Contemporary versions of athleticism

In the popular imagination, athletic prowess is frequently associated with organized sports, competition and even masculinity. The athletic skill of contemporary dancers helps give athleticism a new definition and a new image.

Contemporary dancing is an unstructured form of dance that is eclectic in nature. It borrows from numerous classic dance forms and adds a distinct flavour with new combinations and alterations to these more established dances. This amalgamation of various arts is what makes contemporary dance a form that is constantly fresh and always evolving.

Kristin Haight is a professional dancer who began training with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and continued her training with the School of Contemporary Dancers, where she graduated from their Senior Professional Program in 2000. She received a BA in Dance through the University of Winnipeg and has danced for numerous Canadian choreographers.

Haight describes contemporary dancing as full of everything you can think of. “It [contemporary dancing] is less literal than ballet, making it more human and more emotional.” Whereas ballet tends to be pretty and ethereal, contemporary dancing is “not afraid to be ugly — we will deal with anything.” For many, it is this fearlessness that makes contemporary dancing so appealing to watch. For others it is precisely this audacity that they find intimidating and, at times, confusing because they are accustomed to traditional dances that are storyline based.

In order to express the spectrum of issues and emotions that can be addressed through creative dance, contemporary dancers must be exceptionally strong and resilient. Rehearsing for a show means putting in eight-hour days in the studio, focusing on technique, timing and expression. When watching contemporary dancers perform, there is no mistaking their athletic accomplishments.

“I consider myself an athlete, first and foremost,” Haight asserts. She elaborates that ballet has been a very useful foundation for her as a contemporary dancer, but athleticism has been the most vital component of her dancing. These two elements combine to provide a base of both strength and technique in her dancing.

Haight believes that contemporary dancers should be considered among the most finely-tuned athletes because “we have to do everything a body can do — high jumps, fast jumps as well as slow and controlled movements.” It is this athletic versatility that gives contemporary dancing its intensity and allows it to make its connection with the audience. The combination of physical and emotional expression is what Haight describes as “the best part of dance.”

Stressing the uniqueness of each performer, Haight notes that many dancers work from an emotional place within. However, for her, it is more effective to learn a movement first and then focus on incorporating emotion into that movement.

Haight is currently traveling with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers’ (WCD) show On the Road (see the Arts section for a review of the Winnipeg performance). She is excited about touring with this show because it does such a thorough job representing Winnipeg’s dance scene. Rachel Browne, founding artistic director of WCD, choreographed two of the works that are featured, and current WCD artistic director Brent Lott choreographed three. Additionally, Haight, along with the other three dancers, Lise McMillan, Johanna Riley and Sarah Roche, are all graduates of Winnipeg’s School of Contemporary Dancers. This strong Winnipeg dance foundation allows people in other cities to see that Winnipeg does indeed have good dancers and good talent.

These dancers all do a beautiful job showcasing how they are unique and strong in their own ways. Haight explains “dancers don’t have to be cookie-cutter copies of each other,” and On the Road reflects this aptly.