Toronto dance company boosted by major funding from Canadian government

By Neil Armstrong

A professional Afro Contemporary dance company in Toronto founded by Jamaican Canadian Kevin Ormsby recently received major funding from the Government of Canada. 

KasheDance, which was established in 2009 and will celebrate its 15th anniversary in April, offers a professional dance training program that takes dancers’ careers to the next level while addressing systemic barriers in the performing arts industry.

Pascale St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, and Member of Parliament (Toronto Centre), visited the company in February and announced a $200,000 investment to support KasheDance’s training program. They toured the facility and met with staff who showed off their talent and ingenuity.

“I am continuing a legacy of African Diasporic dance companies before KasheDance. To receive support from the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage for the diverse training of Canadian artists in dance is truly an honour. This support serves as an affirmation of a Canadian future where diverse approaches to training and the development of dance artists will showcase Canada’s unique creative sector both nationally and internationally,” said Ormsby.

Members of KasheDance with ministers, Marci Ien and Pascale St-Onge, left to right, back row: stooping Jillia Cato, Vanessa Sandre, Kevin Ormsby, Orin T. McRey, Benjamin Russell, Cheryl Chan, and Kaitlin Standeven,  Sitting from left are Dwauntea Chambers, and Ariel Simms

The founder, artistic director and choreographer said he is “fully committed to utilizing this funding to foster the growth of professional dance artists while promoting the sustainability of historically marginalized and racialized arts organizations. It reinforces our dedication to the evolution of the creative sector and adapting to the changing needs of artists.”

The dance technique used by the company, KasheDanceTek, was created by Ormsby and incorporates Afro Caribbean and contemporary movements, music, philosophies and training techniques. KasheDance has performed at the Canada Dance Festival, Dancing on the Edge Festival, Dance Immersion’s presentation series and at many other acclaimed venues in Canada, the United States and in the Caribbean.

Minister St-Onge said seeing vibrant, diverse forms of dance explored and taught is inspiring.

“KasheDance is a beautiful example of how cultures can be shared through art. Its training program will help teach new dancers these styles and provide opportunities for communities to experience it. It’s wonderful to be here and to see firsthand how much our investments really mean for people and communities. Our government is proud to support groups like KasheDance,” she said.

The company is the only formal professional, Black-led dance training program operating on an ongoing basis in Toronto, where there is a lack of training opportunities for Black artists in Black artistic traditions. This support, through the Canada Arts Training Fund, will allow KasheDance to expand and further develop its professional training program.

Minister Ien said as a proud Torontonian with Caribbean roots, she is thrilled to see the vibrant spirit and cultural richness that KasheDance brings to Toronto and Canada.

“Its performances showcase the beauty of Caribbean heritage, while also serving as a powerful reminder of the diverse tapestry that makes Canada truly exceptional. I am so proud that our government supports KasheDance’s arts, and I know that it will continue to inspire and uplift audiences.”

Trained in classical ballet and contemporary dance, Ormsby is an internationally recognized dancer, choreographer and teacher. He is the program manager of Cultural Pluralism in the Arts Movement Ontario and is on the faculty of the dance program at Centennial College in Toronto.

He is also a frequent guest instructor at the National Ballet School, the University of Madison-Wisconsin and the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas – Austin. Ormsby is a 2014 Canada Council for the Arts Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award in Dance recipient, a 2016 Ontario Arts Council Chalmers Fellowship and a Toronto Arts Council Cultural Leaders Lab Fellow.

KasheDance is the Company In Residence at Citadel + Compagnie, a Toronto-based dance company and creation centre. Through this relationship, the organization has a dedicated space for sustained development, creative work, presentation and training. It is also a home to national and international guest artists and choreographers.