Together we can create inspire and support one another

Nicole Decsey on the latest exciting project from Kaeja d'Dance.


“The plant people have taught me to be generous and not to be shy about blossoming. That it is in our nature. I think when others see us it can inspire them to open up and blossom too. And we can be a field ablaze with dignity and beauty together.”

Moving Connections: Dancing Collected Stories offers a space to share, connect, and feel alive in a time where we have lost some of that connection. The story above was offered by an anonymous community member to inspire a group of people to tap into their creativity and collaboratively work together to create a movement phrase of gestures. The community leaders and facilitators for the Moving Connections workshop provide space for everyone involved to share and to get to know one another in a safe and welcoming environment. These workshops are completely free movement practices for intergenerational community members, no dance experience is required. A new story is offered every week, making each experience and each creation unique and special to the individuals in the room. Another standout feature, is that the greatest care is being taken to make sure these classes are accessible to everyone (described further below).



I had the opportunity to sit down with Allen and Karen Kaeja, the founders of Moving Connections, and talk to them about how it all started.


What inspired Moving Connections?


Karen

Moving Connections began out of community work for a piece that I’ve been building over seven years. It’s a piece that will premiere in November 2022. I have been developing this work that’s inclusive of community members. As time rolled on, I decided I wanted to do a workshop with the community members to explore beyond material for the piece. The way I teach workshops is towards a creative end, it’s about working through creative and choreographic processes as opposed to exercises. We started with a weeklong workshop with 30 adults and by the end of the week we had developed The Heart Phrase which was not part of the initial intention. After the week of exploration, we turned it into an online learning scenario, inviting the community to learn the 32 gestures we had created. That was year one of Moving Connections in 2020/2021. Moving forward, I decided to develop the workshops to become more process oriented and at that point I handed the leadership over to Allen. We co-develop the workshops, but he is leading the second iteration.


Allen

It has always been a part of mine and Karen’s process to draw movement material from our dancers and non-dancers. When Karen asked me to be involved, I of course said yes. With this second iteration I knew I wanted to start to incorporate the process where we draw movement material from our dancers and in this case the community members. Because Karen and I have worked with stories for decades we decided to invite stories from the community that we would use and harness to build phrases. Each week would be a new story which would generate new gestures and phrases from the community.


How did the stories develop?


Karen/Allen

Part of the development of this iteration was to make sure that there was a story as the initial inspiration. It has worked well to bring in stories from community members because they relate to it. It’s like seeing yourself as a performer, it’s an inclusive approach. It's essential that we are tapping into the experiences and fascinations of those that are participating. Who and what they are is what emanates out of these pieces.


What kind of diversity have you seen?


Karen/Allen

Part of what’s important is partnerships, we have a partnership with University of Calgary, Casa Maiz which is a refugee community, Homes First, The Jewish Community Centre, and Jen Roy who is involved with the disabled community. We have also been doing workshops as a company about how to work with access. In terms of reaching out the program has expanded exponentially.


Karen

One of our biggest focuses is working with the disability communities. We have really harnessed moving in that direction and creating that kind of access. It’s not easy for a medium sized small organization to be accessible, there are so many aspects of access, but biting it off in chunks and doing it well is important. We want everyone to feel welcome, and it’s necessary to figure out what it is that the community needs to feel welcome as opposed to what we think they need to feel welcome. To make this possible we are continuously learning, growing, and adapting our approach. All our community leaders that lead the different groups are in training with us. That’s another big thing, to make sure that it’s not just the top that’s doing this kind of work but everyone that’s facing the public is being trained.



Allen

When we move into the breakout rooms to start creating, we have rooms for people who are non-visual and non-verbal. Meaning they can only communicate through the chat, so we invite them to stay in the main room because we have two individuals there specifically monitoring the chat and responding to them. We are really trying to be as open as possible. We are doing what we can, and our goal is to understand deeper where we can move to in the future. There are many people that are joining these workshops from Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, and other Spanish speaking countries. Part of our discussion has been about the possibility of combining English speakers with Spanish speakers or people who are fluent in both into the same room allowing us to really address everyone.


We have regular meetings with the people involved in leading these workshops. Between the two iterations of Moving Connections, we did training sessions and we met with everyone individually as well as in smaller groups to have discussions with them. In this second iteration we meet after every session and discuss what successes or challenges might have occurred during the workshop and how we can keep moving forward by being aware of everything that’s going on.



Do you see Moving Connections continuing in the future?


Karen

Yes, we are interested in moving forward how it moves forward will be the next iteration. I think we are inviting this to be a developmental idea as opposed to always staying the same. We have some incredible facilitators, and we will be getting together as a group to talk about where it will go next.



Karen and Allen are both incredible movers and creators. They have been producing work that is both moving and powerful for decades. Stay tuned for their show coming out in the fall and if you want to read more about the positive effects Moving Connections has on body appreciation, social connection, and more look at these two articles published by the University of Calgary and by Frontiers in Psychology.


University of Calgary: https://arts.ucalgary.ca/news/organized-dance-activities-help-older-adults-suffering-covid-19-loneliness-study-finds


Frontiers in Psychology: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.635938/full

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