Finding Connections Through Dance

Black and white photo of two women; a bride, dressed in white with a veil, another in a black party dress, performing a Spanish folk dance, Sevillanas, surrounded by joyful wedding guests
Catalina at her wedding, dancing Sevillanas (Spanish folk dance) with her friend Monserrat Plá. Photo by Quarum.com (2003).

As we approach a second consecutive International Dance Day under pandemic lockdown restrictions, I can’t help but reflect on how deeply connected to community my experience of dance is. Growing up in a Latin American family, dancing has always been central to family celebrations and gathering. My love of dance was influenced by my grandmother, a Spanish-Chilean woman who had a deep appreciation for flamenco.  She even married a man with flamenco in his veins, a tocaor (flamenco guitarist). So, I began training in flamenco dance as a child and was performing professionally as a teenager.

Traditionally, flamenco dance is in an individual expression, but it is experienced communally.  A social gathering often develops into rhythmic clapping, song and guitar playing. In this atmosphere it isn’t long before someone is moved to get up and dance.  All elements feed off each other and together they facilitate an atmosphere of creative expression.

In my experience of performing flamenco on stage, in tabloas (flamenco venues/bars) across the GTA and on stages as formal presentations and concerts, that intimate feeling of community remains an anchor.  Flamenco invites everyone to clap along and to participate by shouting “¡Olé!”.  There are no silent spectators of flamenco. There is no divide between the audience and a performer.

For many, performing on stage is the pinnacle of a dance experience. There is no denying the unique adrenaline rush that comes from being on stage and performing to an audience who is clapping along and actively participating. However, for me the real magic happens in the studio, in dance classes, during rehearsals. There is such beauty in the bonds that are created during the creative process and in the spontaneous dancing of the post-show wrap parties.

I haven’t been able to participate in many online dance events during the pandemic. The mere thought of it somehow amplified my sense of isolation. But I am getting over that now. In fact, participating in virtual dance classes has been a revelation. It has curbed the feeling of isolation and loneliness. There is something unifying about seeing other dancers in their makeshift studio spaces just like me. We are in our kitchens, hallways, or living rooms, negotiating our internet lags, and moving together as best we can. It is heartening to connect with people across time zones and geographies, brought together by dance.

“Hello from Barcelona, Spain”

“Hello from Santa Fe, USA”

“Hello from Tokyo, Japan.  It’s very early in the morning here!”

Of course, I still miss live dance experiences. I still have moments of loneliness, of isolation, but I have also realized that I am not alone and that I am part of a community, a global community connected by dance.

Happy International Dance Day!

Catalina Fellay-Dunbar is Toronto Arts Council's Dance and Literary Program Manager