Earlier this year, the National Centre for Dance Therapy had the chance to sit down with Shara Weaver and Renata Soutter, co-founders of Propeller Dance, to discuss their work and their ambitious mission of changing the dance world, by adopting different vocabularies and representing a broad range of populations on stage.
Based in Ottawa, Propeller Dance is a dance company that has been recognized by its peers and its community as a pioneer in inclusive creations and teaching practices. Founded in 2007 by Alan Shain, Renata Soutter and Shara Weaver, it creates, teaches, performs and presents contemporary integrated dance, which they define as a dance specialization where dance artists of diverse minds and bodies create new dance and performances, drawing on various established techniques within the improvisation, theatre and contemporary dance genres.
Before founding Propeller Dance, the co-founders led recreational adapted dance classes for the Ottawa community at The School of Dance. As they realized that the participants wanted the opportunity to pursue their training at a professional level, Propeller Dance was born.
Today, Shara Weaver and Renata Soutter continue to manage the Propeller Dance company. Interested by the movement and the people, they fought against being recognized as a therapeutic program only and they are finally renowned for their innovative and inclusive artistic work in the contemporary dance community. By combining various artistic backgrounds with an inclusive creative process, they offer a human and artistic experience, which goes beyond the limitations of the dancers.
To this day, Propeller Dance makes accessible creative opportunities for all mind, bodies, and abilities. The company has kept true to its mission not only by diversifying and making its programs more inclusive, but also by making diversity and representation core values of its teaching and creativity team. From recreational classes to professional performances, its dancers are trained in improvisation, contemporary dance techniques and theatrical approaches.
A core commitment for the company is to give its eight professional dancers the opportunity to develop themselves and their style in the field of integrated dance. While there are three artistic leads, Shara Weaver, Renata Soutter and Liz Winkelaar, the dancers’ intuitions have a strong influence on the creative process.
A permanent residency and partnership with The Great Canadian Theatre Company has contributed to increasing its recognition in the national dance community and opened it up to a variety of new possibilities. As a result of an increase in performances, the company has redirected a larger share of their resources into production, costume making, and creative processes. Thus, the company now has a large repertoire of seven different productions they perform locally and on tour. Moreover, they have recently launched the first emerging choreographer program for artists with disabilities. In March 2022, they have presented the work of the third cohort of choreographers. Finally, they have also inaugurated a series of digital performances.
Propeller Dance is part of an inspiring change in inclusion and diversity in the professional dance community. Its work empowers and inspires not only its own artists, but also the larger performing arts community, by setting an example for a more diverse and inclusive world.