was different.

What can you say about the women you met? You can just give one or two examples since with all the countries you visited, it is difficult to generalize.
027AI saw that the condition of women is very different from place to place. I met women in high heels and short skirts. I met others covered in veils. I met women who were very emancipated, in the occidental way of thinking at least, and I met women who were very submitted. In any case, what always happened in the villages, towns, cities I visited is that all the women were very supportive of what I was doing. Western women in Europe and the United States were supportive because they dreamt of experiencing what I was living. They thought it was amazing that I was living my dream.

In the Arab countries, in the Muslim countries (I am making the difference because Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim countries but they are not Arabs), they had a double feeling about my story. It was very funny because on the one side they really admired my journey and thought I was very lucky to travel, to see the world and meet people. On the other hand, however, they always made the same two comments. The first one was, “Did your father allow that?” And the second one was, “Okay your journey is great, your dancing is great but one day, please promise me you will get married, stop dancing and be a good wife.” I said I could not promise. For many women around the world, being alone and without a husband can be a danger because they feel you are vulnerable. They didn’t wish me to get married. They wished me protection. They wished me someone who would accompany me. That was the message behind their wanting me to get married. It was very interesting.

When you came back to France, how did you notice that this experience had changed you? Were you a different person and if yes, how?
As you are asking me this question, I’m looking at my home. I live in a one-room flat, very simply. I just have one little table and a mattress on the floor. I have three baskets in which I put my clothes. That’s it. I lived almost four years without possessing anything. Everything I had was in my suitcase. It’s a bit the same now. I realized how many unnecessary things I had when I had to sell and give away my belongings before leaving Germany. Now, I could pack quickly and go away again. I have no pictures on my walls, no little objects, no souvenirs because everything is in my eyes. From my eyes, I see the people, the animals, the landscapes in India, China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Australia… I don’t have much and it’s a choice. However, it’s also because I live with very little money. I’m still a dancer and I live by myself. It’s a hard job for the body and the finances.

I feel my experience has also made me more considerate. I have seen, and sometimes shared, people’s struggles, problems and joys in so many shapes and forms in various countries. As a result, I understand them better. I also believe it helps people when I tell them I have experienced what they are going through.

During your journey, how did your intuition accompany you? You explained that it is your intuition that encouraged you to go on your nomadic journey.
401My intuition was always there. Probably, it’s the intuition that transformed into luck which always made me meet the right people, at the right place, at the right moment, or at least that’s how I felt. Maybe I could have met somebody else and it could also have been the right person. Throughout my journey, things did not go easily but smoothly. There is a difference between both. It was not easy because sometimes I was hungry, sometimes the plane was delayed, sometimes the hygienic conditions were bad, sometimes I was sick. But still, it all made sense in the end when I look back. I feel that things happened at the right moment, even the uneasy things. Probably, that’s what my intuition transformed into.

Many people don’t follow their intuition. You must be willing to follow your intuition. It’s not just having an intuition. You must also be willing to follow it. In today’s world, everything has to be rational and my journey was everything but rational. That’s why everybody was more or less doubtful. Yes, it was everything but rational but I was rewarded for following my intuition thousands of times.

How do you listen to your intuition? How has it impacted your life since your journey?
I strongly believe we can listen to our intuition any time and anywhere. People hear it differently. Sometimes voices talk to us in our sleep. Sometimes they speak to us in the silence, whenever we are willing to make silence around us. Sometimes when we are walking in nature, we hear that voice. Any time we are willing to create silence around us and in us, to be in the here and now and to be conscious, our intuition will speak to us.

I still continue to follow my intuition and I am now more serene when I have to make a decision. In the past, making a decision was a source of stress because I always had to find rational reasons to support the decisions I made. I had to think, “Is this reasonable? Do I have to do this? Can I do this?” Now, I take the time to consciously listen to my feelings. Do I have a good feeling about this? Do I have a bad feeling about that? And so far, it has worked.

Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
Yes. When I tell my story, people often tell me, “You are a citizen of the world.” I don’t Cours dansereally like this expression. For two reasons. I am not a citizen of the world. First of all, I am a French citizen. The more I was away, the more I grew into my own roots and into understanding the culture I came from and was raised in. I’d rather say I am a citizen of many countries, not of the world. The world is not one. It ties up with what I said at the beginning of the interview. I was a citizen of many countries, thirty of them, but I also remained a French citizen all along. It was amazing and it was a great lesson.

What message would you give women who have a dream, whatever it is, but do not dare take the steps to make it come true?
Just do it! If you don’t do it, then it means you are happy with your current life. If you are not happy with your current life, change something. Change it! I know everybody says, “I have children, I have this, I have that.” Nobody said that changing one’s life was easy. But weigh for yourself, do you want to stay in this life, compromise and maybe be unhappy? Do you want to convey this unhappiness to your children and to the people around you? Just decide for yourself, weigh the pros and the cons. If you don’t make a move, nobody will make it for you. Many people say I’m lucky to travel. Of course there was some luck, but the luck came after I made a decision. It cost me a lot of effort, a lot of sleepless nights to make it and it was never easy. Luck came after, as a reward.

Interviewed by Aïda