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The Power of Practice and Place

Hi! My name is Colleen Snell, I’m the artistic director of Frog in Hand. So far this blog has been written by Summer Company participants both past and present (Clarke Blair and Tavia Christina). I figured it’s about time I chime in! I see this blog as a way of communicating what I do with Frog in Hand (dance creation, performance and education); however, it’s more than that. It’s also a way of inviting you to share in these processes. With this blog, Frog in Hand company members are working to unveil questions and make our “behind the scenes” processes more visible. I’m excited to contribute to that dialogue.

Image of Colleen Snell by Francesca Chudnoff

When I contribute to this blog, I promise to try my best to keep it inspiring and light - but I might fail from time to time. If you are familiar with the arts, you know optimism can be hard. I was at a wonderful conference a few months ago - “Keep on Moving,” hosted by the DTRC (the Dancer Transition Resource Centre). Two things came out of this conference - an understanding that the arts industry exists in a precarious place, and resources are limited. However, the arts community is resilient - we are creative at finding ways of doing things - making budgets stretch and working in unusual ways.

So I will personally use this blog to address those themes: precariousness and resilience.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog so far you know but - GOSH it's been a busy summer for Frog in Hand so far! I’ve been supervising seven dance artists and a production manager as they “apprentice” with Frog in Hand’s summer company. I collaborated with these folks as we created, facilitated and directed performances in local schools, and at an outdoor festival. Next we will be performing for FREE at Mississauga's Living Arts Centre for Canada Day, and then we will be presenting a 60-minute dance work 8 times at the Toronto Fringe Festival (Heart of Matter). The first four weeks of this summer has been packed, emotional and beautiful… I’m very grateful and overwhelmed in the face of all this delicious work – and we are only getting started!

This summer Frog in Hand is performing, creating and exploring dance in so many different contexts - most of them site-specific. I’ve been reflecting on site-specific work as a creative practice, and a political one. For example, we invite play into our built environments - outdoor theatres, basketball courts, splash pads and green spaces are built for play. Yet, when it comes to making dance in these public places, they can be hard to navigate, politically loaded, and in fact, they can be hard to share. Artists need permits, permissions, rain plans, fire plans – we need to navigate storage - safety. We need to explain what we are doing, often to folks who do not know why we want to dance in a non-traditional site. These things are generally in place and understood in a theatre, so I often wonder why I present work elsewhere.

Is it really worth the trouble?

Yes, it's worth it. I believe histories and values are expressed by public spaces (through a built environment), so when I create site specific work, I need to listen carefully and think about what is already happening there before I create. When I enter a space, I find questions. Who does this space “belong” to? Who has a “right” to be here (and why)? Are there folks who are often seen here, folks who are invisible? Are there barriers stopping certain folks from being in a public space? What kinds of activities are banned, frowned upon or discouraged? For instance - if I want to dance here, I might be told I cannot. Furthermore, if this is an abandoned, unloved or isolated location, how did things end up this way?

Image of Colleen by Francesca Chudnoff

Mississauga, can be beautiful, but I find I’m drawn to spaces that are neglected, and some that are highly-regulated (I’ve got to get permits or pay a fee to perform there, which is stressful). Many spaces I create for are remote, and I really have to motivate people to come out. I think the importance of public art is to counter these challenges with courage, tenacity and optimism, to be brave as we research where community can happen, what kinds of communities are happening, and where hubs of activity can support our artistic practice. With this in my heart (or mind), I work to “do my art” in public spaces as a means of normalizing contemporary dance, which is underrepresented and often misunderstood.

At Frog in Hand I work to forge unique encounters, thoughtfully marrying place and practice; bringing contemporary dance to spaces people already like to go.
Image by Alvin Collantes

In the midst of this whirlwind summer – a summer of adventure, performance, education, creation and research – I am pausing to assess what is important, and here it is: I aim to engage my community. I aspire to reclaim public space and advocate for audacious, creative risk taking. I dream of a Mississauga where artists are sustained by their practice, where artists can live affordably with a decent quality of life, where artists can be connected to enthusiastic audiences, where artists feel their work is valued and their voice is heard. Actually, that sounds like a great thing for any city. Maybe when I participate in this blog, I can try to begin conversations about what dance is, what it can do, who it can involve, and where it can happen. I want to share the transformative, powerful presence art can have in every life.

- Colleen Snell


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