Founded in New York, the Dance Against Violence project was founded in Montreal in 2010 thanks to the initiative of Amélie Dionne-Charest, daughter of the former Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest. Interested in this type of approach in Quebec, he formed a partnership with dancer, choreographer and artistic director Kathy Casey and other community actors.
In 2018, workshops offered to female victims of domestic violence were opened to their children. The goal is to regain a form of security through play and dance. “It evolved a lot the following year, we set them up with two partners [des maisons d’hébergement]. In 2019-2020, there was a pandemic and stopped our departure in relation to this project,” said Christine Charles, production coordinator at Mont-réal Danse and head of the Dance against violence program.
Through dance and relaxation, the project revolves around four goals: to redefine the body as a place of comfort and safety, to give back to women the possibility to make their own decisions, to give women back confidence in others and finally offer them the opportunity to imagine a better future through creativity. The initiative is also intended for women who are victims of other forms of violence such as sexual, gender or racial violence, or who struggle with homelessness, mental health or addiction problems.
Children’s Play and Pandemic Adaptations
Mother-child dance workshops are developed through play, entertainment and listening. “We start by warming up, meeting, as we do for workshops with women, we will use more images to move and activate the body. Then we move to exercises that require more that creativity and invention,” explained dancer-moderator Rachel Harris. In a moment, a bond is created, an atmosphere of relaxation and joy gradually emerges. “This is special because they are in a situation of great crisis and they have a lot of things to sort out. Before leaving their troubled home, they are often stressed and also in a protective mechanism, not in a state of play with their child,” says Rachel Harris.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the two Dance Against Violence projects have succeeded, but they have had to deal with health obstacles in often limited areas and maintain contact with residents of some shelters, added Christine Charles . To remedy the situation, virtual workshops were created to bring women out of their isolation.
“The virtual workshops are like a lifeline for many of them. On the one hand, it allowed them to continue the journey towards their recovery through a regular moment of well-being and in addition to breaking their isolation,” said Christine Charles.
It feeds us a lot to share our body knowledge and imagination, in a very concrete way with people who really need it.
Despite the adaptations, the participation rate has still decreased since 2020. The Dance Against Violence team is not only counting on the complete continuation of face-to-face activities with former partners who are essentially shelters, centers that community, but also women’s centers such as the Montreal-East–Pointe-aux-Trembles women’s center. The organization also wants to develop new partnerships. Montréal Danse now has seven regular partners, residences, but also community centers and school groups.
Dancer for 30 years and moderator for the organization, Rachel Harris continues to give some online classes even as in-person ones are slowly being phased out. For him, the new arrangements put in place during the pandemic offer another option for mother-daughter dance workshops. “We did workshops through Zoom, which meant that the children participated a little with their mother. The dynamic was very different because they were at home, they came back, they left the room, played and went back to the workshop” , says, amused, Rachel Harris.
Following a situation of domestic violence, the body and spirit are often injured, women are afraid and feel bad about their bodies. The workshops try to bring some security and relaxation for these women and their children who are collateral victims. “Often what you hear is that you see your body as a place of safety and not as a place of battle,” says Ms. Harris.
Rachel Harris teaches with passion at Dance Against Violence and is thrilled to be able to offer these women the tools to relax, relearn how to listen to themselves, but also have fun and connect with their creative power. “It’s very fulfilling for us to be able to share our knowledge of the body and imagination, in a very concrete way, with people who really need it. Dance Against Violence will benefit everyone, not just people in crisis,” said Rachel Harris.