An appreciation

SOON after the death of Rosina Osei Bonsu, at the age of 64, was made public by her family, outpourings of love and grief spread across social media networks everywhere. The sense of profound loss, tinged with shocked disbelief, was a marker of how Rosina Bonsu had - as a wonderfully intuitive movement teacher, supportive colleague, staunch friend - touched countless lives at home and abroad.

For nigh on four decades, she was a talismanic inspiration to those who joined her classes. Under-fives and over-60’s alike discovered what their bodies could achieve and enjoy through astutely structured movement. Many, myself included, would feel our spirits lift if we caught sight of Rosina in a venue foyer - her smile, her laughter, her unstinting interest in other people’s work, had an infectious positivity that wrapped around you like the spontaneous hug that said, “It’s really good to see you”.

From Ghana to Glasgow, where she built a multi-faceted career, married, and greatly enhanced the city’s cultural profile, was a life journey sparked with courage and a commitment to make dance matter in people’s lives. That journey occasioned a deeply personal dance-theatre solo, Coconut (1999). In it she candidly addressed the realities of being half a world away from the family home and its legacy of Ashanti customs and wisdom. Coconut - signifying ‘brown on the outside, white on the inside’ - delivered a powerful, sincerely moving affirmation of the cross-cultural identity that had shaped her.

Born in Ghana in 1955, the youngest of five children, Rosina was just a toddler when she moved to Italy with her father, a Ghanian diplomat.Aged eight, she was in England, at a private girls’ boarding school. From there she trained as a school teacher at Southlands College of Education Roehampton Institute, before finding her life’s purpose, at the London Contemporary Dance School.

Her intuitive connection with movement - and people - shone out: little wonder Scottish Ballet lured her to Glasgow, as Artistic Director of their outreach company, Steps Out, from 1984 to 1987. She moved on, to a similarly proactive role with Renfrewshire Dance Project, before going freelance in 1989.

Free to pick and choose her next challenges, Rosina nonetheless continued to make Glasgow her home. Her West End flat became a regular gathering point for dancers, musicians, theatre-makers: all disciplines were welcome. Long Sunday lunches - stoked by Rosina’s delicious home-cooked fare - helped forge informal networks and creative friendships that still bear fruit today.

The list of her own achievements is humbling in its breadth and variety, an ongoing witness to her feisty, determined spirit and her charm and ready humour. When Dance Base, Edinburgh’s National Dance Agency, launched in 1984, Rosina‘s immediate response was, ‘why hasn’t Glasgow got its own centre for professional dancers and community classes?’ Her solution was to set up the Dance Bothy, which grew into the Dance House Glasgow of today.

She made time alongside the teaching of movement classes - a role which expanded into colleges and, latterly, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - to collaborate on several dance and drama productions, even initiating some memorably large-scale projects herself. She pulled together resources for a Carmina Burana (2000) that found the RSNO orchestra and choir acting as the live backing group for massed ranks of professional and community dancers under the direction of international choreographer Royston Maldoom.

Two years later, the Rosina touch was again in evidence with another epic community project, Journey, which involved the University of Namibia (UNAM) Choir coming to Glasgow - it was her ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ dynamic in action.

When, as part of her own learning curve, Rosina took up yoga, she went on to incorporate the methodologies and benefits in her classes, setting up yoga programmes under the umbrella of Rosina Bonsu Moves, at Arlington Baths and forming connections with groups as far afield as Crete. Who else but Rosina would commission an eco-pod, load it onto a flat-bed lorry for the risky road and ferry journey to a village on the island? It became a summer haven for many. Acting with mischievous flair in Them - an NTS production - at Tramway last year brought her back into performing on-stage, and left her eager to do more. Other offers were, apparently, in the pipeline.

Becoming one of the Saltire Society’s “Outstanding Women of Scotland” in 2017 was well-deserved recognition of her work across so many sectors. Energetic, energising, indefatigable... even when, as in 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Chemotherapy and subsequent surgery were briskly incorporated into ongoing work commitments and her yoga classes witnessed how she practised what she taught, bringing balance to mind as well as body through her own Breathing Bones techniques. Last month, a secondary cancer took hold, and proved terminal. She was still organising work schedules from her hospital bed until she passed away, peacefully, on February 2.

She is survived by her husband Mark and family members, and sadly mourned by those whose lives she gladdened and enriched.