CERi Partners with Karen Jamieson Dance

June 02, 2020

As soon as Karen Jamieson felt the power of dance, she knew that this is what she was meant to do. She took those first few rhythmic steps more than 50 years ago, and has been practicing the art ever since.

In 1983 she formed Karen Jamieson Dance, creating over 100 original dance works, many of them recognized as ground-breaking, particularly in the field of community-engaged and cross-cultural collaboration. “I moved into the area of community engaged dance beginning again from this sense of learning and receiving information and exchange of information, and again that sense of what other powers does dance have?” said Jamieson.

She has spearheaded multi-year projects with the Haida Gwaii village of Skidegate BC and more recently with the residents of the Downtown Eastside. This partnership evolved to become the Carnegie Dance Troupe and is rooted in the practice of absolute inclusivity and authentic, long-term collaborations. The troupe is now under the leadership of Julie Lebel who continues to work closely with Jamieson, her longtime mentor. Lebel also serves as the artistic director of Foolish Operations non-profit society, whose vision is about people of all generations discovering and creating dance experiences together.

Jamieson and Lebel soon realized the importance of sustaining the Carnegie Dance Troupe program. The continuation of the program now depends on filling the gap present in the current dance practice offered by teaching institutions throughout Canada. There is a need to provide community engaged dance learning opportunities to dance professionals and community members.

“In the last few years I’ve become more and more interested in how I can pass on my discoveries over these many years to some of the young, vibrant artists in the city, such as Julie Lebel,” said Jamieson.

As an alumnus of SFU, Jamieson has had a long-standing connection with the institution. In January, KJ Dance became a partner of CERi’s Community Engaged Research Pilot Project, which aims to support meaningful research on community-engaged practices. KJ Dance’s research project is titled ‘Dance in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: Carnegie Dance Troupe Program.’

The aim of the research project is to build a necessary curriculum for students and artists wishing to learn the many tools needed for community engaged practice to thrive in BC. The work will help to secure the future of Dance in the Downtown Eastside program, so it can be independent of KJ Dance, as well as address questions and issues around collaboration with Indigenous people by non-Indigenous organizations or artists.

Both Karen Jamieson Dance and the Carnegie Dance Troupe have forged strong collaborative relationships with Indigenous artists in the DTES through the practice of dance.

The Dance troupe’s vision is centred on revealing the power of dance as an art form with the potential to transform, engage and heal the dancing body.

The troupe continues to be centered on dance making with a trauma informed lens and co-creation of healing dance practices in collaboration with community members in the Downtown Eastside. Key to the process are dance artist and community-engaged arts practitioner Caroline Liffmann; dance artist, scholar and SFU sessional instructor Dr. P. Megan Andrews; and Carolyne Clare, a Vanier Scholar and SFU PhD candidate.

Community Engaged dance as Carnegie Dance Troupe’s key focus emphasizes the importance of embodying the principles of dance that give agency to dancers to create their own movements that are respectful of their abilities, interests and self-constraints, while also opening up opportunities for the collective participation of other community members in the knowledge of dance.

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