Visions of Canadian dance

With the release of their new anthology, Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories, York University dance historians Selma Landen Odom and Mary Jane Warner are unveiling an important chapter in the rich annals of dance and Canadiana.

An engaging collection of articles by contributors from across the country, this seminal book, published by Dance Collection Danse Press/es (DCD), offers a comprehensive overview of the development of dance in Canada. It will be launched at TheatreBooks in Toronto on Nov. 21

“There are some intriguing stories that were just waiting to be told, from the reconstruction of a lost ballet by Gweneth Lloyd to the long and rocky saga of theatrical dance trying to find a foothold in Nova Scotia, and the achievements of teachers whose contributions often have gone unrecognized,” noted Odom and Warner.

Spanning Canadian dance history from pre-Confederation to the end of the 20th century, Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories examines the esthetic, social, political and economic issues that helped to define the advancement of dance in Canada. More than 30 authors – dance historians, theorists, choreographers, performers and teachers – contributed to the book.

The publication is divided into four parts. The first, “Statements of Belief,” highlights the views and achievements of Françoise Sullivan and Grant Strate, two pivotal figures whose active careers span more than half a century. Artists and advocates, they envisioned huge and compelling vistas that opened the way for many others.

Left: Mary Jane Warner

“Pioneers” introduces a cross-section of remarkable dancers, teachers and critics of the 19th and 20th centuries who shaped the early dance scenes of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and London, Ont. “Politics and Perseverance” offers perspectives on the challenges dancers faced in establishing companies and schools, gaining media recognition and developing individual careers under adverse conditions.

The final section, “Visions and Revisions,” highlights some of the ground-breaking developments of recent decades that signal the maturity of the Canadian dance scene: reaching forward into new and daring performance directions; reaching back to recognize and preserve its own history; reaching out to embrace the traditions and influences of multicultural dance in Canada.

A lively blend of personal memoir and historical record, Canadian Dance: Visions and Stories is meticulously researched and annotated. Throughout its 454 pages, some 115 archival photographs and illustrations recreate the atmosphere of the time, while the diverse voices of the narrators disclose fascinating facts and insights. With each new story, another phase of Canadian dance history unfolds.

Dance artists and scholars, Canadian history enthusiasts and the public alike will find something of value in this reference book, which is currently being used as a professional teaching tool in academia.

The editors are senior faculty members in York University’s dance department, Canada’s oldest and largest university-based dance program, recognized nationally as a leader in dance education and research. Odom, a professor of dance history and writing, has published widely since the 1960s on dance, music and education in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is currently working on a book titled Musicians Who Move: People and Practice in Dalcroze Eurhythmics. Warner, who teaches Canadian dance history, reconstruction, education and movement analysis, is a specialist in 19th and early 20th century Canadian dance. Her publications include Toronto Dance Teachers 1825-1925 and an interactive multimedia tutorial, Shadow on the Prairie, the first dance history CD-ROM to be published in Canada.

Left: Selma Landen Odom in a 1998 photo

Publisher DCD is Canada’s largest theatrical dance archive. Established by Lawrence and Miriam Adams, DCD is devoted to research, preservation, education and publishing in Canadian dance history. DCD began to commission manuscripts for dance books in the early 1990s and has produced more than 30 titles to date as well as a semi-annual magazine.

An excerpt of the book is available at Dance Collection Danse.