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.