As an aspiring dancer in her native France, Lucille Toth sometimes felt out of place.
“When I started to dance in France, I actually didn't like it,” Toth said. “I didn't like the dance world. It was competitive. It was very upper-class. I'm from a very, very poor family.”
Years later, after first moving to Canada and then to the United States to pursue an academic career, Toth again experienced another sort of isolation — that of life as an immigrant.
“There's a feeling of loneliness that you never really get rid of as an immigrant,” said Toth, 36, a dance scholar who teaches in the Department of French and Italian at Ohio State University-Newark. “Even though I'm not a targeted immigrant, and I never had any issues asking for visa or maintaining visa, there is something that's broken inside of me.”
To help her express her feelings about her status as an immigrant, Toth established On Board(Hers) in 2018. The dance project seeks the participation of female immigrants who currently are based in Ohio.
“On Board(Hers) is ... using body language, movement, a creative approach, to release some of this anxiety and some of this burden,” she said.
“Journey” — the project's latest performance — will take place Monday at OSU's Urban Arts Space.
Toth, a native of the village of Izaut-de-l'Hotel in southwestern France, traces the roots of the project to a 2017 multidisciplinary event at the Angela Meleca Gallery in Downtown Columbus (which closed last year). The event, which featured dancing by Toth, asked female artists to consider the idea of repetition.
“As an immigrant, repetition is something that is very intimate,” Toth said. “You have to repeat every year where you come from, why you are there, what did you do — to cross the border or renew your visa. After a while, you start to ask yourself, 'Am I what I am repeating?'”
Encouraged by the response to the performance, Toth decided to solicit the participation of fellow female immigrants to create dances that reflected their experiences.
“I ended up with 15 women agreeing to be a part of the workshop, and we started to meet once a month for three hours in the first year,” Toth said. “The women come from everywhere.”
In “Journey,” 20 women — including those from Estonia, Ghana, India, Israel and Turkey — plan to participate. Each member of the project must have been born outside of the U.S. and identify as a woman, but professional dance experience is not a prerequisite.
“Pretty much all of them have some sort of training in dance, in their own traditional dance,” Toth said.
For “Journey,” the women will meet on the weekend before the performance to discuss their own stories as immigrants; 1-minute videos of each dancer's story will be shown on Monday in addition to the live performance.
“We'll turn those stories into movement — individual, personal movements,” Toth said. “They come up with that. And then, out of the movement they create, I'll create a choreography to kind of harmonize all of it and do a coherent group movement.”
Toth expresses excitement about sharing the dancers' perspectives with the wider community.
“Because we are taught to fit in, we are supposed to fit in as immigrants,” she said. “We forget that we actually have so much to bring.”