This article was originally published in a shorter format in the Spring 2023 print issue.
To celebrate The Dance Current’s 25th anniversary is to celebrate the people for whom the platform exists. A publication, after all, is a reflection of its audience. If you hold up a mirror to this land’s artistic sector, you see networks of fierce chosen kinship, forged in the thrill of performance and the endurance of hard work.
In January, we asked: “What does your community look like?” A simple, open-ended question with an overwhelming response. The following is a selection of submissions from organizations across this land we call Canada, painting a collective picture of community support, endeavour and celebration.
Let The Elephants Dance is an Ontario based dance organization dedicated to fighting mental health stigma. All Bodies Dance Project and the Heart of the City Festival are both based on the West Coast, the former aiming to broaden our notions of the dancing body, while the latter works to celebrate the artistic work taking place in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Seraka Dance Company, a contemporary dance company of professional belly dancers from Newfoundland, created their dancefilm Patterns in 2021 after initial COVID-19 lockdowns were lifted and community gathering was once more possible. Nova Dance’s Svāhā! is a performance that celebrates dance’s ability to revitalize and forge closer connections. The Ontario-based company seeks to embrace diversity in order to redefine Canadian contemporary dance. Dr. Joyce Fu, author of the Spring 2023 issue’s “The Subtle but Mind-Blowing Benefits of Yin Yoga for Movers”, shares photos from performances that highlighted, for her, the necessity of community effort in creating dance. Finally, Kate Kamo McHugh writes about the kinship built from performing To Be Danced with an all-Asian identifying cast for CanAsian Dance.
All Bodies Dance Project:
All Bodies Dance Project is an inclusive dance company located on the unceded homelands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples (Vancouver). We view dance as a way to build community. In our work, differences are regarded as creative strengths as we explore the choreographic possibilities of diverse ways of moving and perceiving. Our practice aims to dismantle assumptions, biases and default notions around contemporary dance, the theatre and the dancing body. We approach accessibility tools and practices as sources of generative artistic possibility that welcome new understandings of the body in motion.
Community means our accessible and inclusive dance classes are for people of all abilities, sizes and backgrounds. It means valuing the invention, creativity and beauty that emerge when groups of people with different life experiences move and make art together. We pride ourselves on the deep friendships and connections that grow from dancing and performing in community with one another.
Seraka Dance Company
By Vanessa Matthews, artistic director, choreographer and founder
In November 2021, members of Seraka Dance Company eagerly returned to the studio to create Patterns, a contemporary belly dance fusion choreography set to both an original composition and a beautifully remixed version of Patterns by Steve Gibbs. Seraka has been dancing and creating together for over a decade, and when the pandemic hit, the all-female group found a new way to share their passion with each other and their audience through this dance video project. Filmed on the coasts of Flatrock and Torbay, N.L., the film explores the ideas of breath, grip and external force with the rugged coastline as its backdrop. Coming together to create this work brought the dancers of Seraka a sense of grounding relief and community after so many months of uncertainty and isolation.
Dr. Joyce Fu
Performing dance is the fullest expression of movement to me. These images feel like “community” because they accurately summarize all the work that it takes to pull off a performance – this one snapshot of a moment. The numerous rehearsals, driving to venues, the sweat and tears behind each performance make me feel like I’m preparing for a marathon. It wouldn’t have been possible without my teammates and my supporters to get me through it all and persevere through the toughest parts. Community, to me, means people who share the same mindset of supporting each other’s growth, sharing our unique differences to strengthen the team as a whole and to be fully present when someone needs help. That, to me, is my community.
Let The Elephants Dance
Let The Elephants Dance started with a dream to support the dance community and bring conversations about mental health to the forefront – sharing honestly about grief, suicide, isolation, depression, anxiety and so much more. We are often taught that the show must go on, but the truth is that we have a choice to slow down, feel, connect with others and express who we really are.
As dancers, we are not only artists but also warriors, emotionally and physically. It is our job and our passion to create stories with our bodies, movements and souls. We train hard, and we put a little bit of ourselves into every dance piece we perform. Let The Elephants Dance is a space where we are free to explore all of our emotions, share our personal struggles or stories and celebrate how far we have come.
By Kate Kamo McHugh
To Be Danced, a creative research project with CanAsian Dance, allowed Nidhi, Mayumi, Michael and I to explore our connection with self and other, and space and place. It was the first time in my career that all the dancers I was working with identified as Asian. The sense of community between us from this single binding factor was strong from the start even though none of us had ever worked together before. One of the first things we did was create Community Agreements to guide us on our collective journey. These agreements ensured we all felt safe within the structure of the project, and we would review and edit them periodically.
As a dancer living outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, it can sometimes feel isolating when so many opportunities take place within those city centres. Being included in To Be Dancedand having the other dancers travel to megave me a sense that my voice and ideas could be part of the dance community, too.
The indoor photo was taken at Hamilton Artists Inc after creating a movement score on the Wentworth Stairs. The outdoor photo is at the Huron Natural Area where Cait Nishimura, a composer and forest guide, led us through exercises to help us connect to our surroundings.
Thank you, CanAsian Dance, for this opportunity and to Drew Berry for documenting our explorations.
Heart of the City Festival
By Terry Hunter (Nang Gulgaa) and Savannah Walling (Hl Gat’saa)
These photos offer glimpses into diverse expressions of dance taking place on the “dance floor” of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in collaborations co-created by Vancouver Moving Theatre.
We live, work, celebrate and dance together on ancestral homelands of Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Watuth peoples, who’ve been dancing on this land since time immemorial.
In Storyweaving (2012) – a partnership with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre – an Indigenous cast, artists, Spakwus Slolem and the Git Hayetsk dancers wove together First Nations memories from the past into the future.
We’re also a community of immigrants, arriving on this land since the 1860s from the four corners of the earth.
Bread & Salt (2013), created in partnership with the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, was an immersive tribute to the neighbourhood’s historic Ukrainian Hall, performed by 90 professional and community artists and the hall’s Dovbush Dancers, including our son, Montana Hunter.
When we arrived in the Downtown Eastside in the mid-1970s – as young contemporary dancers exploring interdisciplinary fusions – we planted ourselves into a community that’s been our home and teacher for decades.
The Big House (2015), presented at the Ukrainian Hall with the help of over 60 professional and community artists young and old, including our son – was the culmination of five years of cultural feasts created in community gathering places to honour Coast Salish, urban Indigenous and founding cultures of the Downtown Eastside.
This land, its people and cultural practices are the creative soil on which we grow, nurture and are nurtured – as resident artists, family and collaborating partners.
By Nova Bhattacharya, artistic director
Svāhā! is a culmination of my life experiences, passion for dance and desire to create work that brings people to something beyond themselves. Growing up in Toronto and experiencing diverse dance forms at cultural gatherings, I developed an appreciation for the beauty in differences. I believe we can learn so much from each other’s cultures and experiences and that art is a powerful tool for uniting people.
Svāhā! is a celebration of community and gathering. It is an invitation to come together and experience a shared journey, to be present in the moment and connect with each other. It is a metaphor for collaboration and care and explores how we can be better together. Through dance, recitation, pulsating rhythms and intense emotions, Svāhā! offers a range of thoughts and sensations that speak to the heart of what it means to be human.
For me, community means a sense of belonging, connection and support. It’s about creating a space where everyone feels welcome and valued, where we can learn from each other and grow together. Throughout the pandemic, we worked virtually, igniting a sense of community and belonging that extended beyond the lockdowns and into people’s daily lives. What began in 2018 as a project featuring dancers exclusively from South Asian dance forms evolved into a cast of 22 Canadian artists from multiple dance styles and cultural backgrounds from across the country. We were creating community, sparking joy and holding grief, care, compassion and generosity – all testament to the power of dance to nurture our essential need for connections.
Célébrer le 25e anniversaire du Dance Current, c’est célébrer les personnes ciblées par la plateforme. Une publication demeure, après tout, un reflet de son lectorat. Si vous tenez un miroir au milieu artistique de ce territoire, vous verrez des réseaux de filiation féroce et intentionnelle, forgés par un enthousiasme pour l’art vivant et l’endurance d’une pratique rigoureuse. En janvier, on a posé la question : « Comment décririez-vous votre communauté ? ». Cette simple question a suscité une vive réaction. L’article ci-dessus offre une sélection des réponses d’organismes du vaste territoire qu’on nomme le Canada et dresse un portrait collectif de soutien communautaire, d’ambition et de célébration. Let The Elephants Dance est un organisme de l’Ontario consacré à déstigmatiser les troubles de santé mentale. Sur la côte ouest, All Bodies Dance Project vise à élargir notre notion du corps dansant, et le festival Heart of the City célèbre la création artistique dans le Downtown Eastside de Vancouver. La compagnie de danse contemporaine de danseuses professionnelles de baladi établit à Terre-Neuve et Labrador, Seraka Dance Company, a créé leur cinédanse Patterns en 2021 lors de la reprise des rassemblements communautaires après la levée des premières fermetures COVID-19. Svāhā! de Nova Dance est un spectacle qui célèbre la capacité de la danse à bâtir et revitaliser les liens. Cette compagnie de l’Ontario vise à accueillir la diversité afin de redéfinir la danse contemporaine canadienne. Consultez thedancecurrent.com pour l’intégralité de cet article de fond.