York puts its fingers on the ‘Pulse’ of dance in Ontario

Students learn hip hop

Hundreds of dancers and dance educators will converge on the Faculty of Fine Arts complex at York University from May 10 to 13 for the fourth biannual Pulse Ontario Youth Dance Conference. The conference connects elementary and secondary school dance teachers and high school students with professional dance makers over four days of workshops, performances and social events.

“The vision and goals of Pulse are to grow a supportive and interconnected dance community that fosters collaboration, growth and understanding of diversity and complexity,” said conference founder and artistic director Carmelina Martin, an alumna of York’s dance program (BFA ‘90) and a teacher in the Peel District School Board. “The dialogue between the dance community, teachers and students that happens here will help shape the future of dance in this province. I would Carmelina Martinlike to imagine a future where every child grows up dancing.”

Carmelina Martin

The conference has its roots from Martin’s work with the Council of Ontario Dance and Drama Educators (CODE), where she was commissioned with the task of providing support for Ontario dance teachers delivering dance curriculum, expanding dance programs in underserviced areas of Ontario, and forging lasting relationships between dance educators and the professional dance community.

From the beginning, York’s Department of Dance has been a supporter and collaborator in Pulse. This year’s conference draws on the expertise of over 30 professional dance artists, including many York alumni, for workshops and performances.

The workshops include dance technique, repertoire, composition, and diverse cultural and world dance styles ranging from flamenco, Chinese and Afro-Caribbean dance to contact improvisation, belly dancing, hip hop and hula. Many of the participating students and teachers, especially those from rural Ontario, will have a chance to experience dance styles they may have never seen before. The workshops are open to all the conference participants, with teachers learning alongside their students to model a foundation for life-long learning in dance.

To further expose students and educators to the broad spectrum of dance in Ontario, Pulse will showcase the premiere of acclaimed Brazilian-Canadian choreographer Newton Moraes’ new work, Saudades do Brasil, a kinetic expression of love and longing for Brazil and its peoples.

Brazilian-Canadian choreographer Newton Moraes rehearsing Saudades do BrasilBrazilian-Canadian choreographer Newton Moraes rehearsing Saudades do Brasil

“Having witnessed the transformation of the students who participated in the last Pulse experience, I can say with confidence that this conference transforms, engages and leaves the students with a wealth of experience that is invaluable, and currently not widely available in our province,” said York dance graduate and Pulse instructor Allen Kaeja (MA ‘09).

A highlight of the conference is the Dance-for-Camera film festival, curated by Kaeja, who is known internationally for his dance work for film and his award-winning choreography.

Students learn hip hopStudents learn hip hop

The opening night of the conference features the Free Flowsymposium, moderated by York alumna Kate Cornell (MA ‘98, PhD ‘08) with presenters Jennifer Bolt (MA ‘01),  Zihao Li (MA, BEd ‘03), Blake Martin (BFA ‘91, MA ‘07), Marc Richard (BEd ‘88), Allen Kaeja and York Dance Professor Mary Fogarty. The symposium focuses on the transition from elementary to high school to postsecondary education. The young students participating in the conference will get a sense of that transition first hand, staying in student residences and experiencing York’s Keele campus.

“The Pulse conference began as a means of building dance in schools,” said Martin. “Dance has been part of the curriculum in the Ontario public school system for over a decade now, but appropriate teaching spaces, financial access, expertise, knowledge and opportunity are all issues of equity that need to be addressed as a province-wide concern, in order for dance education to flourish in Ontario.”

Hailed as “a charismatic arts educator with an infectious passion for dance,” Martin was named Teacher of the Year as the recipient of a Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011 in recognition of her passion, commitment and contributions to her art form, her students and professional development in her field.