I am a zombie

“I am sorry, can you repeat it again. You work as a zombie?” Eyes wide open and mouth full of questions … thereabouts looked my second cycling interview in Poland with Pawel Zaufal. A cheerful contemporary dancer, a part-time zombie and a seasonal artist from Katowice who brings inspiration and joy into lives of people through dance.

Cover photo and bodypainting by Marian Folga

Pawel, you work in a scarehouse. What is it?

It is a house with a couple of locked dark rooms. Players have to solve all kinds of puzzles in order to get outside. There are people who scare them while they are searching for keys. In Poland, it is a popular team building activity. We have a classical one where people search for a key and escape and a zombie one where people get guns and need to escape from zombies.

What is your role?

I am a zombie. (laughing)

That’s a cool position. What do you work as? I am a zombie!

It is really funny but it is quite hard. Sometimes you work for 10 hours with just a 5-minute break between the groups. It is dark, there is no air and it is really hot inside. It is exhausting to be a zombie!

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Photo by Pawel Zaufal

Has anything ever happened to you?

Almost two times. The most terrible thing is the bachelor party. People are drunk and if eight big guys show up, it can be pretty dangerous. According to rules you cannot fight with others. Also when you jump on people in the darkness, they hit back. But we have cameras, so if anything happens the game is over.

How do you manage to work 10 hours as a zombie?

There are small breaks so I try to grab a sandwich and tea but you also need to prepare the room so there is not much time. When a group does not arrive or when people shout three times “stop” and the game is over we have a break. When you manage to scare people, the whole team is congratulating you because you all have some time off.

Are people really scared when they know what will happen?

It depends. Some people are not scared at all but some a lot. It is like going for a horror movie. People know it is just a movie but they are still afraid.

How did you get the job?

I found an ad for a casting on the Internet.

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Photo by Izabela Sekuła

And you said to yourself why not be a zombie, right … How did the casting look like?

I was given a dark room and had to jump from one wardrobe to another and scare the jury. It is hard physically to jump on people and scare them. You also need to be able to shout. People lose voice when they scream 10 hours a day. So they make a casting like this to see if people are good at that.

It must be interesting be a recruiter for this job. What kind of people apply?

It is hard to say. More boys than girls. Students, seasonal actors and ordinary people who work during the whole week in a pharmacy and then go to scare people at the week-end.

Is it your full-time job?

No, just a week-end one. During the week, I give classes of ballet, contemporary dance and contact improvisation. I work with all kinds of people: young, old and mentally and physically disabled. I move around Katowice, Rybnik and Bialsko-Biała. I also have some seasonal jobs like walking on stilts at weddings or parties.

Maciek Jarzebinsi

Photo by Maciek Jarzębiński.

Wow. How do you manage to combine all that?

I think it is simple. The need is the mother of invention. I have to. Most of the jobs are part-time. For example in March I was preparing a big performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Lublin. But if there is no such work then I do things like that. I am trying to find a way to connect it all somehow.

Is it hard to get a full-time job as a dancer?

Yes, it is. Many dance theater companies hire classical dancers who make a show which is perfect and aesthetic but I have an avantgarde style. I am not looking for perfection on stage but for truth. I am a mover and a fan of contact improvisation.

What is it?

It is a free form of dance. You need to find a point of contact with another person, explore it and play with it. Classical dancers follow steps and often forget about the whole game of playing with the body. During contact improvisation sessions someone can sit on your face or have their head between your legs. In words of the creator Steve Paxton contact improvisation is physics not chemistry.

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Photo by Sashimodo Pictures

Wait, is it even possible to separate emotions between a man and a woman in a dance?

It is a good question. When you have two bodies really close, the senses are working and there could be emotions but when you break those barriers and stay focused on the action, emotions are not a problem, your consciousness is in your action.

I see. So it is all about focus then.

Absolutely! At one moment in one workshop I realized that I was lifting a two-meter tall guy. Just like that! The other time a friend of mine was sitting on my back and I made a pirouette on one leg.

How was that possible?

Well, it came from movements, physics and momentum. When you fall into the movement your body starts moving itself and you can do impossible things. When you are relaxed you can fall on the floor with your whole body from different angles and nothing will happen. The body always finds its way.

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Photo by Robert Siwek

Sounds almost unbelievable. Do you also teach this?

I do contact improvisation workshops with disabled people. Today’s people have barriers to touch each other. A simple touch can make them feel uncomfortable. Disabled people are hungry for some contact and they like this type of dance.

Besides teaching do you also perform?

I made a couple of performances after graduation and right now I am preparing two performances for schools. It is important for me that there is always an improvising part. Most schools push you to learn choreography and you cannot improvise but I want to give more than steps. Many performances are just Mickey Mouse dancing with a big smile. But if I have even a couple of seconds or minutes to do improvisation, I am more than happy.

It’s a good life philosophy.

I believe you should be as good as you can at what you are doing. You might not be rehearsing for the perfect play but you can always ask the director to do your own piece of performance or make a film project and send it to a competition. Just make the best out of what you get.

That’s the spirit! I wonder … what you would like to do in the future?

Sometimes I dream about having a movement school. A place where people who do as different activities as yoga, martial arts, break dance and contemporary dance would come together and learn from each other. I would like to spread the idea that movement is for everybody. You can dance without steps and do sports without gym. It would be nice if it had a social impact, too, like working with disabled and poor people.

Well, good luck with that then, Pawel. Thank you for the very interesting interview.  

Copyright: all the photos were used with permission of the photographers.

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this interview, you can like it on the Facebook page of Pinklich or look at my visual storytelling project She said on Instagram.

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