Irma Villafuerte in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
The spotlight over the past years has turned towards the under-representation of female choreographers in the established dance companies. In the press and social media, I have seen a repeat of the same sort of questions and thought processes in regards to this issue that goes something like this “… where are all the female choreographers?” or “why aren’t there more female choreographers” or “If only there were more female choreographers then we could hire them”. While it is great to see the press and dance community having these discussions, I would like to counter by saying we are not that hard to find. We are mostly finding our way, on our own terms by starting our own companies and self-producing. They should concentrate on finding us, seeing our shows and writing reviews. This would shine a spotlight on our work that can help even out the gender inequalities we face. Roshanak Jaberi is an Iranian-Canadian female choreographer whom I had no trouble finding. I would like to shine some stage-light on this talented and brave creator.
I just came home from Jabari’s production “No Woman’s Land”, created for her company Jaberi Dance Theatre and presented by DanceWorks at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto. Jaberi Dance Theatre is a multi-disciplinary performing arts company that explores socially relevant content and highlights the lived experience of racialized women. “No Woman’s Land” tells stories of refugee women fleeing their homelands due to acute starvation, poverty, natural disasters, armed conflict and war. Roshanak engaged in an intense research phase with the support of IRIS (Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society) and scholar Dr. Shahrzad Mojab. The work that arose out of the stories and information collected is a weaving of dance, visual images, text and sound. Pre-show, the stage is set with something that looks like the frame of a tent. Light shines through the frame casting shadows that look like bars of some virtual prison. Or perhaps they are a net that will hold the audience together while we witness the stories that are about to unfold. One of the beautiful aspects of Jaberi’s work is that the images portrayed hold multiple meanings and tones, creating a richly layered tapestry.
The work starts at high velocity with the frame turning over to become a boat. Images of a storm are projected over all surfaces of the stage. We witness refugees fighting for their lives in stormy waters. The choreography is direct in its movements, but the nuances are complex and cut deep into the heart. The cast (Irma Villafuerte, Nickeshia Garrick, Victoria Mata, Denise Solleza, Drew Berry, Ahmed Moneka) are fully committed. One can sense they know the importance of the job they have in bringing these stories to the stage.
Victoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte & Drew Berry in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
The program includes a fold-out pamphlet that educates the public about the world-wide refugee crisis. We learn that 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes and that one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds. We learn that approximately one in five women in refugee camps are sexually-assaulted. This statistic is brought to life on stage through Irma Villafuerte’s solo that depicts unwanted hands reaching for her body through “bars”, and through a voice-over of a young girl’s story of a brutal rape. The pamphlet also describes how refugee women become shrewd survivors through their lived experience, finding strategies, cunning and independence. In a fierce solo by Nickeshia Garrick, sharp movements cut through the air with grace and speed. Every cell of her body exemplifies pride and beauty that dismantles the stereotype of the helpless, passive victim.
Victoria Mata in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
In another scene, dancers frantically fight for limited buckets. The rattling sound of hollow metal clanging reverberates on stage, a music score that gives the audience a felt sense of the panic of thirst. The buckets then become stepping stones across minefields or seats at a social gathering that gives relief from the worries of being displaced. Text and projected images deliver story and setting, but dance is the element that delivers the emotional world hidden behind the words and statistics. This embodiment is what brings the stories home to those witnessing. Throughout the work a repeated poem delivers the message that people flee their home when fleeing is safer than staying. This made me think of what it would take to make me grab my kids and flee. A vital aspect of “No Woman’s Land” is that it invites the viewer into an immersive art experience that encourages the viewer to imagine what it would be like if those circumstances unfolding on stage happened to them. Jaberi’s states in her program notes that “No Woman’s Land” does not attempt to present solutions to systemic systems of oppression that lead and influence the refugee crisis. Rather, she hopes the work will start discourse amongst those in a position of influence.
Roshanak Jaberi is a brave and articulate choreographer with a strong vision. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
Interview date: June 2017
Olya Glotka, a self-made filmmaker based in Toronto, is transforming the contact dance improvisation community she is a part of. Contact dance improvisation is a social dance involving touch, in which momentum between two or more people inspires dance movements. Like martial arts, it uses a rolling point of contact and trains the ability to sense one’s partner’s movements. There are no set gender roles which enable a fluid exchange of lead and follow. With limited resources, Olya decided to embark on a self-training program to become a filmmaker. Her goal was to make one-hundred dance films. Currently, she has just finished her fifty-eighth film and has already started to win awards. Her films showcase a range of people from beginners to professional dancers. In several of her films, Olya has chosen to showcase dancers using wheelchairs. When watching her films, one starts to see the beauty that she sees in all people. You start to see that dance is for everyone and can be done everywhere.
Kathleen Rea, director of the Contact Dance International Film Festival, recently sat down with Olya to find out what drives her as a filmmaker.
KR: When did you first fall in love with contact dance improvisation?
OG: I was at my first contact dance improvisation workshop and we were doing an exercise in which one person is lying on the ground and the other person practices balancing their weight on their partner. As I felt the compression from my partner’s weight on my back, I suddenly realized that I had a body. I know that might sound strange. Analytically I knew I had a body, but this was the first time I understood from the inside out that my body existed. This was such a new feeling for me because I was a sickly child growing up. There was so much fighting, anger and negativity around me and I think my body reacted by being in pain. I was in and out of the hospital. Being sick became my identity. But in that first contact dance workshop, I started to see myself in a new way… one in which my body was strong and was something I could depend on. I started to see my body as a source of creativity. These realizations changed everything that came next.
KR: What else is it about contact dance that is healing for you?
OG: For me something fundamental changed inside me when I, this “tiny, little, pretty girl” learned to pick up a full-grown man and carry him across the room! You see, for me contact dance is my life’s lab. It is a playground where I can try out things or ways of being that I am scared to do in “real” life. Dance improvisation helps me face my demons and in so doing learn to face myself, to fall in love with all that is in me.
KR: I understand. I use contact dance in that way too. So, when did you become interested in dance film?
OG: Four years after my first encounter with contact dance improvisation I went to Allen Kaeja’s dance film workshop. That experience answered a question for me: “why can’t I stick with anything?”. You see, as a kid, I would do all kinds of arts and crafts. I went to art school, studied piano, guitar, creative writing, songwriting, did crafts, sewed my own clothes and went to theatre school. I was good at everything I tried yet I never ever stuck with it. I would quit after a year or two and I always felt like a failure. When I made my first little dance film in Allen’s workshop, I had this “Aha!” moment. The skies opened, I heard the angels sing and my life finally made sense. All the art forms I had ever loved were encapsulated and merged into one – filmmaking.
KR: You did your first contact dance workshop just before the 2015 Contact Dance International Film Festival. Did that festival influence you?
OG: Oh yes. I was so inspired by the films I saw I couldn’t sleep for two days. When I took Allen’s film workshop I knew I wanted to make dance films, but I didn’t know if there was a place for them. Then I went to the Festival and I saw there would be a place for my work. I knew the next Festival was in 2017, so I decided to get busy.
KR: How did you go about pursuing this new-found art form? Did you enroll in a film school?
OG: No. I didn’t have the resources that would allow me to get any long-term professional training. So I decided to do it myself. I set a goal of making one hundred dance films.
KR: Kind of like Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. How many hours have you logged so far?
OG: I’ve filmed about seventy dance film projects and completed fifty-eight of them. So I only have forty-two films left to reach my goal.
KR: From your first dance film to your fifty-eighth what has been your progression?
OG: It is very entertaining to look back at my first films and see the quality of them. Very basic. Very boring. Very self-centered. I think I am now better at engaging the viewer. I understand that I need to edit in service of the film instead of in service of myself. This has helped me tighten up the pacing of my films. I have learned the technical aspects of the craft and this has improved image quality. I have cultivated my voice and artistic vision and I think it is now more direct, meaningful and thought-provoking. When dancers and artists ask me for advice about how to “turn into a filmmaker”, the only thing I can say is, “go make 100 films”.
KR: Besides making one hundred films, what else was involved in this progression. How did you teach yourself all the different aspects of filmmaking and find your creative voice?
OG: For a year, I woke up every Monday two hours earlier then I needed to, and participated in free online courses on all aspects of filmmaking. First, I learned editing, then production, then camera movement and so on. I had four part-time jobs at the time and I didn’t even own a camera and somehow, I managed to work on over sixty film projects that first year. I would study in the morning and then go to my nine-to-five retail job where I’d listen to hours and hours of film-related podcasts. My evening job was babysitting and when the kid would fall asleep, I’d open my laptop and edit, edit and edit. Then I’d run home to sleep. I would repeat the whole cycle again the next day for the rest of the work week. Then I had the whole weekend to shoot! I had lots of friends in the contact dance improvisation community who were eager to dance and help. Because I was making so many films, I was able to explore the medium and quickly get results by trying different things and learning lessons from my mistakes.
KR: That’s intense.
OG: Whether watching dance films or editing my own work, when something would catch my eye I would always ask myself the same questions: “why do I like this?” or, “why do I not like that?” I would look at it over and over, trying to figure it out and I would either try to recreate the effect later or try to avoid it if I didn’t like the effect. I was in a loop of learning, try, analyze and then repeat. I fed back into the loop everything I learned and figured-out, as well as feedback from others. I was exhausted by the pace but also happy.
KR: I know that you were born and raised in Ukraine. Can you tell us the story of how you came to Canada?
OG: I never planned to move to Canada. In fact, I always dreamed to dedicate my life and art to my home country. I grew up in Ukraine, and when I was eighteen I left so I could learn life by traveling the world; just myself and a few dollars in my pockets. During my travels, I fell in love with a Canadian and after several trials of getting my partner adapted to the life in Ukraine, we gave up and ended up here in Canada. I really had planned to live my life in Ukraine. I had always imagined that I would be able to help my troubled country. To be one of the young people fighting for human rights. I think this fight for human rights still lives in me. All my dance films are a celebration of human rights. A celebration of people.
KR: How else does being Ukrainian influence your work?
OG: I think Ukrainian people have this ability to work hard for the things they want in life because that is the way of life there. Also, growing up in Ukraine I learned the value of family and community. When things are tough these two aspects of life are the only solid ground that enables survival. After I came to Canada the relationship that brought me here ended. I was alone in a new country. I had not been dancing because my ex was not comfortable with contact dance improvisation. Leaving the relationship meant I was free once again to pursue dance. I came to a Toronto contact dance jam and met my new “family” that would provide me with solid ground. Knowing how vital this was for me strengthened my drive to build community through dance. I started a new Contact Dance Jam in the east end of town for this reason as well as to get more dancing in.
KR: Does your queer identity influence your work?
OG: It makes me question a lot! It inspires me to create something different that will challenge the norm of, if there is a man and a woman on the screen, they must be in love, have been in love or are about to fall in love. It has always upset me to see the lack of other types of relationships on TV and film. A man and a woman don’t have to only be lovers, they can be siblings, family members, best friends, soul mates, opponents, business/dance/sports partners. Two women don’t have to be either friends or competitors. They can be lovers, muses, partners in crime, sisters for each other. And men can be nurturing and sensual with each other.
KR: So you feel that people would benefit from seeing gender roles represented in a more fluid manner.
OG: In terms of gender stereotypes, I grew up in a world where everyone was telling me that girls are stupid, mean and catty. Once I discovered this belief in me as an adult, I spent years healing from it. I am committed to doing anything I can to change pop-culture and the message we put out there so people can see the infinite range of possibilities.
KR: Can you tell us about your recent 30 Days of Contact Dance project?
OG: I made thirty films in thirty days. Over fifty dancers were involved in the project, most of them from Toronto. It was a tribute to the Toronto contact dance improvisation community. It is my way to thank the community for being there for me when I was struggling. My partner, Kim Simons, who is also a contact dancer was an integral part of the project. She alternated between camera person and dancer and offered support and encouraged throughout. It felt great to find a creative outlet that we could share. The first film in the series involves Kim and I dancing everywhere we could think of: the beach, a dollar store, the gym, a couch, a swamp, leaves, snow, hallways, living room floor.
KR: Now, ten films from this project were selected by the jury for screening at the Contact Dance International Film Festival, which is coming up at the end of June. I was overseeing the jury and remember a big discussion they had about whether it was fair to program so many of one filmmaker’s films. Finally, one jury member said let’s not think of that question and instead think of the merit of each film separately. Also, of note is that Allen Kaeja, your first film teacher is staring in one of the films, Farewell to Honest Ed’s with his wife Karen Kaeja. How did that feel?
OG: It definitely gave me a feeling of coming full circle. I felt that by appearing in one of my films he had recognized me as a fellow filmmaker and that felt really good.
Another one of the films in the festival, that especially moves me is Contact Dance Every Body, which features Luke Anderson, who dances using a wheelchair.
OG: I met Luke at a party. I was contact-dancing with someone and he came up after and asked, “what was that?” I started telling him about contact dance but then I realized that none of the regular Toronto contact dance spaces were wheelchair accessible. I felt terrible seeing how eager he was to try it and knowing that it was not accessible to him. Meeting Luke inspired me to start my own all accessible monthly contact dance improvisation jams at Artscape. Later I asked Luke and his friend Laura if they wanted to make a dance film. We met at their favorite place, the Art Gallery of Ontario. Luke was very nervous because he hadn’t done much contact dance. But when they started to dance, his nerves melted away. When I edited the film, I frequently had tears in my eyes. Their dance was so tender and the look in Luke’s eyes was so alive. I have been told by the Festival that this film has been selected for a prize and to prepare a speech. We are so excited about the attention the film is receiving because it has such potential to break down barriers faced by people with physical disabilities.
KR: What is your vision for contact dance improvisation. Where do you see it potentially heading?
OG: I really see contact dance in a much broader sense than most. I think contact can be a way of living a life in which there is more connection and touch. It can teach mothers how to playful interact with their kids. It can give elderly people a much-needed sense of community and connection. I really want contact dance improvisation to move beyond the dance studio and offer its healing properties to all. For me, ensuring that this dance form is accessible to people who can benefit from it is a human rights issue.
KR: Now that I think of it, not one of your dance films are filmed in a studio. They occur inside and outdoors in public spaces. They occur in people’s homes. They occur in the rain, in the snow, and in the blazing sun. Your films really do show that we all can dance wherever we are. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it can inspire many people. And a warning if you run into Olya at the film festival she might just convince you to star in her next dance film.
OG: [laughs]. Yes, there is a chance that will happen! Thank you, Kathleen.
This interview was done in June 2017.
Here is our update. The Contact Dance International Film Festival returns for its fourth season, June 29 to July 1, 2019, in Toronto Canada. This festival, produced by REAson d’etre dance productions, celebrates films featuring momentum-based dance created by some of the top creators and dancers in the field of Contact Dance Improvisation. Four different screening programs will be presented alongside dance workshops, jams, and parties. The upcoming June 29 to June 30, 2019, Contact Dance International Film festival will screen two new films by Olya. Visit www.contactdancefilmfest.com to see the line-up.
Olya is now working full-time as a filmmaker.
On Friday we performed our final studio run-through before we move over to the theatre. Here is what our small audience that attended has said about Men’s Circle.
Laura Bisoc wrote:
I loved watching Kathleen Rea’s new dance theatre production, Men’s Circle. It tells several stories of emotional vulnerability and unfettered expression with a seamless integration of singing, dancing and spoken dialogue. The dancers are brilliant and combine virtuosity, playfulness and clarity of expression in their fresh and fast paced acts.
A dead patient (most likely killed by the ineptitude of his therapist!) haunts the entire production and is one of the most endearing and mischievous characters I have ever seen. In his defence, the therapist is a wonderful singer and I hope his signature song, Appendicitis, will make it to the top charts. Performed while the therapist is wrestling with his dead patient, Appendicitis is full of emotional ardour and physiological urgency.
The white canopy that represents “our brain waves” is almost a character in itself, and so is the violin case with wings.
Definitely a not to miss event!
Evadne Macedo wrote:
Men’s Circle by Kathleen Rea is brilliant, surprising and touchingly funny. As a work of theatre, the stories reveal the hurts that lie beneath the surface of smiles and the hidden fears that separate us from ourselves and others.
As a work of dance, we are treated to a showcase of male strength, beauty and vulnerability as the characters struggle to heal and to find authentic connection through movement. In watching these courageous men reveal themselves in their acting, dancing and live music, we are challenged to reach into and beyond ourselves to find belonging and understanding in our own lives despite the risks of pain and rejection.
With the spectre of death ever present, and represented on stage as a character who confronts and soothes each man, Men’s Circle reminds us that we each have the capacity to live with grace and humility, and that we are never alone in this incredible human journey.
MEN’S CIRCLE – dance theatre by Kathleen Rea
DRAMATURGE: Tristan R. Whiston
ORIGINAL SONGS: Ariel Llama
DATES: November 2 to 5, 2017.
LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto.
BOX OFFICE: http://menscircle.eventzilla.net/
FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/150598895531063/
PRODUCED BY: REAson d’etre dance productions http://www.reasondetre.com/
FILM STILLS from footage by Drew Berry
A great article by Nora Samaran
The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.
The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.
But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.
A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.
Violence is nurturance turned backwards.
These things are connected, they must be connected. Violence and nurturance are two sides of the same coin. I…
View original post 6,202 more words
Kathleen Rea is a registered psychotherapist and the creator of Men’s Circle, a new dance-theatre work that follows the story of a men’s therapy group. She speaks out about the current “Me Too” movement and rape culture in general.
In Canada, 80% of suicides are men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Canada for men aged 19 to 35. It’s clear that men’s mental health issues are in a state of crisis. And this is in context with what I call a “rape culture” a social concept used to describe settings in which sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to attitudes about gender and sexuality. I believe the epidemic of men’s mental health concerns cannot be separated from the predominance of rape culture in our society — they are two sides of the same issue. The rape culture cannot sustain unless there is an ever ready group of men who lack emotional awareness and compassion. This process starts at a very young age when we tell boys to be strong and stop crying because “boys don’t cry”. Many boys and men are themselves abused, but have no cultural context within which to even start talking about what happened. They often feel great shame at the thought of showing weakness. When we teach people not to feel, to supress their natural emotions, they become unable to have conversations that can be healing. They become emotionally empty human shells that feed our mental health hospitals and our morgues. They also may become people capable of supporting and propagating a rape culture in both overt and subtle ways. This emotional suppression has become so ingrained in society, we don’t see it. Men are expected to not show weakness, and that means they remain silent. The Movember Foundation is currently running a men’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign, and one of their main tag lines is telling men to “Unmute”… to start talking. For me, the movement happening right now is just as much about saving men as it is about saving women.
Acclaimed intellectual, feminist and cultural critic, Bell Hooks wrote:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
Fellow colleague Mathew Remski, wrote in his article Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex:
With this patriarch indoctrination comes a subconscious reflex to equate a woman’s (insert “gay man’s” or ‘transperson’s”) voice or ideas with irrationality, anxiousness, or lack of understanding the real issues of life. This is the baseline emotional reality of heteronormative men that the #metoo movement is charging at on the open field. It’s a vicious feedback loop. Dehumanization escalates to outright rape, and minimization – the most socially-acceptable dehumanization tool – neutralizes the call-out of injustice….
The Me Too movement flows against the attempt to neutralize the call for justice. Waves of stories of sexual harassment and abuse are sweeping social media. They are a call-out to listen and begin the process of unmuting for all. I posted my Me Too story yesterday. It took five days of building up courage to step past the wall of silence and finally post it. The response has been touching and supportive. Even just one day later men in my life have started conversations with me about how they may have supported the rape culture in which I had these experiences. Others, both men and women, have told me their heart-breaking stories. For me, it feels like a movement towards ending the silence for all of us wherever we are on the spectrum from female to male.
I am currently working on my new production, Men’s Circle (premiering Nov 2-5, 2017 in Toronto). It is a dance theatre work that tells the story of a men’s therapy group. I was inspired to create Men’s Circle by the many men I have seen in my private practice who have come to see me seeking to connect with their emotional world and heal from trauma. Through it, I hope to support a culture in which men can be free to feel vulnerable. One of the characters, Joe, starts off completely disengaged from his vulnerability and ends the piece by weeping. Other themes, such as sexual abuse, self-medication through drugs and suicide are explored. This brave cast of men (Allen Kaeja, Bill Coleman, Mateo Galindo Torres, Kousha Nakhaei, Deltin Sejour, Rudi Natterer and Harold Tausch) break down barriers to men’s mental health by showing up and telling the stories of men. I am gathering together 100 male volunteer performers to take part in the production. I want to reach as many men as possible.
My other job is as a mom, raising two boys aged three and seven. In this job I don’t have to undo old habits, but rather have a chance to teach emotional health and respect for others from the start. There is something I always do when my kids cry. No matter how silly their reason for crying (like for instance if a carrot has fallen on the floor), I put my hand on their heart and say, “Cry. Let the tears flow”. One of the most important things in life is to learn to grieve well. I allow my child to take a moment and grieve for that fallen carrot. From what I see, they have a good cry, the wave of crying comes to an end, and they get on with their day. From my experience, it seems they actually get through their emotional wave quicker than if I were to try to stop them from crying. I think this is because they are only grieving the fallen carrot rather then having to grieve both the fallen carrot and the grief of having ones emotional world minimised. In this way I hope to bring up boys who are not frightened of their emotions, who are well practiced in their flow. I hope to raise men who do not shy away from vulnerability.
By telling my own Me Too story, by helping men feel their emotions and by how I bring up my two boys I hope to be part of the humanistic movement that is shaking the foundations on which rape culture exists.
a new dance theatre work by Kathleen Rea that tells the story of men in a therapy group.
DATES AND LOCATION
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto
Thursday, November 2, 2017 @ 8pm – Pay-what-you-can preview
Friday November 3, 2017 @ 8pm – Opening night
Saturday, November 4, 2017 @ 8pm
Sunday November 5 , 2017 @ 3pm
To volunteer to perform or to attend the performance see info at
When I was five years old, I fell in love with Margery Williams’ classic story The Velveteen Rabbit. That year I asked for my very own velveteen rabbit for Christmas. At the time, stores only sold stuffed rabbits around Easter time. My mom searched high and low and finally found a stuffed rabbit for way more than she could afford in a Yorkville toy shop. I loved that rabbit into being real and it kept me company through the trials and tribulations of growing up.
One could say that this production of The Velveteen Rabbit ballet has been in the making since I was five years old. But it officially began in 1999 when Bengt Jörgen asked me to create a ballet for his company Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I pulled my old stuffed bunny out of its keepsake drawer and asked the Ballet Jörgen prop builder to build a life sized version. I then worked for months choreographing the ballet and was able to see the stuffed rabbit come to life on stage.
Last year, Bengt asked me to remount The Velveteen Rabbit. It has been an extraordinary gift to come back and reshape a work fifteen years after I first created it. I bring to the new production a wealth of experience and knowledge that my younger self did not have. I am now a mother of two boys and the eldest is almost five, which is the same age as the character of the boy in the ballet. When I explained to Daniel, who plays the little boy, how he should throw his housecoat in the air and gleefully run away, I smiled because I had just experienced a similar scene that morning as I was getting my son ready for school.
The new production has more of a theatrical feel. I have been telling stories through dance over the past 15 years, and I have learned a thing or two. All the characters now have clearly defined back stories and plot dilemmas they are trying to resolve. I worked to create a relationship triad between the Nanny, the Velveteen toy and the young boy that speaks to the power of love as a transformational force. The Nanny gives the Velveteen Rabbit to the boy so he has something to hug when he is lonely. It is the Nanny’s love for the boy as realized through the Velveteen Rabbit that helps the boy’s heart grow bigger. He learns compassion for others and that the world is not all about him. The more the boy’s heart grows the more he is able to love the Velveteen Rabbit. His love starts to make the toy real. The more real the toy becomes in the boy’s eyes, the more the boy’s heart grows helping to make his toy even more real. The transformation that occurs in the boy and the Velveteen Rabbit is something they have to do together. Together they learn that becoming real can hurt because is involves having a heart big enough to take in both the joys and sorrows of life. It is the growth in the boy’s ability to care for and love another that ultimately conjures up the toy fairy who turns the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.
Yes, I know that is a whole lot of depth for a ballet created for children! But I believe that kids have more emotional depth than we often give them credit for. They might not be able to name the concepts portrayed, but it is my hope that the story of becoming “real” in one’s heart will live in their hearts. They may actually understand the story better than us adults because the magic of toys becoming real is something they know to be true.
Canada’s Ballet Jörgen presents
The Velveteen Rabbit
A story ballet for all ages choreographed by Kathleen Rea
In Toronto for two days only
October 4, 2014 – 4pm
October 5, 2014 – 2pm
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St., Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2G6
Tickets: $16 to $32
To purchase tickets please visit https://ww2.ticketpro.ca/jorgen2014.php?aff=krn&languageid=-1
or call toll free at 1-888-655-9090
Working in Toronto during the last year, Kathleen Rea, an expressive arts therapist, author, contact dancer and choreographer, and Brad Johnston, an embodied life coach and contact dancer have been developing an approach to working with people in relationships using principles of contact improvisation.
We developed our approach through a process of dancing together and talking about our dances. Coming from a coaching and therapy perspective, we both notice that simple movement dynamics involved in lead and follow and giving and taking weight were metaphors for what was happening in our growing friendship. We both became curious about how contact improvisation could illuminate relationship dynamics and facilitate learning for couples.
Through a workshop called “Relationship in Movement” people in relationships – ranging from life partners to newly formed romantic relationships – are led through contact improvisation exercises. Participants are often asked to take on clear roles such as leader and follower and then asked to switch roles. The simplicity of intention and clarity of roles invites people’s relationship story to quickly come to the forefront. In one workshop, a woman married for twenty years commented on how hard it was for her to follow her husband and how easy it felt to lead him. Her husband started laughing and said that’s because you’re always in charge. As they continued, they had the chance to practice and gain comfort with the lead/follow roles that were less familiar to them.
The couples are invited to dance without talking and with minimal eye contact so the greatest amount of body sensing can occur. The feelings brought up through the movement are then shared verbally through non-violent communication methods that encourage listening and reflecting back what was heard. Conversing about their dance experiences gives people a safe way to discuss what might otherwise be very loaded issues of power and control. For example, rather than having their usual argument about finances, a couple can instead dance together. The power dynamic at the heart of their conflict will likely show up on the dance floor and can be explored through movement and verbal discussion about how the dance affected them without ever having to mention the heated topic of their shared bank account. Instead of rehashing their usual argument, they are working with the relationship dynamics that underlie the argument.
During our co-facilitation of the “Relationship in Movement” workshops, we make sure to demonstrate each exercise. We aim to be present so that our improvisation demonstration is alive with our “real life” relationship issues. This transparency lets participants witness us working on our friendship and co-facilitator relationship in real time on the dance floor.
In our society, touch is often sexualized and all about performance (i.e. pleasing your mate successfully). Through the workshop, participants experience touch and dance simply for the sense of enjoying moving and feeling their partner. Many romantic couples tend not to move together in ways that are intimate but non-sexual and not related to performance. Through the workshop, the role of touch within their relationship can expand. They can then find satisfying ways of being with each other physically that might have been previously unavailable to them.
One of the exercises in the workshop involves one person lying on the floor while their partner practices draping themselves over. We then teach the person lying down how to redirect weight back to their partner and how they could do this at any point in the draping process. We tell them that this technique lets them communicate through movement: no, not now or yes, now is good. As they progress and switch roles, it is beautiful to witness their trust and playfulness in practicing clear physical communication.
Even though this exercise is playful, participants have many “ah-ha!” moments. One participant was surprised to hear that her boyfriend felt more at ease when she gave him clear physical cues as to when and how much weight she wanted him to bear upon her. He explained that when she was clear, he did not have to second guess the amount of weight he was giving her. She then expressed how using clear physical cues made her uncomfortable because she worried about hurting his feelings. When these types of realizations happen through a dance exercise, either of us might step in to offer the question: “How might this experience you just had in your dance feel familiar to something you experience in your everyday life?” When presented with this question, the man said, “Having to second guess what you want when we are dancing kind of feels similar to how you never gave me a clear answer about whether you wanted to go for brunch this morning.”
We believe that practicing new relationship dynamics in a dance has a carryover effect. For a person who has a challenge saying “no”, practicing clear physical signals in a dance and being encouraged to do so by a partner can increase his or her ability to say “no” in everyday life.
We also believe that repetition is an important factor in establishing a new pattern. Participants are encouraged to name the elements of contact improvisation that stretch them emotionally. For someone who has a deep fear of abandonment, this could be the ending of a dance when the couple is called upon to separate and find their own space. Participants are asked to practice these moments with their partner in self-designed contact improvisation exercises that provide a chance for them to repeat and gain familiarity with the triggers that they have identified.
In “Relationship in Movement” workshops we have held thus far, we have worked mostly with people in romantic relationships. As a next step we want to explore how these methods can facilitate learning in different types of relationships. For instance we plan to run a family series for parents and their adult children.
This article was written by Brad Johnston and Kathleen Rea. Please note, details of the personal stories told in this article have been adjusted to protect the confidentially of the workshop participants.
For news on Relationship in Movement Workshop Retreat coming up August 23 and 24, 2014 (Unicamp Retreat Centre, Honeywood, Ontario) see
I wrote a post for the Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Blog (launched the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign) about the day I was shamed for being too fat and to thin and how the ludicrousness of the situation helped me realise that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself.
“The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea”
Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!” Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.
I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.
The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances. Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight. I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished “creature” would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging. And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying — a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on.
I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage! By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight…
Read the rest of the blog post at http://loveourbodiesloveourselves.blogspot.ca/2014/02/the-right-size-my-steps-to-self.html
I read an early-years parenting book and in the first chapter the authors said that the way to relieve parenting stress and become the parent you always wished you could be is to arrange your life so that you never have to be anywhere at a given time. The author was joking but the joke was made with the understanding that parenting becomes challenging when you have to get your pre-schooler somewhere by, say 3pm with: his or her teeth brushed, clothes and shoes on, and with a well thought-out day bag (packed, of course, by a sane and calm parent). Trying to accomplish this with a spirited pre-schooler is almost enough to make a grown man or woman weep. The reminding, the cajoling, the chasing, the wresting him into his clothes, the related parenting injuries (usually a head-butt to the lip) have at times completely depleted all my energy and ability to think or do anything except weep.
I was at a dinner party recently, describing my challenges getting my 3-year-old son Wyatt ready to go, and my friend Gary said, “Failures in parenting are due to failure of imagination on the part of the parent”. He explained that when he is able to make up an imaginative game to help get things done, everything goes so much better for both him and his three-year-old son.
I was momentarily stunned by his statement. These were my own words being spoken back to me! I knew exactly what he was talking about, but in the heat of my pre-schooler struggles, I had completely lost sight of this!
Allow me to explain: I am an expressive arts therapist. My clients dance, paint, play music, sing, write poetry, and act out scenes with the intention of overcoming psychological suffering. In my recently published book The Healing Dance: The Life and practice of an expressive arts therapist I wrote:
…psychological illness is a failure of our imagination, in that we become incapable of imagining a way out of our suffering. People come to see me, an expressive arts therapist, to train and strengthen their imagination. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, but through creative ingenuity we can find resourceful ways through…
When my clients describe life stories or issues they are facing, no matter how intense or tragic, my response is always the same “okay let’s play with it”. A client who suffers from anxiety can create a painting that shows what his anxiety feels like, and then have an imaginary dialogue with the painting. I, as the therapist, am the play companion who helps “exercise” the client’s imagination. And in the same way, I, as a parent, can be the play companion who helps exercise my child’s imagination.
I had succumbed to the stress of getting our pre-schooler ready to go because I had failed to use my imagination. I had failed to make a game out of it. We had failed to play. It was time for this expressive arts therapist to take the medicine that I provide for others.
On the car ride home from the dinner party, with a sleeping child in the back car seat, my husband and I committed ourselves to using our imagination to find ways to make our everyday parenting struggles into play. We knew it would take extra initiative on our part. When facing a whiny toddler it’s easy to get stuck in frustration and resignation or to slide down the escalating anger spiral. It takes a leap of the imagination to see past your child’s resistance to the creative potential that lives within their “nooooooo”.
Wyatt’s pants now run away from him shouting “you can’t catch me”. He then catches them by putting his legs in them. His tooth brush has habit of hiding behind things and teasingly popping its head out. A whiny standstill at the front door changes into a car race or a flying dragon game down the front steps.
Things take just as much time to get done as before, but we all have fun doing them and by the time we get Wyatt into his car seat, I am no longer in tears. I find that I often need to push myself to initiate a game. But once I get involved in the fun of it, my stress level decreases and I leave the experience with more energy.
As parents we can model the use of imagination to shine light on the path ahead. This is one of the most important lessons that we can teach our little ones. A lesson they can use when they face the inevitable challenges life will throw them both as children and adults.
Parents who understand the value of creativity often send their kids off to ballet, violin or piano lessons. While learning a pirouette or a Mozart sonata does teach rhythm, grace and technique, these activities are often too directed to let kids truly explore the world of free-play and self expression.
How about sending them them off to the “art room” with a blank paper and paints? Yes this will help them practice self directed creative choices. However I suggest a more effective way to support their creativity is to go off to the “art room” with them.
Young kids look up to their parents as models. If you model an interest and excitement about getting messy with the paints and seeing what happens, they will follow your lead.
My husband says “When I put paint in front of Wyatt (our three and half year old) he just paints the whole page the same colour. I don’t know how you get him to use so much colour?”
Here is how I do it:
Project – Paint With Your Child
Preparation: Tape a large plastic sheet to the wall with a lip for spilled paints. Tape a huge piece of paper on top of the plastic. The paper should be at least three feet wide by two feet tall or bigger. Kids love to move and if you make the painting area as tall as their arms reach they will be able to dance and move around as they are painting. Set up a tray of non-toxic wet paints and a box of crayons. Put a smock on your child and wear clothes that you are comfortable getting paint on. Put a mason jar of water in a shallow plastic bin for washing off brushes or for watering down paints. If your child accidentally spills the water (which my son does frequently) it lands in the plastic bin and no big clean up needs to happen.
Step One: Grab a crayon and scribble on the paper. Your child will follow your action. Scribble big and fast, without care as to what it looks like. The fun is in the action not how it turns out. Once you start using wet paints the crayon will help create a layered effect.
Step Two: Move on to wet paints. It is okay to establish some ground rules. Mine are 1) Paint is for the paper… i.e. not for eating and not for your clothes or the walls of the house or for Mommy’s face. Often my son will create other “rules of play”. His rule of play from the example above was “paint over everything Mommy paints”. This rule led to a game of paint tag in which he was chasing my paint brush. The rule of play I added in is “we must fill up the paper and leave no space not painted”. I liked this rule because it was fun to fill up the paper and it gave our painting a creative end point that helped us know when it was finished.
The most important aspect of this project is to engage in the fun of it without care about how the painting turns out. When you and your child or children are finished painting you all can then stand back… and you might be surprised with what you have created.
My final suggestion is that sometimes negotiation is needed. In the example below I had painted a tree with leaves. My son started to paint dark blue over it and I felt sad because I really liked the tree. A negotiation process proceeded in which we agreed that he would paint over my leaves and then we would use the end of our brushes to scrape the leaves back into the picture.
The great thing about this project is I felt relaxed and enlivened by the end. There is nothing like the tactile feel of paints and creating something out of nothing to make my parenting day alive with joy.
This is a video of my three and a half year old son and I dancing Contact Improvisation. Contact Improvisation is a social dance involving two of more people in which momentum is used to create dance moves. It shares similar principals to martial arts practices.
I teach Contact Improvisation to actors and dance students studying at the professional level at two different university programs. I also founded the Wednesday Contact jam fifteen years ago through my company http://www.reasondetre.com
This past Wednesday was officially a heat wave. There was no air conditioning in the studio and it was hot! Yet 19 people still showed up to the Wednesday Contact Jam. Due to the heat my son who usually moves around at the speed of a whirling dervish was moving slow enough to actually catch on film! And how rare that my husband had our camera with him to do so.
I think the fact that Wyatt’s dad is filming is also an integral part of this video. There are moments when Wyatt looks at the camera (his dad Jeff) and is so comfortable and happy. Jeff is also a contact dancer and used his dance skill to dance around us and with us as he filmed. So really this film is about a family dancing together.
I also enjoy how through much of the video Wyatt is gazing at the musicians fascinated with what they are up to.
I hope you enjoy the video as much as I do!
Wyatt dancing with his Mama
Wyatt Ray Moskal
Kathleen Rea (www.the-healing-dance.com)
Filmed at The Wednesday Contact Dance Improvisation Jam, Toronto, Canada, July 2013.
Jesse Stewart (www.PartnershipPlanet.com)
REAson d’etre dance productions