Seeding contemporary dance community for 55 years, Orchesis hosts Dance Motif 2020

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Orchesis was founded by Dorothy Harris — a professor in what was then the U of A’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation — back in 1964. She was following the lead of American mentors who started a loose network of similar groups at the college level, promoting the idea that modern dance training could be a significant part of physical and spiritual fitness. Today there’s a dance studio at the U of A named after Harris.

No one could have predicted how the company would become a seeding ground for local dance initiatives.

While Orchesis has encouraged generations of dancers from all walks of life to get involved at an entry level for personal benefit, it’s significant how the organization has sent many on to professional careers — masters like Brian Webb and Peggy Baker for instance — and inspired new companies like Mile Zero Dance and Good Women Dance Collective to take root.

Orchesis Dance Performance Group hosts 11 different choreographers and 60 dancers in its annual Dance Motif 2020, happening Jan. 24-25. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography /Supplied

To learn more I spoke with Andrea Gish, chairperson of the ODPG, who joined up to dance with them back in 2003.

“It’s one of the only programs in Edmonton to focus on modern dance,” she explains, “though we have evolved to include jazz dance and ballet as well. But we’re one of the only programs to provide recreational adult dance and professional performance experience. Now we have folks who started with us, who have gone on to careers as choreographers.”

The group is open to dancers age 16 and up, and to be part of the annual Orchesis Dance Motif show they must have taken one previous class with Orchesis, classes now under the umbrella of Campus Recreation. Currently that includes dancers in their fifties and sixties — individuals of all stripes. Gish reports that roughly 75 percent are women, and membership even includes individuals with disabilities. Many come from the university community but that’s not a requirement.

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