Class of 2010: Dana, the warrior

Dana Michel is fearless. She’ll throw herself with frenetic precision up against walls of concrete, perform striking athletic solos sans shirt in outdoor pools and travel everywhere from Salt Lake City to Serbia to share her visceral, rhythmic work. But perhaps most of all, Dana isn’t afraid to say what some in contemporary dance circles consider taboo: that rhythm is a dancer.

“There’s this taboo in our discipline where you should be able to make movement without music,” shares the soft-spoken Michel at NIGHTLIFE’s cover shoot a few weeks back. As she expands on her guilty association with hip hop and electronic music, and just how much throbbing bass lines and percussive clicks and snaps affect her movement, her eyes light up and hand motions take on a rhythm of their own. “You should be making movement that’s not always 5, 6, 7 and 8, and I’m kind of obsessed with that, because there are things that I really love about 5, 6, 7 and 8. Beyoncé, Ciara and tons of pop music. That is hot. You watch that and you want to move. There are some things that can be so goddamn electric and exciting about living with rhythm, about being at one with rhythm.”

That’s the kind of honesty they don’t teach you in school. Michel, on stage and off, puts it all out there, take it or leave it. By academic standards, she came into dance relatively late in the game at 25, after completing a degree in commerce and clocking in countless hours in the regimented world of competitive college athletics – mostly track and touch football. Oddly enough, it was a trip to France that sealed her fate. “I landed there and realized, hey, there’s stuff outside of Ottawa, Ontario! So you don’t have to just graduate in accounting, buy a house in the suburbs, have two kids and get married by the time you’re 27?” she asks, rhetorically. “I started going to raves and that was the beginning of all this mind-blowing expansion.”

And what an expansion it has been. Her change of heart led to a foray into Concordia’s conceptual school of thought, which inevitably brought upon a steady stream of accolades. Among them, Studio 303’s Best Dance Choreography prize at the Fringe a few years back, a “best emerging choreographer” stamp of approval from the Globe and Mail and a variety of gigs both commercial and artistic in nature. She’s danced to the tune of international bass matchmaker Poirier on ARTV’s Mange ta ville, was featured in Numéro#’s “Tout est parfait” video, and has since launched her own dance company Band of Bless, allowing her to mount productions like January’s “1976” at Tangente. Staying true to her musical inclinations, she plans on travelling with the piece to cities around the world (namely Toronto, Ottawa, New York and Berlin) in what she describes as an “international musical chairs project”, allowing both the dance and the soundtrack to be remixed in other cities by fellow creative collaborators.

For a gal who originally argued herself out of a career in dance as a teen, there’s something really special and heartfelt about her dedication to expanding the craft and its at times constricting boundaries. “Sometimes I feel like we’re in a contemporary dance ghetto. It becomes this intellectualized thing that people get caught up in, and it influences your work. But it shouldn’t, because it’s the body, it’s movement, it’s dance, it’s music, and there’s something that should be natural about that.”

Whether she’s wrestling against herself on stage or the discipline’s at times bourgeois and immutable front, Michel’s doing it with a bonafide gust of energy. And so much soul.


To read our Class of 2010 feature in its entirety, click here.

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