Steps to Inclusivity: Ottawa’s Dance Community takes a Leap

Zeeggy Mercy

In the heart of Ottawa’s Lowertown neighborhood, within the confines of the Routhier Community Centre, a small dance studio becomes the stage for a significant movement. Led by Chloë Bonnet, a seasoned dance instructor, a group of eight young women executes a meticulously choreographed routine with precision and passion.

Under Bonnet’s guidance, the dancers synchronize their movements, embodying a vision of empowerment and multicultural celebration. This practice session serves as a rehearsal for a video project conceived by Bonnet and her dance colleague, Zeeggy Mercy, aimed at showcasing the diverse talents of female dancers in Ottawa.

Mercy, a self-taught dancer, shares a common bond with Bonnet over their shared experience of the lack of diversity within Ottawa’s dance scene. Together, they sought to bridge this gap by reaching out to dancers across the city who had felt marginalized in traditional dance spaces.

Moov Ottawa—An Urban Dance Company

Bonnet’s journey into the world of dance began at the age of three, initially through ballet. However, upon attempting to join dance troupes during her university years, she encountered feelings of exclusion within Ottawa’s predominantly homogeneous dance community. This sense of disconnect ultimately led her to pursue training in New York City, where she found a more inclusive environment reflective of her own diversity.

Returning to Ottawa amid the pandemic, Bonnet’s aspirations for a more diverse and inclusive dance community persisted. She lamented the predominance of contemporary, ballet, and jazz genres within Ottawa’s dance landscape, which often failed to represent the diverse array of dancers she encountered in her teaching roles.

Tanya Adesara, a recent graduate of Carleton University, found solace and connection in Bonnet and Mercy’s project. Having grown up practicing traditional Gujarati dance in India, Adesara yearned for a platform to exchange ideas and connect with dancers from diverse backgrounds—a sentiment echoed by many participants in the project.

For Temitayo Oyenola, a second-year health sciences student at Carleton University, the project served as a catalyst for creating inclusive dance spaces. Having founded an Afrobeat dance team at her school, Oyenola sought to inspire fellow dancers to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

The project’s impact reverberated across Ottawa’s dance community, resonating with individuals like Alea De Castro, who co-founded Moov Ottawa—an urban dance company aimed at promoting diversity within the dance world.

Documenting this transformative journey, filmmaker Benjamin Shimwa emphasized the project’s significance as a crucial step towards inclusivity in the dance world. As the title aptly suggests, “Steps to Inclusivity” represents a rallying cry for change and a beacon of hope for aspiring dancers seeking opportunities in a more diverse and equitable dance community.