Having a Direct Relationship with Our Art (aka There Is No Velvet Rope)

photo by Shannon Ridler

One June 24th  I was deep in the final performance of Le Grand Continental, a 30-minute dance piece performed by over 200 dancers here in Toronto as a part of the Luminato arts festival. The photo above is a moment of sheer bliss during dress rehearsal. The show was an experience of a lifetime.

In a post-show conversation, the rehearsal director, Bonnie Kim, mentioned that it was too bad we hadn’t had time to hear everyone’s stories and I agreed. I know that in this photo alone each person has a tale to tell of their relationship with dance and what brought them to this moment. Here’s mine.

Dance is my first love. I remember as a small girl dancing tirelessly as my grandmother played piano. I remember in elementary school choreographing numbers for the friends in my neighbourhood and performing them in class. I remember summer acting classes that were ‘meh’ until the movement instructor arrived. I remember in high school going to Marjorie’s studio from 4:00 to 10:30 every weekday and teaching ‘the babies’ on Saturday mornings. I remember how, in my teenage years, I lived in unraveling grey leg warmers and a sweatshirt with sparkling letters that said, “Born to Dance.”

Though the love, passion and hard work were in me, I came to training late for a dancer. I was 15 before I took formal dance classes. I was also short, curvy and even though I spent hours soaking in a hot tub and wore pants that would warm my muscles and I stretched… stretched… and stretched…, I just wasn’t built with the extension that gives you Rockette kicks.

I may have been born to dance but, according to the world, I wasn’t built to be a dancer.

So, after high school, I let it go.

It broke my heart. If a magical creature had crossed my path and said, “Jamie, you can be a dancer but you will have to give up everything else – and I truly mean everything.” I would have said, “Yes,” without hesitation. Even so, I let it go. Without magical intervention, being a dancer just didn’t seem possible.

Instead I went to university to study English. Eventually, that turned into studying drama, which turned into studying theatre. I found myself on stage again but this time acting. Eventually people heard about my background and began to ask me to be their choreographer or movement director. I said yes. I always said yes. Dance found its way back to me.

Later, during one of the greatest transitional periods of my life, dance and I deepened our relationship once more. While in grad school, I left my long-time boyfriend. I stepped into my independence and onto the dance floor. I was out 6-nights a week clubbing with my sister Shannon. Night after night, I sweat my heart out on the dance floor. Night after night, I remembered who I was.

Since then, I have never forgotten that I am a dancer. it doesn’t matter that I am short and curvy and lack extension. It doesn’t matter now, that I am older. It doesn’t matter whether the professional world agrees or not. The profession does not have the power to mediate my relationship with dance unless I let it.

I wish I’d known that all those years ago.

I want you to know that now.

No one gets to stand between you and your art. That relationship is direct and pure and true.

Pick up your guitar or your paintbrush or your pen. Sing. Dance. Design.

Don’t spend one more moment separated from an art you love.

Don’t live one more moment not being who you truly are.

I am so thankful that I found the courage to participate in Le Grand Continental, that I was able to experience and express myself as a dancer this season. I am thankful for the vision of Sylvain Emard, who created a show that was open to all ages, sizes and levels of training, a show that comes to life in many communities and leaves a legacy of joy, hope and connection.

Perhaps even the professional world is discovering there is room for all of us on the dance floor.