PhD student aims to write a history of dance criticism in Canada

As one of the first four students accepted in York’s new PhD in Dance Studies Program, Samantha Mehra has high hopes for the future of the program and her research. The program, which began in the fall of 2008, is the first doctoral-level dance degree to be offered in Canada. For Mehra, this presents an opportunity to establish a precedence.

Right: Samantha Mehra

"Being a student in such a program propels me and others to give legitimacy to dance as a subject of university study," explains Mehra. She credits the department’s dancers, writers and scholars with the ability to direct graduate students towards the necessary tools and opportunities to succeed in the field. Despite the support offered within the program, Mehra believes dance, as a subject at the postsecondary level, suffers from several drawbacks. She attributes the difficulties to dismissive attitudes towards dance as a career. When asked why she is studying dance, Mehra often responds with the phrase “to make sure people like you don’t have to ask that question.“

"It is snide," she admits, "but sometimes needed!" She believes that dance scholars have to work harder to prove their academic legitimacy.

Mehra’s research pursuits are as ambitious and optimistic as her outlook on the field. For her dissertation, she aims to write a history of dance criticism in Canada from 1890 to the present. "My main goal is to write this history, unearth long-forgotten critics and their work, and perhaps develop a teaching aid for university professors to easily reference while teaching Canadian dance history," says Mehra. To add to this project, she hopes to pursue her interest in "the performativity of language and its impact on how dancing is understood by the public. Living in a multicultural society demands such attention."

Mehra has ambitious goals for expanding the field of dance studies in Canada. "I hope to teach under the umbrella of a university dance program, to add to the legacy begun and perpetuated by university professors of dance in Canada," she says. "I want to impart to dancers and future dance scholars an awareness that they harbour the ability to write about dance; that they are the products of a long and fascinating history of dance culture in Canada; and that their very presence in a university classroom renders them players in an important legacy of dance in Canadian universities." She believes York’s PhD program has focused her towards building this legacy.

Mehra is a Toronto-based writer, dancer and scholar. She holds a bachelor of fine arts in contemporary dance from Simon Fraser University and a master of fine arts from York University (2008). Her research interests include dance criticism, dance fusion and butoh. Mehra also regularly contributes to The Dance Current’s review section, and does archival work for Vancouver’s Kokoro Dance and Toronto’s Dance Collection Danse.