Dancing in the streets 

By Barbara Black

WD-40, aka Nicholas Wong, and Lynx, aka K8 Alsterlund, recent students in the Contemporary Dance Department. Magnifying glass

WD-40, aka Nicholas Wong, and Lynx, aka K8 Alsterlund, recent students in the Contemporary Dance Department.

Urban dancing is creating excitement in Concordia’s Contemporary Dance Department. Silvy Panet-Raymond says break-dancing and hip-hop are influencing dancers with more formal training in classical and contemporary dance — and vice versa.

“It's expanding these styles and pushing people to question the physical and esthetic limitations,” she said. “At the same time, contemporary dance gets urban dancers to think beyond the steps and the stereotypes.”

“We're seeing a different kind of theatricality — more gutsy at times, less about the sheen. These people are also working a lot with visual and new media artists, and pushing the definitions of performance art.”

Despite the fact that Statistics Canada says performing artists don’t make much money and dancers make the least, the department has never been healthier.
Of the six urban dancer-choreographers featured in a recent show at Montreal’s Studio 303 called Slang in Movement, three were recent Concordia alumni. The show had to be repeated the same evening to accommodate the crowd. Panet-Raymond calls the phenomenon cross-breeding.

“The exciting thing about the Slang show were the pieces that managed to expand the street styles and to bring something more original, because urban styles can easily just reproduce commercial recipes.”

Contemporary Dance alumni are working all over the world, sometimes in remarkable ways. Ilona Dougherty, a social and political activist, runs a dance company called Apathy is Boring. JoDee Allen and Helen Simard run Studio Sweatshop, an urban dance school. Ame Henderson is the founder and artistic director of Public Recordings, a new dance company in Toronto.

Soo Yeon Cho and David Albert-Toth in performance Magnifying glass

Soo Yeon Cho and David Albert-Toth in performance

Andrew Tay’s video work is seen in Cirque du Soleil shows, and Christian O’Leary is the director of communications of the Conseil des arts de Montreal.

Isabelle Choinière, an older alumna, is pushing the boundaries of dance and technology with her company, Le Corps Indice. Thea Patterson is co-choreographer of a multimedia show devoted to iconic film animator Norman McLaren at Place des Arts this weekend and next.

K8 Alsterlund took a protégé break-dancer with physical challenges, Luca “Lazylegs” Patuelli, to perform with her in Vietnam. She has also been working with young people in Canada’s far north.

Just after she danced in the Slang show, Alsterlund went to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, as part of a project for Blueprint For Life’s Social Work Through Hip Hop, created by an Ottawa social worker-cum-dancer called Stephen Leafloor.

Ten dancers travel to remote communities to teach local youth for five intensive days. “On the fifth evening, we present a show to their community,” Alsterlund explained by email. “We also try to make connections between the dance and music of hip hop and the traditions of the locals.

“These trips have been very powerful learning experiences for me, and it’s incredible to see the transformations that happen. It says a lot about the universal language of dance and music, and how they can bring us together and give us strength.”

The department is accepting more students and retaining more to graduation; currently there are 74 in the three-year program. Some are coming from excellent dance or arts schools in Ontario, according to Panet-Raymond, but it’s also because dance is hot these days.

“I hear that enrolment is up at UQAM and in other cities, too, maybe because there is more exposure of dance, more cross-pollination with other arts, and more job opportunities,” she said.

The academic program at Concordia combines practice and theory. Unusually for a dance program, teachers don’t impose their own choreography on the students, who are encouraged to develop their own. This may be the key to the remarkable diversity and creativity of its graduates.


Concordia University