It was hard not to get inspired when speaking to artists at the launch of the Neighbourhood Arts 150, a program featuring 12 artistic experiences in 21 Ottawa neighbourhoods between April and November 2017. For me, however, one particular project stood out: Dandelion Dance’s Celebrating Canada through Diversity and Dance. Dandelion is a youth performance company located in the west end of Ottawa. Its mission is to promote the values of diversity, inclusivity, equity and accessibility.
Kelsey Walsh, Dandelion’s Performance Company Director and Head of Youth Programs, had the idea to build on the dance company’s strong focus on community outreach by applying to be part of Neighbourhood Arts 150. In her role as Performance Company Director, Walsh works with girls from very diverse backgrounds, supporting them to use their unique experiences to create collective dance works. She wanted to use dance to bring the voices of young girls represented to the sesquicentennial conversation about what it means to be Canadian.
Walsh’s goal for Celebrating Canada was to work with more youth from outside the company in a very inclusive and supportive artistic process. Once Dandelion’s inclusion in Neighbourhood Arts 150 was confirmed, she began reaching out to community partners, the most important one being the Pinecrest Queensway Community Health Centre. She went to many homework clubs and tutoring sessions seeking girls that might be interested in the project. No dance, or any artistic experience, was required to participate.
In total, twenty-seven girls collaborated on Celebrating Canada through Diversity and Dance, all of whom have different interests. Using dance as a foundation, the group also explored different artistic mediums allowing girls with different artistic affinities to shine at different points in the process. The team will be pulling together the best of these experiments into one show with the overarching theme of what it means to be a Canadian girl in 2017, as well as the impact of neighbourhood on Canadian girls.
The process allowed the young artists the freedom to wander beyond dance into areas where they might feel more comfortable, be it singing, taking photos, or painting. This made for a collaborative work environment that focused less on comparison and more on valuing the various artistic contributions of each participant.
Walsh has witnessed a change in the girls, many of whom were very reserved at the beginning but ended up taking ownership of process. She’s also seen them come together as a community and build genuine friendships.
The fruit of their labours is happening on May 13 at 11am and 2pm, where the final piece will be performed. The venue, Bayshore Shopping Centre, is a natural choice for the event. Dandelion works out of Ottawa West and all participants are from the area. For better or worse, the mall is a community hub for the neighbourhood. According to Walsh, performing at the mall will make their work accessible to a multigenerational and diverse audience, and may help attract other teenagers stumbling by.
While Celebrating Canada through Diversity and Dance culminates with the May 13 performance, there is an opportunity for participants to continue with Dandelion. All participants will be invited to the annual audition for one of the 12 spots in the Company as well as the opportunity to register for classes in the fall.
Celebrating Canada through Diversity and Dance will be performed May 13 at Bayshore Shopping Centre at 11am and 2pm. In addition to the May 13 event, this year’s members of Dandelion Dance’s Performance Company will be performing their end-of-year show June 2 at 7pm at the Algonquin Commons Theatre.