Report from the Dance Heritage Think Tank
Kristin Harris Walsh, Dale Jarvis, Calla Lachance and Colleen Quigley
April 29, 2009
The Dance Heritage Think Tank emerged from collective discussions and ideas of
several individuals interested in dance preservation in the province of Newfoundland
and Labrador. In November 2008, a National Dance Heritage Think Tank was held at
the National Ballet of Canada. This two-day event, organized by Arts Inter-Media
Canada / Dance Collection Danse brought together 13 dance professionals to discuss
the fate of the nation’s vanishing dance history and to increase awareness of the cause
beyond the grassroots. Participants included, among others, Miriam Adams, Peggy
Baker, Laurence Lemieux, Kaija Pepper, and Colleen Quigley as well as several dance
archivists and scholars; Jane Marsland, co-founder of For Dance and Opera and
ARTS4CHANGE, was the facilitator. Participants unanimously agreed that the
preservation of artistic creation was as essential as the creation of dance works for a
dynamic art form. From this think tank an advocacy group, The Movement for Canadian
Dance Heritage was born. The guiding principle of The Movement is to promote public
access to heritage works of Canadian Dance.
The organizing committee felt that a local version of this larger Think Tank would be an
ideal opportunity for members of the many dance communities to meet, network, share
ideas and identify common goals (if any). We advertised the event as a way for dance
enthusiasts to meet and discuss the future of the traditions of dance in Newfoundland
and Labrador. Our goal was to get representation from as wide a variety as possible of
dance performers, teachers, scholars and preservationists from a number of dance
genres and representing different ages and genders. We aimed for the broad spectrum
of dance in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Dance Heritage Think Tank took place in St. John’s, NL, on February 21, 2009. The
organizing committee sent out invitations to key individuals in the St. John’s dance
community. We also publicized the event through postering, Facebook and through an
appearance (by Kristin Harris Walsh and Colleen Quigley) on CBC Radio Noon’s
Crosstalk show. The event was sponsored by the Research Centre for Music, Media
and Place (MMaP) at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Heritage Foundation of
Newfoundland and Labrador. It was also supported by Neighbourhood Dance Works.
Nearly thirty people participated, with a number of others unable to attend but sending
ideas and support. The afternoon was divided into two parts. The first part of the
discussion focused on “big issues” to determine the concerns of group members. Each
member of the organizing committee took one small group to generate discussion. After
a period of time we brought all issues to the table with each group reporting on their
discussions. After a break, we focused our discussion on four approaches to
safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage: positioning, transmission, celebration and
documentation. This was a way to turn the larger visioning exercise into a means of
identifying specific needs and goals related to dance preservation in Newfoundland and
Labrador. After these discussions were completed, we finished the session with a
prioritizing exercise to determine, after all our talks, precisely what the Think Tankers
felt were the most important recommendations.
The event generated much discussion and we found that most of the participants
agreed on several desired outcomes. Throughout the Think Tank, several major issues
emerged time and time again. There was overwhelming support for these initiatives,
and we hope to begin to move on them with some recommendations further in this
NL Dance Association should be formed to represent and connect all dance
genres in the province
Website should be created to link dance forms in NL, provide information on
dance professionals, events, and resources
Integration into educational system – university dance program should be
created, and dance should be further integrated into K-12 system
In addition to the highlighted recommendations above, several key themes emerged
from our discussions. They are indicated below with examples.
o As mentioned above, the two main issues related to Education focused on
formal education: more integration in the K-12 school system and the
need for a dance program at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
o In general, Think Tankers felt that there was lack of education and
exposure of dance to the public. Much time was spent discussing how
dance could be better integrated into both formal and informal education
o Within the school system, contacts and resources need to be better
known, understood and used by teachers. Dance needs to be more fully
integrated into the curriculum; some felt that this needed to be done in a
more comprehensive way (i.e. by making dance a subject area like math
or history that all children would learn); others felt that informal exposure
to children was the best way to entice them to learn dance. It was agreed
upon that exposing children to dance from a young age and for a long time
was the best way to keep them interested.
o The lack of dance studies (studio and theory) at the post-secondary level
was noted a number of times. Between both MUN campuses all other
fine/performing arts disciplines (music, theatre, visual arts, film) are
offered. Why not dance? This could be a real draw, particularly since
dance schools are increasingly popular with children and teens.
o Dance camps were also suggested (similar to the Irish summer school
model) as a way to give interested children and adults more exposure to
and training in dance.
o Perhaps a dance professional linked with the Department of
Education/school boards for a full year would be helpful in terms of finding
ways to integrate dance more fully.
o Dance needs to be highlighted at more formalized public events and
o People need to be encouraged to participate in dancing! If dance is not
lived/performed, then there is no point in preserving it.
o More media attention: traditional media such as radio, tv and print;
Youtube and Facebook mentioned as new exposure possibilities.
o Promotion is key to dispel myths that dance is not cool, that men do not
dance, that dance is sexual, etc.
o Better links could be made with commercial enterprises to ensure that
dance has a higher public profile.
o Guerilla dancing/random acts of dancing (dance presented in unexpected
places) is a great way to informally expose audiences to dance.
o More government support is needed to better fund dance.
o Need recognition that dance people are professionals.
o It was acknowledged that dancers in different genres generally do not
know what others are doing and therefore are unable to support others’
o We need a provincial dance association that will link all dance groups,
schools, teachers, etc. under one umbrella group.
o A website was suggested as a way for dance people to communicate with
one another, to list events and to post information on what research and
publicity has been done already on dance in the province. Resources are
in short supply and we need to share those that we have. A central place
of information is necessary.
o Encourage cross-talk as well as cross-performances with one another.
o We need to promote ourselves better to ourselves.
o Better links need to be made between dancers and musicians.
o Dance class registration could be linked to association membership.
o Need better access to other dance styles and traditions.
o Other issues that were raised ranged from the philosophical to the
o What is traditional dance in NL?
o Need to remember our theatrical dance traditions by, for example,
remounting “old” contemporary dance pieces
o Feet should be recognized as a musical instrument.
o There is a lack of venues/space for dance practice and performance.
o Recording dance is a constant challenge – how do we make the intangible
o We need models for preserving dance through archives, personal
o We must recognize the dance pioneers in NL.
o Must reach beyond the overpass; dance is not St. John’s-centred.
o We must be cognizant of culturally specific and fusion issues, i.e. labelling
and categorizing dance forms.
o We need cultural institutions that specify the acquisition and support of NL
dance (archives, museum, etc.)
We are still in the information gathering and sharing process. The Dance Heritage Think
Tank’s organizational committee, after collecting information from the Think Tank’s
participants, has determined that several steps should immediately be taken in order to
address the needs identified at the Think Tank.
First, we have collated and will disseminate the information from the Think Tank in the
form of this report. It will be distributed to members of the dance communities of
Newfoundland and Labrador, local media, and relevant government/education
personnel. We have chosen to launch it in conjunction with International Dance Day in
order to both celebrate the diversity and achievements of dancers in the province of
Newfoundland and Labrador as well as recognize the challenges necessary for the
community to grow and continue to flourish.
The Think Tank organizers recognize the need (as identified during the Think Tank) for
a provincial dance association. Thus we shall facilitate the formation of such an
association, who we then see taking any further steps (either those recommendations
listed above or others that may arise) in their role as a representative organization for
dancers in the province.
In order to assist in the creation of a provincial dance association, the Think Tank
organizers will do the following:
Identify models for associations from other provinces
Gather key stakeholders for an initial meeting on how to form such an
Build a province-wide contact list of dancers
Build a list of websites devoted to dance preservation as a resource
Build a bibliography/publications list of items published about dance in
Newfoundland and Labrador
By conducting the necessary research, finding suitable models, bringing together
interested individuals and providing research and resources, it is the goal of the Think
Tank organizers to then step back to let the persons involved continue to formulate a
provincial dance association. Such a group would then be the ideal advocates to further
the implementation of dance in the K-12 and postsecondary systems and to create and
maintain a website to network and link dancers across the province, as well as
continually identify and work with the changing needs of the province’s dance