Dancing about the issues

Loa Olafson mixes contemporary dance, hip hop and social awareness

Social change isn’t always about pickets and petitions. 

Local dancer and choreographer Loa Olafson is hoping to open up some dialogue with her latest work, Sisters. The contemporary dance piece, featuring high school students from Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute (DMCI), is set to A Tribe Called Red’s “Sisters”. 

The piece will be released as a video on both vimeo and YouTube and Olafson hopes it will “honour the memory and deepen our community concern for missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”

Olafson paired up with Jaime Black of the REDdress project and her voice is present throughout the video, interspersed with the dance.

“I’d heard about her project when I was a student at U of W and I remember the red dresses, and reading about how she had a call for people to donate dresses,” Olafson says. 

As she was developing the concept for this piece, she thought “it would be great to have an artist partner ... and have her speak to her own artist practice and indigenous issues in Canada. So it’s not just from my perspective and we get her voice in there.”

Olafson, 26, is a double alumnus of the U of W, holding a B.A in Dance (2011) and a B. Ed (2013). She first started teaching dance at Turtle Island Community Centre in Lord Selkirk Park. 

“Eight years later, I’m still there and still teaching some of the kids I started with when they were nine,” Olafson says. “It’s pretty special, because even if they don’t really dance anymore, they’re still being connected to the community.”

Her work with the youth in Lord Selkirk, as well as this summer’s walk for Tina Fontaine really spurred Olafson to work on a social justice-focused piece. 

“I took some of my young aboriginal girls that I work with, so we went and we did that walk together and started to have more conversations ... So I guess through just being involved with the community, its been an issue I’ve been concerned with for a long time, and ultimately with Tina Fontaine’s death this summer I think it really pushed the social justice issue to the forefront for me,” Olfason explains.

She’s spent the last year teaching dance full-time at DMCI, including an audition-only group called DMCI’s finest. Olafson chose 8 dancers from DMCI’s Finest to be part of the Sisters project and so far they’ve already performed for a Winnipeg School Division inservice, in front of hundreds of teachers and administrators. She hopes that beyond the video, they also have more chances to spread the message and perform as dancers.

“I decided I really wanted to make another contemporary work, and that I wanted to do a video project and make it something that wasn’t just dance, make it something that we could hopefully effect some change with and do some learning and I don’t think it’s always covered as well in schools or that kids understand how deep the problems are that we have in Canada.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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