Celebrating Dance Through Cultural Backgrounds
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t dancing.
I lived in Kahnawake, Quebec in my early years, but then moved to Nova Scotia at a young age. I would always dance around the house and eventually started taking my first “official” classes in classical ballet, which I studied for many years. Growing up on a farm in a small village, I had very little access to dance and limited contact with my Mohawk community. Seeming highly unlikely that I could ever become a professional dancer with such limited resources, I stepped away for a while and decided to go into theatre. This brought me to study at Concordia University in Montreal, amazed and overwhelmed by the vibrant performing arts scene here.
Ever curious, I started discovering and taking classes in all different kinds of dance that I had never even heard of before – contemporary…what was that?!? But perhaps more importantly, I reconnected with my Mohawk community of Kahnawake, where I taught theatre at their high school. I also started to learn about my cultural dances and this changed my life completely.
Indigenous perspectives and practice of dance are so much more holistic, integrated into the community, inclusive, and have always been about so much more than just giving a show. These dances were for healing, honouring, spirituality, respecting the Earth, for community, ancestors, future generations, and for those who can’t dance. With time, I learned how to integrate these values into all my dance forms. Along with this, I accepted a responsibility to try to help my community with my dances and choreographies, as well as educate the general public about Indigenous people. I work with many organizations in Quebec and across Canada to educate about Indigenous people and to support them.
Eventually, with much help from good people, I was able to start my own dance company A’nó:wara Dance Theatre which is not only a place to create my productions but is growing to be a support for other Indigenous artists as well.
I believe that it is important for everyone to support Indigenous arts, and that building these cultural bridges will benefit all to have a more equal and diverse society. Let’s keep dancing!
Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo is the Artistic director and choreographer of A’nó:wara Dance Theatre.