Arriving in the snow and freezing cold weather, Beverley and myself arrived in Toronto to share our story at ‘Connectively Moving Our Dance’ an innovative conference event organised by dance Immersion, a charitable non-profit organisation established by Vivine Scarlett in 1994 to produce, promote, and support dancers and dances of the African Diaspora. Supported by a fantastic team, Timea Wharton-Suri, Zahra Badua, Jillian Greyson, and Nicole Inica Hamilton the organisation extended the warmest of welcomes.
This event was organised by dance Immersion, and held in advance of the 33rd Annual IABD International Conference & Festival of Blacks in Dance. Designed to connect, inform, and develop strategies with a Canadian focus. Connectively Moving Our Dance focused on Canadian dance artists of African descent working across the country and abroad. The two-day event included roundtable discussions, movement sharing workshops, lecture demonstrations, and a presenter showcase. The mission to connect Canadian dance artists of African descent to one another and to the global movement community made the conference an ambitious and positive event.
We were invited to be part of an education panel featuring undergraduate, graduate and alumni from York University sharing varied experiences pre-pandemic and through virtual learning during COVID. We sat alongside Kemora Manning, Collette Murray, Ashley ‘Colors’ Perez, Shenel Williams, which was facilitated by Mercy Nabiri (UK based) a long-term supporter of IRIE! who currently directs her own Company Kauma Arts.
Focusing on 21st century dance education and the training realities of African diasporic artists, the discussion aimed to highlight possible pathways forward. Designed to encourage panel members, including ourselves to tell their stories, members gave an honest account of their journey. Canadian panel members detailed the challenge of navigating a place for themselves within the Canadian HE system and we were reminded of our early struggles, battling with the hierarchy of formal education, and questioning the exclusion of African and Caribbean dance forms from the established curriculum.
This was a moment to celebrate and reflect on the BA its construction and survival, alongside the forthcoming launch of an MA. We had a positive story to tell, with a promise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a promise that resilience will reap rewards. The panel attracted lots of questions and it was good to connect with many different artists form different perspectives over the course of the conference. Yes, at this stage we are further ahead, we have created our own trail through the BA but it would be wonderful to keep the conversation going through exchange visits and conversations.
Vivine Scarlett, the amazing founder of dance Immersion constantly strives to forge global connections, and we hope we can continue to keep connected. This has been a positive time of reflection in which we connected with great range of artists from many dance backgrounds. We will be watching their continued journey, hoping that they are able to cultivate places/institutions in which they are able to take their ideas further.