According to diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers, “While diversity is about identifying differences and making sure everyone is invited to the party, inclusion is about extending a hand and asking everyone to dance”.
That’s exactly what we are doing this 2019-2020 season. Asking everyone to dance!
A season devoted to dance has been a long time coming. At H’art Centre, we’ve learned a lot about the power of dance to advance inclusion and community engagement since we launched our first inclusive dance workshop with Melissa Mahady Wilton in 2006 with support from the Ministry of Health Promotion. Here’s what we have learned:
Inclusive dance spreads the message of inclusion in the way few art forms can. Between 2007 and 2009, our first small dance workshop grew into the successful, multi-year “H’art Beat Inclusive Dance Project” with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and it created ripples of change locally, nationally and internationally. Due to exposure to our workshop and its benefits, other community partners sought out inclusive dance, and in Kingston, it is now being taught to children in some public schools and other community locations. Beyond Kingston, their experiences with the program motivated a dance assistant with the program and one H’art volunteer to establish similar programs in Michigan and Burlington, Ontario, respectively.
Inclusive dance can benefit everyone, regardless of age and encourage social connectedness. We first offered inclusive dance to seniors with the “Seniors, Shall We Dance?” project in 2009. We invited Kingston’s seniors to volunteer and dance with us. Some of those seniors continued to volunteer for years! More recently, our H’art Accessible Arts Program, Weekend Arts Mixers, and the Parkinson’s Dance program have included over 500 seniors with disabilities or barriers in dance. Dance enhances quality of life.
When people witness inclusive dance performed at its highest level, it challenges presumptions about ability. Beginning in 2011, H’art Centre started to invite Canada’s leading inclusive dance companies to Kingston. We have dance groups such as: Ottawa’s Propeller Dance, an organization with the sole mandate of providing dance programming to children, youth and adults with and without disabilities; Les Productions des Pieds des Mains, an integrated ballet group from Montreal; Master DanceAbility instructor Michelle Silagy; dancer Jessie Huggett and hip hop dancer Luca “LazyLegz” Patuelli to demonstrate their art to nearly a thousand local audience members.
Inclusive dance needs an inclusive and welcoming space to take root. By the time we were ready to build “THE BOX” inclusive performing arts space in 2012, we already knew quite a bit about what we needed to facilitate dance for everyone. Since then, THE BOX has become an amazing venue for H’art musicals and community arts. For instance in 2015, THE BOX OF CULTURES program wrapped up with All Around the World in One Night. The event featured a guest speaker, food samples from local cultural restaurants, booths from local cultural organizations and agencies, a Community Stage including demonstrations of marimba, gu zheng, Aztec drumming, bellydance, Philippine folk dance, and the Kingston Drumming Circle. We ended the event with two lively performances from Kingston entertainers – the samba band, Oi Sambistas! and Kingston favourite, Mr. Love Club. The event got our community dancing together!
It is our obligation to help spread the word. Here are just a few ways we have shared the message about inclusive dance:
- In 2014, H’art Centre invited local dance instructors to take part in an introduction to adapted dance training.
- In 2017, we offered a free live-stream, in-theatre viewing of Propeller Dance’s Living the (un)Desirable Life, an integrated, contemporary dance-theatre creation featuring dancers of all abilities.
- In 2018, we sponsored choreographer Menka Nagrani’s talk at the Canadian Association of Theatre Professionals and her screening of the dance film, “Eureka”.
- We hosted Master DanceAbility International teacher and contemporary dance artist Michelle Silagy who joined us to provide her DanceAbility workshop in THE BOX, with live accompaniment by Chad Irschick and David MacDougall for our H’art artists with developmental disabilities and post secondary students from the community.
We are just getting started. In this newsletter, you will learn how we got more than 600 participants dancing through our weekend outreach at Fairmount Home, more about our new Love of Dance project, and the development of SMALL THINGS, to be staged at the Isabel Bader Human Rights Arts Festival in April 2020. SMALL THINGS will be our first major performance to tell a story primarily through dance and it will give more than 70 artists of all abilities the opportunity to create together and learn from each other for over a year. We’ve even invited some parents and caregivers to take part!
So, shall we dance?