Dancers of Damelahamid – Family, connection, artistry and tradition

Coming full circle from 2003 to 2023, the Dancers of Damelahamid are back at The Dance Centre on March 30th. Their performance of Spirit and Tradition, a sizeable production for family audiences, is described as “conveying important cultural teachings on balance, interconnectedness and community through dramatic dance and intricate masks and regalia.”

“This work speaks to our connection to the lands on the Northwest Coast and our responsibility to care for them,” says Margaret Grenier, executive and artistic director.

Finding identity and connection in heritage and tradition

“In the last few years, during the pandemic, it has awoken us how to care for our lands, how close we are to the devastating loss if we do not act soon,” Grenier says.

A number of young dancers take part in the performance. They give a sense of hope for what the future will look like. Growing up, it was difficult to find her own place outside of her community, Grenier adds. There was a separation from the Indigenous community and the broader community.

“Seeing our youth today, with strong identities as Indigenous persons, they have a lot of pride and provide us with a lot of hope in our society,” she says.

This connection to the lands Grenier speaks of is only fitting as there is much history in the dance company’s work dating back to the 1960s, and family is at the core of this leading Indigenous dance group. This rich history of family, dance, connection, purpose and creation is explained by Grenier as keeping alive the heritage, artistic practices, song and dance of her family and extended family.

Contemporary approaches yet grounded with the past

Grenier explains that, in 2010, she adopted contemporary approaches to choreographing comprising new work, creating songs and dance that reflected their style of dance. In 2016, their first full scale multimedia production was Flicker, which spoke to a number of themes.

“A metaphor of light, a flame, nature very carefully influences our practice, connection with our ancestry. It can be lost quite quickly and takes quite a lot of care and understanding to regain. Flicker is like the woodpecker of the West Coast,” she says. “How it shapes our identity, the self-exploration of identity and how we create our own through dance.”

In 2019, Minowan came to clarify directions, Grenier adds.

A circular theme runs through this year’s Dancers of Damelahamid’s performances. | Photo courtesy of Dancers of Damelahamid

“It speaks to how we’re never on a linear path, but circular – coming back to our stories, our teachings with each generation, a different meaning or purpose and how we help carry this to future generations,” she explains.

Similar to this circular theme, they are back on March 30 to share their performance and artistry.

“We performed at the Dance Centre in 2003, and, 20 years later, since that first production, what our audiences see and feel is how much it means to our artists, our families. We have been stepping in to find a place in the dance community, establish a place in our broader community,” she says. “[It] demonstrates inclusive understanding of dance, that this practice is not just part of history, but was carried by the work of previous generations and, through our efforts, will be carried forward by our young people as well.”

Grenier and the Dancers of Damelahamid’s next work, scheduled for 2024 is Raven Mother, named as tribute to her mother, elder Margaret Harris, who was instrumental in the creation of the Dancers of the Damelahamid and has
since passed.

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