Fia Grogono grew up in Yellowknife’s dance community before pursuing a degree in contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montreal. Now, she’s back in the North.
Grogono is working to cultivate that community, saying the likes of Bella Dance Academy and the Yellowknife Dance Collective offer the chance for people to become well-trained athletes.
However, the lack of professional dance opportunities beyond those groups means most people must go south to continue their training as adults.
That’s a gap Grogono hopes to fill.
“The quality of dance here has just gotten higher and higher over the years,” she told Cabin Radio.
“And then all these dancers grow up and go down south to university, and some pursue additional dance training, and then there’s this gap. They get an amazing education in dance and then where do they go? Most don’t come back to Yellowknife.”
Working with the city’s dance collective, also known as YKDC, Grogono is trying to build more opportunities for those dancers, while also inviting adults who haven’t danced before to try.
At the moment, she says, Bella Dance Academy caters to dancers under the age of 18 and YKDC offers a space for intermediate and experienced adults. If you don’t fit into those categories, she says, there is nowhere to go.
Grogono’s approach is to keep exploring opportunities of her own in the south while working to create them for others in the North.
“I want to be working as a professional dancer and right now, that means having one foot down south and still maintaining contacts and getting training,” she said.
“I’m happy to be doing that, because it helps create this bridge between here and there, but I also want to be able to pour more of myself up here and get the same opportunities for northern dancers that southern dancers have.”
At the moment, Grogono is working with Bella Dance to offer more adult classes while creating drop-in classes about different forms of dance through YKDC.
In Grogono’s long-term vision, collaboration is crucial.
She eventually wants Yellowknife to house an institute similar to the Banff Centre, which offers programs and workshops for performing and fine artists, and can allow for collaboration alongside individual work.
Having spent the winter in Brazil, working with dancers from across the world, Grogono says more collaborations will also help in the decolonization of dance.
“In the westernized version of dance, you have to be individual, you have to stand out, you have to do what everyone can do and you have to do it really well but with your own flavour added,” she said.
“In the context that I was working in Brazil, you want to be a drop in the ocean. It’s not that you’re suppressing your own identity or your own voice, it’s that you’re truly, equally listening to a group and participating with that group on a cellular level.”
Breaking out of the western standards of dance, such as ballet, jazz and tap, will make it more accessible and open doors to more northerners, Grogono believes.
“It’s the idea that dance doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about movement and letting go, not perfection,” she explained.
“I think of the kids that are five, six, seven years old, going into their first dance class, and they’re really nervous until they get in there. There’s good music, and there’s good vibes, and they start to find safety in their own body – and they aren’t doing things with 100-percent perfection.
“Dance doesn’t have to be this perfect, untouchable thing. I want people to know that they can touch it and they can be touched by it.”
This weekend marks one of the summer’s first opportunities to take part in Yellowknife’s dance community, when YKDC hosts a community dance class at Bella Dance Academy.
The event, from 2pm on Sunday, is free and open to anyone aged 18 or over. No experience is necessary, just an interest in dance.
‘An important role to play’
To achieve that longer-term vision, Grogono wants more funding for performance art in the NWT.
She is working to create a form of governing body that could organize that funding, whether it comes from federal, territorial or municipal programs, and one day open a northern dance centre.
“I know a lot of people from down south that want to see the North and would benefit from the dance community here,” she said.
“Before I bring them up here, though, I need to know that there is enough interest and enough reliable feedback from dancers here.”
As an example, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre currently holds a critique night every Tuesday for artists to share and receive feedback on their work. Grogono says something similar for dance would provide dancers with new opportunities to grow and connect with the art form and each other.
She also wants Bella Dance Academy’s young participants to spend more time working with YKDC’s adults to shrink the gap that currently exists.
From there, she wants dancers to begin working more closely with Yellowknife’s musicians, fine artists, videographers and other artists. (If you have ideas, she asks that you reach out via Facebook or Instagram.)
“Dance has a really important role to play in the changes that we’re seeing in society right now,” she said.
“If you are unable to express an emotion and you’ve been holding an emotion in, and then you see someone in a performance expressing that emotion and it resonates with something in you, it can change your psyche. It can change how you were feeling.
“It literally has the power to move people in every sense: emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally. And it’s up to us to create a space for people to feel its power.”