Student Reporter Project

Accessible Dance: Inclusive Movement on the Rise in the Nation’s Capital

Dance. Rehearse. Work. Sleep. Repeat. Include? By Elizabeth Emond-Stevenson
  • Propeller Dance Dancers Renata Soutter and Moni Hoffman in Dream a Little Dream by Sonsheree Giles / Photo by Alvin Sim
  • Merrilee Hodgins and Student Audrée Papineau-Chartrand with DragonFly Dancers at the DragonFly Programme Open House / Photo by Gilles Vézina
  • Propeller Dance Dancers Geoff Dollar and Jenn Abrams in Sass and Class (2014) by Shara Weaver / Photo by Alvin Sim
  • Propeller Dance Dancers Jesse Stewart, Sylvain Bouchard, Amelia Griffin, Moni Hoffman and Bella Bowes in Flesh and Spokes (2014) by Renata Soutter / Photo by Alvin Sim.
  • Merrilee Hodgins with DragonFly Dancers in Barbara Legowski's I Feel Fire, a Book of Photographs Inspired by the Students of the DragonFly Programme / Photo by Barbara Legowski

Inclusive dance, also known as integrated dance, is dance for everyone and every body. A movement brought to the forefront of international contemporary dance by Alito Alessi of DanceAbility®, AMICI Dance Theatre Company, AXIS Dance Company and DV8 Physical Theatre, among others, it is experiencing a surge in profile within Canada. We are incredibly fortunate to have access and bear witness to burgeoning inclusive dance programs and practices in this country and here in the Capital. Inclusive dance enables individuals of any and all abilities to have the opportunity to dance and express themselves through movement. Its expansion is helping to eliminate factors that might otherwise limit access to dance. Sharing experiences and initiatives of inclusivity serves to generate discussion and promote acceptance and comprehension, thereby increasing awareness and hopefully inspiring further creation, growth and action.

As a student of the School of Dance’s Contemporary Dance Programme, I have had the chance to participate in inclusive dance initiatives that have had a significant positive impact on my own practices. Volunteering with Peggy Baker Dance Project’s participatory group dance score, FluxDelux, when the accessible and interactive media technology last visited Ottawa, and helping with a friend’s undergraduate work on integrative practices, inspired me to delve a bit deeper into the city’s inclusive dance community and explore how fellow students of the Contemporary Dance Programme have become involved in inclusive dance.

Here are just two of Ottawa’s inclusive dance organizations, and two students who are choosing to include with them.

Propeller Dance

As described on their website, Propeller Dance has been developing and fostering an inclusive space for people to express themselves through movement since 2007, and encompasses a professional company, a dance training program and education/outreach initiatives that connect with close to 5,000 people a year. As Ontario’s largest inclusive dance organization, it upholds professional standards in inclusive dance, and strives to promote diversity in expression and acceptance locally through its work in the Ottawa community, and nationally and internationally when the company is on tour and while collaborating with other inclusive organizations.

“We teach and create with a lot of love, care and belief in the value of diverse expression and in valuing what each person brings to the creative process,” expands Renata Soutter, co-director, company dancer, choreographer and teacher with the company. She and co-director Shara Weaver, along with numerous educators, students and volunteers, “create meaningful art with people as they are,” Soutter says, “not trying to change people to conform to ableist aesthetics or a ‘normalizing’ way of being.”

In the not so distant future, Soutter hopes to see integrated dance more fully embraced by the dance world: “My dream is that the contemporary dance community becomes more open to truly accept integrated dance as an equal and as a viable and important dance form … that our choreographies are presented on the big stage … that we are properly resourced to thrive!”

Contemporary Dance Programme student Geoffrey Dollar was introduced to Propeller Dance through an inclusive workshop at his high school several years ago. The experience opened his eyes to different opportunities and pathways within dance, and inspired him to reach out; he is now a dance partner specialist with Propeller, assisting in integrated contemporary dance classes, guiding dancers through movements and adapting exercises according to their individual needs. “Being a person with a disability myself, I found it very moving, very inspiring, to see a group, an actual company, doing work with people with disabilities.” Through Propeller Dance and its outreach programs, he says, “people who otherwise might not have thought it was a possibility, like me, now see that there are doors that have been opened to them.”

The DragonFly Programme for Learners with Down Syndrome

The School of Dance’s DragonFly Programme for Learners with Down Syndrome builds understanding of math concepts and literature through dance and story-telling using individualized learning plans in a carefully designed environment, essentially “weaving together academic work and dance as a way to help people learn,” elaborates Artistic Director Merrilee Hodgins. She and Barbara Roblin, director of programming and education for the DragonFly Programme, have been optimistically watching the Programme grow since its beginnings in 2011. The School is now able to offer the Dragonfly Programme four days a week and reaches a larger demographic of dance students, in classes for individuals with Down Syndrome from toddlers through adults.

Hodgins has seen significant development within the inclusive dance community: “I’ve seen it grow and grow and grow.” She stresses that “there’s a lot more work to be done, but we’re becoming more sensitized. More people have an interest in communicating through dance and in creating bridges that allow everyone to dance.” And she sees significant evolution within the participants themselves. “There’s a definite change in confidence as the dancers become more at ease in expressing through their bodies. It has a big impression on focus, on posture, … on how the dancers work together and problem solve as a group and as individuals.”

For third year student Audrée Papineau-Chartrand, assisting with the DragonFly Programme is an experience she looks forward to each and every week. She enjoys finding new ways of explaining and exploring movement with the dancers; and she loves the challenge of creating engaging images and vocabulary. Seeing the applications of what she has learned within her own studies in dance is a reward in itself. “We are very lucky in Ottawa to have such programs,” she notes, though she is quick to mention that “there’s still a lot of progress to be made. There are more people that we need to reach out to. Everyone has the right to enjoy themselves [through] dance.”

Inspired? Get involved!

Soutter recommends taking a class, seeing a show or making a donation of time, support or funds to an inclusive organization that interests you. Along with supporting hubs like Propeller Dance and the DragonFly Programme within your own community, you can make your own dance practices more inclusive by working in accessible places, valuing non-ableist aesthetics and by being open to and accepting of difference.

“It’s about opening the door, finding that bridge, making the platform for someone to express themselves,” affirms Hodgins.

Find an organization that inspires you and share the experience you have accumulated in dance with the growing inclusive community. You will be inspired, included and grow as a consequence.

There are several contributors to the Ottawa inclusive dance community and many more beyond: Dandelion Dance, for girls of all abilities and backgrounds; Dance for Parkinson’s, which provides dance classes for individuals with Parkinson and their loved ones; and Joie de Vivre Folk Dancers, all of whom are making dance accessible to more people and responding to a need for more inclusive initiatives in the Capital Region. Similarly, inclusive dance companies and projects across the country such as MoMo Dance Theatre in Calgary, Wheel Dance in Toronto, The All Bodies Dance Project in Vancouver, Corpuscule Danse and Les Productions des pieds des mains in Montréal and Halifax Dance in Halifax are advocating for and providing a means of expression to movers of all abilities.


Inclusive Dance in the Ottawa Community







Inclusive Dance in Canada









You May Also Like...