Empathetic Shoes

Empathetic Shoes

Empathetic shoes20 live online performance events
by Melanie Thompson


The background and process

February 2021
“This work came about as a direct result of the lockdown. I was originally going to be opening my solo exhibition in the Heart of the Tribe gallery on the 1 st of Feb untill the 23 rd Feb and the title of the show is ‘Where do we go from here?’
Because of lockdown the exhibition was postponed but I still wanted to be present through those 23 days in some way. In preparation for my exhibition I had already started to try and answer my title question with an initial response, that through the ‘act of empathy’, we could move forward together. So I decided I would make that a concrete act and create 20 live events / performances each day at midday about trying to put myself in other people’s shoes. I sent out invitations to the public to send me their favourite or most important shoes with a short explanation and a relevant sound track. I was amazed when over 20 people responded some I knew but many I did not. There was no choosing process, I excepted everyone. The act of receiving each pair of shoes was so exciting. Sometimes I would meet a stranger in the street, masked, with a box that was handed over, sometimes I went to peoples houses, masked and was handed a precious plastic bag and story and some came through the post beautifully wrapped in special paper and text.
I have worked with other peoples shoes before as a physical actress to help create characters. And I have spent my career learning many different dance forms and developing material through responding to text and music. With this project I started with the idea of being a conduit for the shoes, almost as if I was a vessel that allowed them to speak.
The weekend before I began the live presentations, I spent meeting all shoes, music and stories. It was clear that the music chosen by everyone and their stories had equal power to the shoes, so I tried to find a way to integrate all 3 into a live response.
The process was then a quick turn around, I wanted to keep a freshness and aliveness to them, not to over choreograph in advance. Every day as soon as I finished presenting the first performance I would start on the 2 nd , trying to create a structure which would allow it to be clear to the viewer but also give me space to react and improvise in the live moment too. Some day’s the idea’s came fast and others only on the morning of the performance. Each day was so different and each brought their own challenges. With some shoes the only way to clarify for myself how to present them was to introduce another object, a paper path, an umbrella, a cooking tray, a basket, a chair. Or add an object in the space, as a clarifier like a cello or a tree. I filmed myself as I created so I could see what worked for the camera and the space. The visual style of the work was important for me too, it was also about giving information. I am a visual artist so the framing of each performance was very important. The gallery space was the frame, each day I created a work from a different angle, a different background and different light. All objects, other than the shoes, were black or white or both. I wore just black and white too and worked with the same clothes but in many different combinations over the 23 days. Each costume choice and hair design tried also to respond particularly to each person.
Creating work for a live feed was something I have never done before. Working for 3 camera’s and not a live audience was fascinating. Each dance had to make sense for all camera’s particularly the film camera, and all my focus and attention had to be in that filmed space and not on a live audience as I was used to. Finally, having feedback each day virtually was a new experience too, seeing each performance played back to me on each camera and then getting posts each day from the owners of the shoes and others was very
energizing and helped me continue with renewed energy each day.”

All short performances are available to view in full on our Heart of The Tribe Facebook page.

You can also learn more about this project via VIMEO where you will find a variety of films made by the artist.

Here is a 5 minute montage of the performances;


‘ Thanks Melanie , you made me so happy
What a joy to see my favourite shoes in action,
You are a true star ‘– Annelise
‘ You have embodied the shoes’ – Boris
‘Brilliantly performed Melanie Bravo! ‘– Kirsten
‘I have just discovered this lovely work
Lovely idea, great action, so delightfully full of
life ! Congratulations’. – Marge
‘This proper cheered me up’ –Angie
‘Thank you for sharing this . It was powerful and
evocative. The fluidity intersected with more jagged movements
Really spoke to me’. – Carly
‘Thank you – watched it with a 60 something, he was delighted
and very amused by choice of song’ – Gale
‘Fabulous x ‘– Lara
‘This is so delightfully playful’ – Helen
‘Thanks Melanie will so miss tuning in’ – Lisa
‘Beautiful’ –Sarah

List of all donors their stories of shoes and their music;

1. Anne – I fell in love with these boots when I saw them at a car boot sale in a small village hall . I tried them on and had a ‘Cinderella’ moment when they fitted so well as I have always had big feet and found it difficult to find nice shoes in my size. Turned out that they were previously owned by a music-festival friend of mine so it was indeed synchronous that I found them and when I wore them on stage at a festival she recognised them immediately – music Hope by John Diment

2. Philip – I bought these shoes for the month long session with the Bora Islamic people in their opulent mosque in Mombasa. These shoes became my friends during this very intense project. We had 4 breaks a day, I’d put them on and walk slowly around the enormous marble courtyard of the mosque by the water. Played the same track every time Bowie singing ‘Wild is the Wind’ These breaks were crucial. Played the track through my headphones as all recorded music was forbidden.

3. Kirsten – I chose these ballet shoes because I’ve always dreamed of being a ballet dancer since I was a young girl. My life took me however on a different path and at the ripe old age of 60+ I discovered the joy of dance again. This piece of music is very moody. I have always loved the cello and as I get older I am drawn, less to the happy clappy type of music, and more for something that stirs my ‘life scars’ Music – Pablo Casals Song of the birds

4. Neil – I was a very keen and proficient Flamenco student for years and used to teach a class in town, unfortunately I was in a car accident and lost one leg and half of the other, I offer my most treasured Flamenco dancing shoes  but instead of Flamenco music I would like them to dance to Smashing Pumpkins Tyger,Tyger

5. Jane – These shoes belong to my partner Paul. They are important to him because they don’t take themselves too seriously and where made for dancing, and they would have definitely tromped around to a track like this –Shadow Boxing, Nasty Habits

6. Helen – These green shoes were part of an installation called The Opera Room created by me (composer), in 2002. The space was inhabited by shoes, chairs, red velvet, chandeliers and musical instruments. Fragments of melody, vocal and instrumental, triggered by the presence and movement of visitors.  On the sole of each shoe was written a word from our imaginary opera.  My favourite green shoe bears the word obsession and the more I wear and walk in the shoes, the fainter the words become.  Music – Opera Room by Helen Ottaway

7. Jessica – I like these shoes because they make me feel taller and sexier, my alter ego. I like having them around because they are like an escape, my play party shoes. I have not worn them for ages because there is no where to go in them now. – music Memories are now by Jesca Hoop

8. Les – These are my retired Wellington boots. Now they have ‘Countryside credibility’, they are mud stained and worn down. One of the side buckles is missing. They have not been used for just walking around, they have been used for work. Due to split in the sole they have been retired, but their working life is by no means over… They will become nesting sites for birds in my wood. Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg

9. Jude – I have had these shoes for 8 or 9 years and adore the colour as it fades it fades and ages. You can see the soles are almost through, but I still intend to wear them after this project. I took them with them to Kerala. They have skipped backwards and forwards across the coconut groves and busy streets in Kannur. The red colour on them is a mix of Indian earth and some clay from my pottery workshop in Hasting. – music Alabama 3 – wake up this morning

10. Louise – I love these shoes because they are gold and that is a really important colour for me, it represents my inner world, a colour I use a lot in mediation and that I find very healing and nourishing. I brought these shoes in April last year and have been with me throughout this corona period! they keep a light in my heart.. music – I am light by India Arie

11. Justine – 25 years ago I was a chalet girl in Canada. I needed some slippers and found these and fell in love with them. I wore them everyday that whole season and over the years they have sort of fallen apart, I hung on to them because they reminded me of the good times. Now I have stopped wearing them, tucked them safely away , but cannot bring myself to throw them away Music – Mmm.Mmm.mmm. Crash test dummies

12. Chris – A resounding oIé for these much loved, battered red suede Flamenco shoes for dancing me around the shady Flamenco haunts of Andalusia and also stamping out a rhythmical presence for me alongside other dancers at gigs here in the UK. Nothing beats ripping it up to live guitar but, if boogying in my kitchen Los Ojos de Mi Niña (the eyes of my little girl) by Rocio Segura does it for me.

13. Sarah – In these shoes I have dressed up, dressed down, I have danced and I have sang, on stage often, to clapping audiences and with wonderful musicians. When we were able to come together and play. Those times will come again, but my feet have shrunk and now my pretty shoes are too big and make me slip when I wear them. Time to pass them on maybe… Come together by The Beatles

14. Fiona – I brought these handmade leather brogues back in 2015. They were the last pair the designer had in 3 and half. They have been a constant companion for my feet and I will continue to wear them. I wore them in 2016 to see P.J Harvey and her band at 02 Brixton, I was captured by all the travel she had done to write the songs. Hard to make a choice of track but I have settled on the orange monkey.

15. Annelise -I love glamour and hate constraints , my shoes sparkle but they are comfortable enough for running away at speed. They should move to « Rhapsody in blue » which is a glittering piece with many facets , surprising, dynamic…it’s America with its contradictions, mixing old world conventions and new freedoms. MUSIC – Rhapsody in blue by Gershwin

16.Pennie – these are walking shoes that I bought when I first visited Glastonbury, I actually bought them at Clarke’s Shoes, Clarke’s Village in Street. They are tough walking shoes, though a little less tough now after nearly 11 years. They & I have traipsed and traversed the lanes, been planted firmly on my feet as I met and conversed with wonderful people especially around the Tor and have brought me closer and closer to our natural world. Music -Tina Malia, The Shores of Avalon.

17. lisa – : It’s a strange one with these shoes because I love them to bits, But…….I hardly ever wear them………..I think I’ve worn them about 3 times in the 10 years I’ve had them. I love them………….even though they are uncomfortable and the ankle strap digs in to the back of my heel and has sometimes drawn blood and I  sometimes feel they are a little ‘red/white and blue’. music Sky-skating by Annette peacock

18. Sam – Bit about the shoes….I got these shoes just before Lockdown and then literally wore them every day until they finally gave up in December. Walking outdoors every day was a lifeline for me, helping me to stay well mentally and enjoy adventures in a year where we unable to have many. Thank you trainers…you did good, rest now! Music – Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky by Lee Dorsey

19. Helen – Many years ago I was at a concert at Bath festival where Joanna Mcgregor was playing Astor Piazzola Libertango, wearing simple gold shoes. I decieded t get some. These shoes have now become my favourite summer shoes for several years now. I have played concerts in them, I have partied in them, I cannot wait for the summer to wear them once more. Music Libertango by Astor Piazzola

20. Thom – So these final shoes where offered by a musician based in Somerset but they are not his shoes. They belonged to another musician who apparently after each gig does not wear the shoes from the performance ever again. Instead he gives them away for charity and art projects, not for sale. The track is by Radiohead (15 step) and the shoes are Thom Yorke’s.