“Black is beautiful because there's jazz, hip hop, flamenco, samba. Black is beautiful because of Obama and because it's everywhere. Black is beautiful, more importantly, because we've survived over 500 years of oppression and we are still here and of influence,” proclaims Kevin Ormsby, artistic director of this year’s Dance Immersion annual showcase presentation, Tribute: A Moving History of Canadian Blacks in Dance. Now in its 18th year, Dance Immersion launches Black History Month with a celebration of movement honouring nine black dance pioneers from across the country who have enriched Canada’s dance ecology and beyond. Fab’s Eduardo Sabate talks to the insightful, inspiring and influential dancer, who also happens to be Jamaican and gay.
How does that movement relate to the black culture in Canada?
Diaspora is movement. It’s not just speaking about the African diaspora. It speaks about people moving across boundaries and countries. When you move to somewhere else, you're now a part of diaspora. Where else can you live and understand that diaspora than in Canada, in Toronto, and in places with a large immigrant population.
Often when we hear about black history, people’s thoughts automatically move toward the subject of slavery and the civil rights movement. But Tribute takes a different approach.
Jamaica's national dish is ackee and saltfish. The saltfish was originally made from the codfish caught off the coast of Eastern Canada, Nova Scotia in particular. Those particular histories are erased for the more hypersensitized ones like slavery and the civil rights movement. We have influenced more than what people understand or know, even in the dance ecology that is Canada.
Is that why there’s a lot to be discussed and understood about gay people in the world of dance?
Dance provides a safe space for dancers who are gay. Whether it's gay or predominantly gay is hard to say, with all the dancers out there. Dance is a safe space that allows for expression to continue into many beautiful forms like voguing and club culture. Art and academics also provide safe spaces beyond the dance, where gay men can seek refuge, if not in themselves then in their minds of themselves. If heterosexual pressures are pushing on you, it's where you go to find that expression to gain that confidence. For a lot of gay men, it's through the arts or academia.
You mentioned voguing, which was created by young gay black men in New York and is still practised today, even in Toronto! As the show’s artistic director, do you see its influence in the Tribute dancers?
During a vocabulary exercise, I saw voguing elements in their choreography; that was great. They're not all gay, but it's now becoming an expression that is so universal, accepted and visually seen that it falls into the context of choreography and expression. To get the credence of acceptance in a wider framework is absolutely beautiful.
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