Canada is a country rich in multicultural heritage and culture, part of which is dance. The subject of dance in Canada is an immense topic, so in this post we’ll be focusing solely on the historic aspect of dance in Canada.
Long before we called this land Canada, Aboriginal dancers were practicing dance. The earliest written record of dance in Canada was written by Jacques Cartier in 1534 when he encountered a group of Indigenous people dancing in what we now call Québec. Over time, Indigenous dance has been severely affected by decades of assimilation tactics, resulting in a huge decline in practice. In the late 1990s, artists and native groups began investing more time and money into preserving dance as part of Aboriginal (and Canadian) culture. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet used the European medium of ballet to bring Aboriginal issues to light with their critically acclaimed productions of Going Home Star.
From the time that the first European settlers landed to the 1900s, Canada pretty much didn’t create dance works. They much preferred to host traveling troupes and companies from around the world. Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, European visitors and dancers frequently wrote about how much Canadians loved dance. Eventually, as technology advanced and made it easier for people to get around, Canada became part of the US touring circuits, which resulted in fantastic performers like Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, and Ruth St. Denis to leave their respective imprints on Canadian soil.
When more people began immigrating to Canada in the 1900s, they brought with them bits of rich heritage and culture from all over the globe. This influx of international talent is what led to the creation of most of our dance institutions today. Beyond laying foundations for a professional arts scene, these brand new Canadians let their cultures enhance and evolve with the dance influences that were already here, resulting in fusions that hadn’t been seen anywhere else in the world.
Ballet in Canada
Ballet as an art form has a long and complex history, but in Canada, things were rather straightforward from the professional dance point of view. Professional companies started cropping up around the 1950s, each developing and honing their own distinct identities before bursting onto the world stage.
Modern Dance in Canada
Modern dance got its start slightly ahead of ballet in Canada, with studios opening in the early 40s. Montréal served as the largest centre for modern dance for many decades, home to a variety of studios, companies, and festivals.
Formal Dance Education in Canada
The introduction of dance programs at universities in Canada helped usher in a new generation of choreographers and creators. The first of these programs was started at York University in Toronto, and today many other institutions like Ryerson University, Concordia University, and George Brown College have followed suit.
Dance in the 21st Century
Professional dance in Canada saw a bit of a decline in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but has begun to flourish once again due to the introduction of so many different cultures. South Asian dance is being adopted actively in Toronto, and companies in Vancouver are working with people from many Pan Asian countries to create incredible works of art that blend techniques from the East and the West.
Our dance heritage continues to grow thanks to a dazzling array of cultures and influences, and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. If you have any questions relating to dancewear, feel free to reach out and ask us.
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