Thursday, 21 September 2017

Jamaican Choreographer Teaches Dancehall at Canadian University

By Neil Armstrong
Judy Madarasz and Mikhail Morris of Ketch Di Vybz at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Photo contributed
Jamaica-born, Vancouver-based dancer and choreographer, Mikhail Morris, has embarked on a new venture – he’s teaching a new course on Jamaican dancehall at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
The university is hoping that the course will attract members from the black community to its arts programs.
Morris, 28, is teaching “FPA 120: Introduction to Dance Forms: Contemporary and Popular Subject: Dancehall History and Fundamentals” during the fall semester, September -December 2017, at the Vancouver campus.
Raised in Kingston, Morris is a graduate of Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts and co-director of Ketch Di Vybz, a company he co-founded with Judy Madarasz in 2015.
The course is a combination of theory and dance.  Morris created the curriculum to teach the socio-historical factors that inspired the creation of reggae and dancehall music and culture.
“Through an overview of this history, students attain a better understanding of Jamaican culture and living experiences expressed through the actual music and dance. It is in this way that when the students begin to learn and practice the dancehall dance steps and listen to the music that they can contextualize the lyrics, vybz, and concepts for the steps,” notes the course description.
Morris says this is the first time that a curriculum is created whereby dancehall is the subject taught and graded in a top university in North America.
However, Henry Daniel, professor of dance and performance studies at SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts, says this is a new development in the university’s program but it is by no means a new thing to schools such as theirs across North America.
“What is new to our program is that we are able to offer in the same semester studio courses in Jamaican Dancehall, Hip Hop, and Bhangra on our three Vancouver/BC Lower Mainland campuses. These three cultural forms reflect the growing interest that our students have in alternate dance techniques...alternate in the sense that they differ from the regular mainstream contemporary/modern dance techniques that are usually offered.”

He said SFU has been teaching Hip Hop and Bhangra for quite a few years and the response has been extremely enthusiastic. 
Henry Daniel, Professor of Dance and Performance Studies at Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts. Photo contributed
Professor Daniel said they asked Morris to teach there “because he has been offering this movement form to dancers in the Vancouver area to great acclaim and I estimate that the same will occur in his classes for the students in our university.”

“Finally, I asked Mikhail to apply to teach this course in our program because I believe we could attract members from the black community to our arts programs, a community that I believe could offer a great deal to the cultural life of Vancouver as a whole,” he said.
Madarasz, a graduate of SFU and co-director of Ketch Di Vybz is the course assistant.
"I'm really proud of him and what this means for dancehall and Jamaica, as well as his career. I am grateful to have witnessed and supported his amazing journey and work ethic.”
She said this is pushing her “knowledge and skills as a dancer and teacher to higher levels."
Using dancehall vocabulary as a foundation, Morris said he grew up around dancehall culture and has seen how people fought to celebrate it.

A dancer for 17 years, Morris said he wants to create opportunities for others to tell their story through their culture, history, technique and style.

He has performed with several Toronto-based dance companies, including Ballet Creole, COBA, KasheDance, Newton Moreas, and Nafro.

Simon Fraser University was established in 1965 and has campuses in British Columbia’s largest municipalities – Surrey, Vancouver and Burnaby.
SFU says it has become Canada’s leading comprehensive university with deep roots in partner communities throughout the province and around the world.
[This story has been published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Sept. 21-27, 2017 issue.]

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