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Welcome to Tap Dance Land

By Philip Szporer

Andrew Nemr, artistic and executive director of Vancouver Tap Dance Society, or VanTap as it is popularly known, believes an education in tap must include an education in the dance form’s complex cultural histories.

Nemr offers some sage advice: “Just dance from your heart.” He’s devoted to bringing people together, audiences and artists alike, to what he calls “tap dance land.”  

After dancing with Savion Glover in his earlier works and then joining his first mixed-race company, Ti Dii, Nemr founded his own New York-based tap dance company called Cats Paying Dues. He also directed the Tap Dance Freedom education platform and co-founded the Tap Legacy Foundation, Inc., along with Gregory Hines. 

As a dance artist, Nemr is dedicated to conveying the joyful, yet painful, history of tap to the next generation. He believes a comprehensive understanding of the historical roots in slavery and minstrelsy, and the multiple identities within the community, is just as important as mastering the steps.

This year, the annual Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival is scheduled for August, with its slate of performances, classes and training. But because of the COVID-19 crisis, Nemr says the festival has been reimagined. 

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Andrew Nemr, directeur artistique et général de la Vancouver Tap Dance Society, communément appelé VanTap, offre un conseil très sage: « Danser simplement du coeur ». Il se consacre à rassembler les gens, artistes autant que publics, à ce qu’il nomme « le pays de la claquette ». Après avoir dansé dans les premières oeuvres de Savion Glover, et ensuite s’être joint à sa première compagnie de race mixte, Ti Dii, Nemr met sur pied sa propre compagnie de claquette à New York, Cats Paying Dues. Il a aussi été à la direction de la plateforme d’enseignement Tap Dance Freedom, et cofondateur de la Tap Legacy Foundation, Inc. avec Gregory Hines. C’est avec dévotion que Nemr partage l’histoire joyeuse et aussi douloureuse de la claquette aux nouvelles générations. Selon lui, il est tout aussi important de comprendre l’histoire de la forme dans l’esclavage et le minstrelsy que de maitriser la technique. Malheureusement, la prochaine édition du Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival, présenté par VanTap et prévu pour le mois d’aout, sera probablement annulée en raison de la crise de la COVID-19. 

Nemr / Photo by Bret Hartman

 

Out of Studio

Three dance artists/photographers capture how they are continuing to move, learn and find inspiration while socially distanced during COVID-19.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, dancers have been stuck at home, kept away from the studio and the stage. To document dance during this time, we asked three dancers/photographers to capture how they are finding inspiration within their walls, furniture and worldly possessions.

Alvin Collantes is a Filipino-Canadian dance artist, certified Gaga teacher and photographer. Mika Manning is a freelance artist, working towards a bachelor of Art, Performance and Cinema Studies at Simon Fraser University. Marlowe Porter is dance artist and photographer who often combines photography, film and performance. The results of their work show what it looks like to move within the confines, but also the comforts, of home. 

 

Depuis l’éclosion de la COVID-19, les artistes de danse sont chez eux, loin du studio et de la scène. Pour documenter la danse pendant cette période, on a invité trois interprètes et photographes à capter ce qui les inspire à domicile, leurs meubles, leurs possessions. Alvin Collantes est artiste de danse, enseignant de Gaga certifié et photographe canado-philippin. Mika Manning est artiste pigiste et étudiante en performance et en cinéma à l’Université Simon Fraser. Marlowe Porter est artiste de danse et photographe qui conjugue souvent la photographie, le film et le spectacle. Les propositions de ces artistes montrent le mouvement dans le confinement, mais aussi le confort de la maison.

Manning / Photos by Manning

 

Spinning Around Stigma

By Kendra Guidolin

Kendra Guidolin speaks with three dance artists about the world of pole dancing, investigating the layers of stigma that often steal the spotlight from the artist and the art form.

Why does pole dancing carry a harmful stigma that often places dancers and instructors in a degraded position? Guidolin digs into the world of pole dancing, unveiling the layers beyond the controversy. 

She speaks with Jessica Marsh, an award-winning pole dancer and instructor who found solace in pole after the years she spent with eating disorders and a negative body image; Portia Favro who found the similarities between pole and other styles when she expanded her practice beyond burlesque and commercial jazz to include pole; and the owner of Volair Fitness, Melanie Irene, who believes that the stigma associated with pole dancing starts with the bodily shame that, in particular, women have been taught at a young age. These three artists show that underneath the performance, pole offers not only a great workout but also a great sense of empowerment.

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Pourquoi stigmatise-t-on la danse à la barre verticale (ou pole dance) d’une façon qui dégrade souvent les danseuses et instructrices? Kendra Guidolin creuse le monde de la danse à la barre, et met en lumière les nuances au-delà de la controverse. Elle parle avec Jessica Marsh, une danseuse acclamée qui a trouvé un réconfort dans la danse à la barre après des années de désordre alimentaire et d’une image de soi très négative; Portia Favro qui a trouvé des similarités entre la danse à la barre lorsqu’elle a élargi sa pratique au-delà du burlesque et la danse jazz commerciale; et la propriétaire de Volair Fitness, Melanie Irene, qui croit que la stigmatisation découle d’une honte du corps que les femmes en particulier apprennent dès un jeune âge. Ces trois artistes montrent que derrière le spectacle, le pole dance offre aussi un excellent entrainement et un sentiment d’empowerment. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash 

 

How Do You Understand Your Work as Queer?

By Stephen Low

Dance artists Robert Binet, Twysted and Hari Krishnan weigh in on the status of Queer dance in Canada.

Where is Queer dance performance in Canada, and who are Canada’s Queer dance artists? The country has a rich history of LGBTQ2+ theatre. Playwrights like Michel Tremblay and evalyn parry, performance artists like Cassils and Nina Arsenault and musicians including Rufus Wainwright and k.d. lang have all garnered global attention for their work as Queer artists. But dance work that is explicitly Queer is notably absent, invisible or at least not explicitly presented as Queer. 

Stephen Low spoke with three artists about the status of Queer dance in Canada: Robert Binet, choreographic associate at The National Ballet of Canada, who challenges the norms of ballet; Twysted, a ballroom dancer and community educator who has been at the fore of the resurgence of vogue culture in Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ community; and Hari Krishnan, a scholar/choreographer/dancer whose work merges Indian classical dance and western aesthetics.

Où est la danse Queer en spectacle au Canada, et qui sont les artistes de danse Queer au Canada ? Le pays a une riche histoire de théâtre LGBTQ2+. Des dramaturges comme Michel Tremblay et evalyn parry, des artistes de la performance comme Nina Arsenault et les musiciens comme Rufus Wainright et k.d. lang sont tous reconnus mondialement pour leur travail comme artiste Queer. Mais la danse explicitement Queer est absente, invisible ou du moins, elle n’est pas présentée comme Queer. Stephen Low a parlé avec trois artistes sur le statut de la danse Queer au Canada: Robert Binet, associé chorégraphique au National Ballet of Canada, qui met au défi les normes du ballet; Twysted, un danseur ballroom et éducateur communautaire qui est à l’avant-plan de la résurgence et de la culture de voguing dans la communauté LGBTQ2+ à Toronto; et Hari Krishnan, un chercheur, chorégraphe et danseur qui combine la danse classique indienne et l’esthétique occidentale.

Dance artists in inDANCE’s SKIN / Photo by Miles Brokenshire 

Departments

Editorial

By Grace Wells-Smith

This issue of The Dance Current is a first.

It’s the first issue to have been completely produced remotely, during a pandemic. It’s also the first issue produced with our new publisher, Spenser McRae. After two years of exceptional work with The Dance Current, former publisher Crystal Melville has started the next phase of her career. 

What I can’t help feeling during all of these changes is how lucky we are to be able to keep delivering The Dance Current. I don’t know about you, but my online shopping habits have definitely spiked since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the small joy I experience when there’s something in my mailbox seems to last longer than usual these days. That’s what I hope The Dance Current can do for you – bring any amount of joy, starting from the delivery to your mailbox. 

Since this issue has been produced during a time we are sure to remember forever, we wanted the content to reflect how the dance community is persisting. What we found is that there is a mixture of grief and hope. Dance artists are dealing with disruptions to their normal lives but are also finding ways to support each other. 

To start, we profiled Faye and Bryant Lopez, Argentine tango dancers, and Tatiana Lerebours, apprentice with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. These profiles show how the pandemic has affected both well-established and emerging careers. Teachers offer thoughts on how their practices have changed; choreographer Kathleen Rea reflects on what the dance community has lost; and the world champion hoop dancer Lisa Odjig shares what has been inspiring her.

For our photo essay – the cover story – we asked the dancers/photographers Alvin Collantes, Mika Manning and Marlowe Porter to find inspiration in their homes and capture what their movement looks like, out of studio. I find it quite striking. But just because the pandemic has taken over our world, it doesn’t mean that other conversations have stopped. 

Our feature profile, written by Philip Szporer, showcases Andrew Nemr, artistic and executive director of Vancouver Tap Dance Society, who believes that keeping tap alive means acknowledging its joyful, but also painful, history. Our feature, written by Kendra Guidolin, digs into the stigma of pole dancing, and our “In Conversation” feature, written by Stephen Low, checks in with three Queer dance artists about their work. 

Whether you are reading this on your couch, on your porch or on the floor (why do dancers always end up on the floor?), I hope you enjoy the following pages.

Movers

“Like Fred Astaire dancing on the wall”
By Leah Borts-Kuperman

Faye and Bryant Lopez

The chemistry between Faye and Bryant Lopez, award-winning Argentine tango dancers, is palpable even through a screen; livestreamed performances and video classes are some of the ways they continue to support their business, Tango Soul, through the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple, whose style derives from the milongas of Buenos Aires, has also danced around the world. They have danced with Cirque du Soleil, in Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas and in The Tuxedo with Jackie Chan, but they now find themselves mostly isolated in a one-bedroom apartment near Sunnybrook Park in Toronto. 

Faye and Bryant Lopez / Photo courtesy of Tango Soul

Movers

Persisting through an apprenticeship full of obstacles
By Dylan Schoenmakers

Tatiana Lerebours

In July 2019, Tatiana Lerebours joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal as an apprentice, a year before completing her training at L’École supérieure de ballet du Québec. It was a season of firsts: her first company contract, her first tour and her first time in Europe. And then, something completely unexpected happened: COVID-19 temporarily shuttered Les Grands Ballets, along with theatres around the world.

Lerebours / Photo by Sasha Onyshchenko

The List

Lisa Odjig

What inspires Lisa Odjig?

Lisa Odjig shares her inspirations with The Dance Current. She is a multi-award-winning hoop dancer and a two-time world champion. She was the first woman to win the world champion title at the Heard Museum World Championship Hoop Dance Contest in Phoenix, Arizona and she holds six additional hoop dance titles won throughout Canada and the United States. 

Odjig has performed all over the world at events including the 2002 Winter Olympic Games closing ceremony, the 2015 Pan American Games and multiples times at the Calgary Stampede. She has also performed for Queen Elizabeth II and was invited to dance at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montréal. 

Editor’s note: This version has been ammended from the original (in print), which stated that Odjig danced at the 2005 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montréal. 

Odjig / Photo courtesy of Odjig

Inspire

Dancing (or not) Through Loss
By Kathleen Rea

Kathleen Rea reflects on what the dance community has lost during COVID-19.

Rea / Photo by Jeff Moskal

Practice

What About the Teachers?

Teachers offer thoughts about their pandemic practices

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent hundreds of dance classes across Canada online. We asked teachers Gurdeep Pandher, Craig Hampsted, Jamee Valin, Ashley Rhianne and Abady Alzahrani how their teaching practices have changed, what they miss and what they’ve learned.

Pandher / Photo courtesy of Pandher

Body

The Home Studio
By Dr. Blessyl Buan

Training at home is not the same as in a studio, so take precautions to prevent injuries and maintain strength

While physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s challenging to recreate the in-studio experience at home. Several factors are important to consider when creating a makeshift studio space and setting up a new dance routine. 

Read the full article here

Watch our Healthy Dancer At Home series for more of Dr. Blessyl’s tips. 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Reflections

What We Do Offstage

Dance organizations across Canada reflect on the role of the dance artist during COVID-19.

Dance organizations across Canada support, educate and promote dance artists. Since the dance community, along with the rest of the world, has been plunged into a global pandemic, we asked some of those organizations what they think the role of the dance artist is during COVID-19. Dance Ontario’s Julie McLachlan, Regroupement québecois de la danse’s Jamie Wright, Dance Manitoba’s Wendy J. Bobby and Dance NL’s Corie Kean weigh in. 

Julie McLachlan / Photo by Stelth Ng

Backstage

From Canadian Dance Assembly
By Aviva Fleising

Waiting in the wings.

Right now, dance artists are waiting in the wings. Waiting patiently to reconnect, to welcome audiences, to catch a smile, a tear, a gesture, a laugh. We close our eyes, dreaming about returning to the stage again – safely. 

Imagine your first show back and what that will feel like. Like your first performance ever: sweaty palms, a dark stage and excitement! An invisible magnetic energy connecting both audience and performer. Even though we have been physically apart, we feel that connection now more than ever. We are bound by our commitment to the art form and to each other. We are finding ways to support one another and come together as a community from all over the world – and that has been our greatest dance of all. 

It has not and will not be an easy road. As weeks of physical distancing and restrictions turn to months, many of us are feeling an increased sense of anxiety and grief. We will be challenged in new and unimaginable ways, but we will find our path because we are resilient, creative and innovative. 

Until then, I wait in the wings with you, anticipating the beauty that will emerge from this collective experience. From the mud emerges the lotus flower. We too will emerge, shining brightly.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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