Dance Artists You Need to Know is a series of interviews with some of Ottawa’s most engaging BIPOC dance artists and companies.
Surraya Dawn Aziz is a gem. A beautiful mover who is simultaneously warm, engaging, and down to earth, Surraya has been contributing to the Ottawa dance scene as a dancer and educator for several years. We spoke virtually about her past, present, and hopes for the future within the realm of dance here in the capital.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Apt613: What is your relationship to dance in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and beyond?
My name is Surraya Dawn and I am a dancer in the city of Ottawa. I have been dancing since I was five years old and grew up doing ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary, and musical theatre. Once I got to university at 18 I joined my first hip hop crew in Toronto. Once I joined that first group, I fell in love with hip hop and never looked back.
I am currently a teacher for Propeller Dance, a renowned integrated dance company for diverse minds and bodies. I am also teaching my own PWYC/free classes through Zoom. I have previously taught at Flava Factory and have been part of several Ottawa crews including Culture Shock Ottawa and PNL, as well as being a guest dancer for Propeller.
Right now I am studying to apply for a Masters program in counselling and hoping that this can be my future career. I’d love to incorporate dance into mental health and addiction work.
I have a long relationship with dance in the Ottawa area. I really found a community when I returned from Toronto. Around that time, I started volunteering with Propeller and explored dancing in a whole new way. I love the Ottawa dance scene—it is so rich and diverse and beautiful.
If you had to describe your work in five words, what words would you choose?
Connected. Grounded. Inclusive. Mindful. Exploratory.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your work? Some rewarding moments?
One of the biggest challenges I face is finding confidence in myself as someone who can share and has things to say through dance. To this day I struggle with this a little—that what I have to say is worth listening to—but I am confident that we all have something important to say.
There are so many rewarding moments. My first teaching job was with Culture Shock. I loved the whole process. When I taught this one particular group of teens at Culture Shock, many of them were new to dance and it was amazing to see their dance journeys develop and watch them flourish. Another rewarding moment happens when a student tells you that they feel comfortable with you and trust you. This art form is so vulnerable.
What would you like to see happen in the dance community?
In general, I would love to see artists supporting other artists. Sometimes we can have this competitive or comparing mentality, when we all have our own voices and our own things to say. Someone else’s success is something to encourage and appreciate. Your success most likely will look different than someone else’s. We all have a place in this community. That’s what I love about Ottawa—a lot of the dancers know each other and support each other.
What inspires you?
A lot of things inspire me. Our unique psychologies, personalities, and ways of seeing the world really inspire me. I love hearing other people’s life experiences through movement and through words. Translating this into our dancing and finding commonalities inspires me the most.