Holla Jazz: An Introduction

 Dancers: Caroline "Lady C" Fraser, Miha Matevzic, Raoul Wilke, and Natasha Powell.  Photo by ES Cheah Photography.

Dancers: Caroline "Lady C" Fraser, Miha Matevzic, Raoul Wilke, and Natasha Powell.

Photo by ES Cheah Photography.

From our Artistic Director, Natasha Powell:

I have been a professional dance artist for 15 years. While I have training in many different dance styles, for several years I was mainly focused on working in the hip hop medium. When I was living and working in Vancouver in 2007, I met Moncell Durden (aka iLL Kozby) from the MOP TOP Crew.  He is the producer/director of the documentary Everything Remains Raw, which highlights the evolution and similarities of socials dances coming from Black and Latin communities in the United States. I had always been interested in the history of Black social dances, so the film resonated deeply with me.

In 2011, I tore the meniscus in my left knee during a rehearsal. Though I was discouraged at that time, the injury rehabilitation period provided me with time to re-evaluate what was important to me as a dance artist. So as frustrating as this injury was, it opened an exciting new chapter in my creative life.

I had surgery to repair the meniscus in 2012, which meant that I was out of commission for quite a few months. During this period, I decided to delve into writing my artist statement for the first time. I started writing about what influences me as an artist, and the first thing that came to me was family. House parties and barbecues were a large part of my upbringing, and I had an older brother and sister who were growing up in the height of the hip hop era.  Watching them dance and how they interacted with each other always resonated with me. Around this time, Moncell was in Toronto and was showing further work that he had done on the documentary. Realizing that social dances were at the forefront of my work, it was then that my interest in vernacular jazz dance was ignited. I wanted to learn more about why the “jazz” dance that I was taught as a youth had no connection to its original roots.

In 2013, I received grants from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts for a residency in New York to study the roots of jazz dance and its connection to hip hop culture. Moncell was my mentor, and I had other incredible teachers while there: Margaret Batiuchok (lindy hop); and Nathan Bugh (jazz). Not only did I dance, but I read - extensively.  As a result, I realized that I wanted to share the spirit of jazz and its connection to hip hop culture with others. While there are a number of places to go swing dancing in my city, I wanted to form a professional company in Toronto that would present, celebrate and honour the spirit of jazz dance and the styles of dance to which it has given birth (hip hop, house, etc.) This represented the formation of Holla Jazz.

My hope is that through Holla Jazz, we can continue to spread the guiding principles of jazz, and perhaps create some new ones.


It's About Time!

Back at the end of January I attended one of the most important dance events in my career thus far, particularly as a black Canadian dance artist. Artist Seika Boye, PhD, has curated a remarkable exhibit at Dance Collection Danse  - It’s About Time, Dancing Black in Canada 1900 - 1970.

My first exposure to professional, black dancing bodies was when my mother took my 9 year-old self to see Dance Theatre of Harlem at what was then the O’Keefe Centre (now known as the Sony Centre for the Arts). I had never really seen black dancing bodies doing what they did at that time, and to see people that looked like me on the big stage was the inspiration for me to become a professional dancer.

My mom enrolled me in dance shortly thereafter. She wanted me to go to the Dennis Moore School of Dance in Scarborough - the biggest school in the GTA for young black children to learn dance, but we were moving to Ajax at that time and the distance was too far to travel to. Years later when I started working professionally, I always wondered what happened to the Dennis Moore school and what would have been different had I attended? Boye’s exhibit brought back a ton of memories about starting my journey with dance but also sparked my curiosity about the black artists that laid the playing field for me and many artists of colour. Who would have known there was a bumpin’ jazz and swing scene in Vancouver, BC? Many of the dance forms that I practice originated in the U.S., but there is a Canadian legacy in these forms that Seika has generously shared. Imagine a time in Toronto where blacks could not enter some of the historic clubs that we now can freely walk into without question. A price was paid for us to do this, and for that I am forever grateful.

I shed tears at this exhibit. Overwhelmed with new information, answered questions, and a sense of pride. This exhibit has sparked a new meaning for me and my work with Holla Jazz especially as we work on our first production, FLOOR’D. I encourage everyone see this exhibit when they get the chance and would love to chat further with you when you do! <3


To Jazz or Not To Jazz: Frequently Asked Questions About Vernacular Jazz Classes

To Jazz or Not To Jazz: Frequently Asked Questions About Vernacular Jazz Classes

As we've been running workshops and classes there are a number of people that want to come, but hesitate for a number of reasons that we hope we have the answers to.  Here are some of the questions or concerns that have come up...

Introducing Tuesday Tunes!

So a huge part of the reason why we dance is because the music is just so good!  Every Tuesday we'll be sharing some of our favourite jazz or jazz inspired tracks to get you going through your week.  

Our first one has to be Yo Yo Jazz, by Big Bang.  This was the first song that we created to and presented for International Jazz Day in 2016, off of their album, Way In Jazz.  Enjoy!