A personal reflection on ‘why we bother’ to create

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Dance is difficult. You are the work. I have had some moments in the past few years where I’ve thought – ‘ugh, why do I even bother, it would be simpler if I didn’t push, make and teach’. I wrote down some words reflecting on ‘why I bother’ yesterday and as others prepare for competitions and showcases in and outside lindy hop I wanted to share them.

For when I ask, ‘why I bother’

This is my most ambitious undertaking.
I have never had a core of dancers who were as gifted and inspiring to work with and choreograph for.
At the end of August, I get a video log of my canon of work. Also, I have a canon of work!
These pieces and ideas are collaborated on and co-crafted with other bright minds.
I have stared at my fear of failure and questions of self-worth and thought this simply isn’t true.
I have faced impossibility head on and moved like a river around it.
I have been my own buoy.
I accept I am artist. Because.
I love this process, and it is so uncomfortable and still there will be proof.
Proof that I will harness to give me more space to make.
To dream more vividly.
To put myself on home turf – where I belong.

Puzzling through diversity in the arts

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I am an immigrant. I live in a country where my frame of cultural reference is different. In my work life, I am constantly questioning how we reflect our society in community settings, on the concert or theatrical stage. There are some remarkable barriers that exist to prevent presenting genuinely diverse work that isn’t an example of tokenism. The arts ecosystem isn’t perfect. For a variety of reasons, there is still significant inequalities of opportunity/access for artists of diverse backgrounds. And I’m still puzzling it through.

I see this all the time in classical music. I work mostly in orchestral music and opera. We are still working on gender diversity in classical music – let alone inequality of access for other groups.

I’m reminded of the challenge the sector faces reading the news back home. Recently, the Director, a designer and a performer have stepped away from a production of South Pacific at Calgary Opera. This was over the proposed casting of a white artist in the role of a Polynesian woman.

Operas/musicals are a kind of historical document, sometimes quietly or overtly racist in plot and character portrayal, we should absolutely be aiming to present works with culturally-informed casting! But it has to be part of the artistic direction and process from the beginning – as well as reflecting Canadian artists versus hiring international artists. It must be ingrained in the process and conversation with our Chief Executives, Casting Directors, Production Teams, Arts Programme Education Teams, Theatre School Directors/Teachers/Enrollment Staff, High School Music Teachers, Primary School Music Teachers (if that even exists anymore) and in the minds of parents. Arts Council England outline in their ‘Creative Case for Diversity‘ that “the simple observation that diversity, in the widest sense, is an integral part of the artistic process. It is an important element in
the dynamic that drives art forward, that innovates it and brings it closer to a profound dialogue with contemporary society.”

I argue that we need more of a culture-shift in how we think about the relevance of the arts and specifically diversity – in Canada and England. On stage, we need to reflect our contemporary society with exceptional artistry – but if the side argument is that there isn’t a pool of artists to draw on, then let’s make more opportunities for young people to see a progression route to became an artist.

Let’s be creative and think about how we reflect the face of our community participants, our audience members and our society in our programming on and off the stage. Let’s choose female conductors, designers and directors because they are excellent – not just because they are women. And artists of colour, and Aboriginal artists and artists who live with disability. Let’s publicly talk about the relevance of art and show its relevance! With Canada still so dependent on immigration for labour growth and population growth, some immigrant groups don’t see the arts as a profession. It’s perceived as a hobby. Let’s change that perception.

Let’s make it possible for the next generation to make a living in the arts in Canada!

Canadian artists work incredibly hard, but there is very little infrastructure to support their career unless they are ’emerging’ or ‘established’. Grants are an important tool, but what about child care provision, pension, disability insurance if they get sick and can’t work? You want more artists, show the progression route, show that you can have a family and pursue an artistic career without some socio-economic leg up.

Let’s reflect our society on and off stage. Let’s keep questioning.

Update: Partner for ILHC

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Many people read and shared my post about my search for a partner for the International Lindy Hop Championships. I was slightly overwhelmed by the response.

I had dozens of followers email me to say that would never have the courage to ask publicly for a dance partner. I received the most thoughtful emails and Facebook messages from male and female leaders wanting to push their dancing and declaring their willingness to train and put some art out there in August. Some sounded like job applications (which was surprising) and some caused me to tear up from their thoughtfulness and kindness.

And where did I get too…
1. I had several offers from some leads I LOVE dancing with and some good conversations about working together.
2. I thought about pursuing a Pro-Am because it would challenge me to work on my own dancing and get expert input.
3. I thought really long and hard about what I want to offer the lindy hop community and what my strengths are in the short to medium term and beyond.

But it looks like I may not going to go to ILHC this year and even if I did, I’d probably only do the Jack and Jill and Strictly.

The money, the time and the resources I would have put into ILHC this year went into securing my future in a country and city I love.

When you want to live somewhere and don’t have the legal grounds to stay beyond are a certain time in that place you feel constantly ill at ease. Unsettled. In flux. I spent many hours trying for a goal that seemed wild and somewhat unrealistic. I spent more money then I expected, more time then I expected and missed a flight or two in the process (talk about #lindyhoplife).

I earned an Exceptional Talent (Promise, really) visa and it was for lindy hop. It gives me 5 years here in England and counts towards residency, if I want that. It gives me options and choices. It also solidified how much I love this community and the sense of ownership I feel to challenge my personal dance practice, to build my skills as a dancer and teacher and to create a pathway that suits me.

If I make it to ILHC this year, it will be a year of reflection and celebration. If I don’t, you better believe I’ll be there with bells on next year with a posse of my best friends and most inspiring colleagues from London. I just thought an update was in order especially since I felt so very supported. Thank you friends for supporting dreams I didn’t even dream for myself. I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing. I hope you are too.

Time out

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The day I quit my job at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to move abroad, my former colleague told me “no one else will ever give you permission to take a time out”. What are you going to do when you grow? What will your future look like? We are asked these questions when we are so incapable of making thoughtful and informed answers.

I was already coming home for a visit to see my family for two weeks and it turned in almost a month of bumming around Toronto (with two weeks of working full time remote). I was in limbo waiting for some paperwork to process. My life is very full in London. I like it that way! It’s part of the energy that lifts me up and carries me. It’s a magical city (most of the time). I will admit, it’s been nice to feel myself slow down. Without a working phone, patchy daily internet access and house hopping from my parents to other friends – it’s actually felt like a forced vacation from my life in London. A time out. I feel the pangs of ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out) and yet I know that there will always be other excellent times with excellent people. It’s a stressful feeling like life is moving swiftly on and you’re standing still. But then I remember that it’s ok to be still and sit quietly. It’s good for the heart and the head.

In the meantime, what have I done while I’ve been home?
– I have gone to Choir!Choir!Choir! and sung Losing My Religion
– I drove to Stompology and saw some of my favourite people and performed a new burlesque piece
– Was interviewed for a podcast (a Nancy first)
– I saw my brothers, my sister-in-law, nephew and niece – not to mention the coolest 91 year old I know – my Zaida
– Unexpectedly got to celebrate Father’s Day with my papa/mama and Zaida
– I got my ass handed to me in a kick boxing class with my badass bestie and her husband
– I sat lakeside, poolside and parkside
– I took in some culture and saw some good art
– I hosted a Sick of Chit Chat session at Soho House Toronto
– I ate a lot of gluten free bagels (maybe to many)
– I hugged many important and wonderful people and held them very close

Heading home on Saturday. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, checking my mail (as in post) and wandering through London for a little while in my softer, calmer state. If you’re feeling burned out, make sure you give yourself some time to catch up with yourself. Do an extra workout. Give yourself the night off. Walk by the canal. It’ll do you good. See you soon!

Sick of Chit Chat

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I like to think that I’m a professional conversation starter. Whether it’s dance, rallying funding for an arts project or just connecting friends with like minded people – I like bringing people together. I’ve been spending some time thinking about what it means to build connection in person. How do you curate that first 5-7 min of conversation that could yield a potential friendship or business relationship? Why does it feel forced? Why isn’t it natural for everyone? How could you make it easier?

I’ve given a couple of workshops on the topic and try to focus on the following three ideas:
1. Decide your outcome before you get there – who are you looking to meet? Why are you there? What is success? The number of people you talk too? The number of free beers you drink. Decide the outcome and you’re more likely to feel like it was worth while. Going to a networking event out of obligation is always a recipe for disappointment.
2. Ask ‘good’ questions. Avoid ‘yes/no’ answers. Listen actively to what the other person is saying and respond to it with curiosity. A good response to someone’s statement is ‘That’s interesting, what do you think about ….’
3. Be able to identify the introvert versus the bore. Sometimes the most useful people in the room are shy. Be willing to investigate whether or not someone is an introvert or dull. You may have to put in a bit more work, but I promise if often yields a positive result.

I know it’s energetic work. There is no way for it not to be, but if you can give yourself some structure around what you want from these interactions if often makes it so much better…feeling. What are the bits you find the hardest? Let me know, I’m curious.

How to be a good ‘contest’ audience member

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Competition season has kicked off with the newest kid to the block, the Savoy Cup. I wanted to cover a couple of ideas around what it means (to me) to be a good competitor and audience member.

People enter competitions for all sorts of reasons. It might be a personal goal to focus on improving their dancing, it might be that they love to perform and we don’t have enough opportunities to do that in lindy hop, or it might be that it scares them and they want to push through that fear.

Whatever the reason they are competing, be supportive.

As an audience member – for the love of all that is holy – CLAP! CHEER! GIVE THEM ENERGY! Whether or not you know them. Whether or not it’s perfect. It’s part of the audience/performer contract. If people are nervous, having the crowd behind them can be so uplifting.
Be aware that sometimes we are so moved by a performance, or so distracted by watching that it’s hard to clap along, but do your best.
Smile at the performers, if feels so much nicer to perform for people who are interested and supportive.
Acknowledge them after the performance and congratulate them, or ask how it felt. When you see them in the hallway, at the nearby restaurant or on the dance floor. Competitions bring up all sorts of emotions – a kind word goes a long way.

If you’ve never competed before, try it sometime (it is often fun) and decide what success means for you going in. Often, ‘winning’ is just having the courage to share something you love with a group of people who also love that thing. It can be such a thrill. Best of luck to those competing at events across Europe this summer and to those hitting up ILHC and Camp Hollywood last this summer.