Reading Writing Dancing symposium looks at words and dance

Of all the fine arts, dance is perhaps the most ephemeral. There is no final, tangible product that can be hung on a wall, placed in a glass case or fully captured and shared on video. Dance performance is memorized in the muscles and minds of performers and choreographers, and leaves its traces in the hearts and minds of its audience.

Dancemakers express ideas and feelings through movement. Capturing those danced ideas in words is an art form in itself.

Reading Writing Dancing is a symposium to initiate discussion about Canadian dance writing, taking place May 7 to 9 at York University.

York Department of Dance Professor Carol Anderson (right), the organizer of the symposium, feels promoting dance literacy is integral to the future of dance. “Without a literature, you don’t have an art form,” she says. “Dance writing is not just about capturing the ongoing history of dance; the creating of context is also vital to artists’ current practice. This symposium will be a chance to hear some great writing spoken aloud. I hope it inspires and stimulates more writing on and about dance.”

The symposium launches on the evening of Thursday, May 7 with a celebratory dinner in honour of renowned dance scholar and educator, York dance Professor Emerita Selma Odom (left). A leading light of Canadian dance studies and a mainstay of York’s Dance Department for 37 years, Odom recently retired from full-time teaching to devote herself to her research and writing projects. The founding chair of York’s Department of Dance, Grant Strate, widely revered as the father of dance in Canada, will pay tribute to Odom at the dinner.

“Selma is truly a star, internationally respected for her research,” says Professor Mary Jane Warner, chair and graduate program director of York’s Department of Dance. “She counts some of the most famous dance writers in the world, including Deborah Jowitt, Marcia Siegel and Ann Daly, among her peers and friends. She has been an important witness to dance in Toronto and she articulates that in writing in such an interesting way. The fact that Grant is returning to York for her tribute makes it an historic occasion and the perfect launch for the symposium.”

The symposium sessions take place Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9 from 10am to 5pm. Panel discussions will address issues and challenges in journalistic dance writing, and contemporary indigenous dance.

Panellists will include dance journalists and critics Paula Citron (The Globe and Mail, The Dance Current, Dance Magazine, Pointe) and Michael Crabb (left) (National Post, CBC Radio, Dance International); North American aboriginal dance artists/choreographers Santee Smith (MA ’04), founding artistic director of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, and Daystar (Rosalie Jones) (right), founding artistic director of Daystar: Contemporary Dance-Drama of Indian America; and influential Colombian-born choreographer/director Alejandro Ronceria, who is currently pursuing an MFA in dance at York.

“Covering indigenous dance is a particular challenge for writers who are not from that culture,” says Anderson. “Santee and Daystar’s involvement in the panels will be an invaluable resource for discussions on documenting aboriginal dance around the world.”

Right: Santee Smith

Readings by established and emerging Canadian dance writers will feature a mix of well-known and student authors including Selma Odom; Megan Andrews (BFA Spec. Hons. ’93, MA ’01), publisher and founding editor of The Dance Current; Amy Bowring, founder of the Society for Canadian Dance Studies and director of research at Dance Collection Danse; freelance dance writers and dance artists Sara Porter and Seika Boye (BA Hons. ’94); and York graduate dance students Cheryl LaFrance (BA ’69) and alumna Samantha Mehra (MA ’08).

The symposium will also host the concluding presentations of Choreographic Dialogues 2008-2009, a series co-sponsored by the dance department and York University’s Seminar for Advanced Research, featuring discussions by noted dance artists about the choreographic process. Former prima ballerina, arts broadcaster and film producer/director Veronica Tennant (left) and dancer/choreographer Ginette Laurin (right), artistic director of Montreal’s O Vertigo, will offer unique insights into their creative research and address issues of choreography for the screen.

Throughout the symposium, there will be opportunities for round-table discussions about the state of dance writing in Canada, and how and in what forms this link between artist and audience, reader and viewer, artist and scholar, the present and the record can be advanced. Reading Writing Dancing is intended to start a conversation that will continue and grow through similar events over the next several years.

Reading Writing Dancing is presented by York’s Department of Dance in partnership with The Dance Current, The Society for Canadian Dance Studies and Dance Collection Danse. For full details on the symposium, visit the Reading Writing Dancing Web site. Admission is free to all sessions on May 8 and 9, but registration is requested. To register, contact