Dancing without borders: workshop teaches Chilean dance

National Dance of Chile BANNER

By Elaine Smith

It’s likely that only a small percentage of Toronto residents could show you the steps to the cueca, the national dance of Chile that is performed at festivals and social gatherings, but a group of York University undergraduate students has swelled those ranks.

Department of Dance students in Professor Bridget Cauthery’s Big Dance Small Space course are now familiar with the cueca, thanks to a globally networked learning (GNL) workshop they attended along with students from SUNY Buffalo State in New York this past summer. GNL is an approach to teaching and learning that enables people from different locations worldwide to participate in and collaborate on knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects. It provides cross-cultural opportunities for students who might not have the opportunity to study abroad, a benefit in today’s global economy.

“The GNL exercise grew out of a connection I made with Joy Guarino, a dance professor at SUNY Buffalo State,” said Cauthery. “We both taught similar courses for non-majors that focused on the globalization of dance and the recognition of cultural dance practices within our own diasporic families and communities.”

Guarino was a proponent of GNL, and the pair discussed bringing their students together online. They had a few brainstorming meetings and decided to offer their students a workshop in cueca, since Cauthery had a teaching assistant from Chile, Sebastián Oreamuno, who was versed in in the dance.

The course was developed during the pandemic and has been taught online, so the workshop this past year brought the York students together in the studio on campus for the first time, along with Oreamuno, a PhD candidate in dance. The students from SUNY gathered in the Student Union on the Buffalo campus and participated via Zoom.

“There was a bit of a learning curve,” said Oreamuno, who simplified the steps for the workshop. “The dance is performed in 6/8 time, which isn’t a musical signature that’s prevalent in western dance.”

First, he had them listen to the rhythm of the dance and asked them to clap it. Next came the steps, done to a pulse rhythm. He worked with the students on a 30-second sequence of seven steps based on the rhythm. At the end of the 45-minute session, everyone performed it together.

“It was fun,” said Oreamuno. “The students in the York studio definitely enjoyed it; I felt the energy coming from them. The professor in Buffalo sent me a message saying her students enjoyed it, too.”

Cauthery said, “Folk dances lend themselves well to community engagement and connection, and this was a good first attempt, given our reliance on the technology. Next time Joy and I run our courses, we hope to make this a cross-border experiential learning opportunity. We could also have a reciprocal exchange between our programs.”

She is also further considering integrating the collaboration with Guarino and SUNY Buffalo State into something more long-term and with a larger scale; for example, collaborating together on choreography and sharing dance knowledge.

The GNL project also reflected one of York’s dance program’s larger goals: to globalize its offerings by teaching beyond the western canon.

“We want to focus on making connections through dance and dances that represent some aspect of heritage and identity,” Cauthery said. “By sharing that, we can build a bridge of understanding and respect, and create an equitable ecosystem of dance. These may be bold goals, but dance can be a way to bring people and ideas together.”

The GNL team will be hosting an information session for York faculty members on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Register here.