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