Dandelion Dance

The Dandelion Approach


Director of the Dandelion Dance Performance Company and Neighbourhood Arts 150 artist-facilitator, Kelsey Walsh, shares some of her thoughts regarding community-engaged arts.

Dandelion Dance has profoundly shaped my work as a community-engaged artist. Integrating arts and developmental psychology, the Dandelion approach focuses on attachment – building authentic relationships with participants. I have experienced time and again how attachment sets the stage for dance – and other arts – to become an incredible tool for self-discovery, creation, and leadership.

What exactly do I mean by attachment? As an artist-educator, I aim to create a context for connection, taking the time needed to listen and learn about my participants, and for my participants to listen and learn from each other. This is how a space can materialize where participants feel comfortable opening up and speaking through their art making.

arms up dandelionTaking the time to build relationships allows those in a creative process to recognize their shared vulnerabilities. From this vulnerable place, participants let go of judgments that tend to be responsible for blocking creativity, or growth, or friendship.

Relationships also build trust and trust is key when it comes to capacity building. Although 5 weeks is a short time-span, my goal with the Neighbourhood Arts 150 project is that the girls I work with want to trust me and that they truly feel I am on their side. When those we work with trust our judgment, they begin to recognize their capacity because we have recognized it.  When participants see themselves through our eyes they become the powerful and creative artists we glimpsed from day one!

kelsey dandelionWorking with Dandelion Dance has also taught me that there are times when participants’ capacities are hidden. Too often girls don’t believe in themselves and it can be hard to help them feel confident enough to collaborate and contribute. In these cases, we have to imagine because, ultimately we know each girl has so much to share. Dandelion Dance’s approach is this:

…imagine what you wish to see in your participants,

…tell your participants you see their capacities – even when you don’t –

…and be patient.

When you see and speak to the beauty in a dancer – and there is always beauty – they will begin to relax, let go, and dance beautifully!

Whether or not you are the most exciting and innovative artist or the most compelling and passionate teacher, I believe you have to be in genuine relationship with those you work with in order to truly engage in social change.

A community, just like a child, already has everything inside them. Our role, as community-engaged artists and practitioners, is to create a space where the discovery of human potential can unfold.

Kelsey Walsh, Director of Performance Company, Head of Youth Programs








Dandelion Dance

Dance: The Universal Language

“I think it’s wonderful to see other people doing dance, something that I love so much! I loved how most of the participants are brand new to dance and yet very brave to try something so different!” says Maya of Dandelion Dance Performance Company. 

Young girls from Ottawa West are creating art and dancing their way to self-expression while exploring what it means to be Canadian in 2017. This Neighbourhood Arts 150 project entitled Celebrating Canada Through Diversity and Dance is a series of six workshops lead by Dandelion Dance Company that will culminate in a final performance.

The first three workshops took place from April 9th – April 23rd, after finding participants through the Homework Clubs taking place at the Pincrest-Queensway Community Health Centre. “Working with the partners was really great, they’ve been very supportive and it’s been great to see how much work towards community engagement there is in Ottawa West.” said Kelsey Walsh, director of Dandelion Dance Company.

The workshops themselves are multi-disciplinary, with dance as the foundation, as it is with Dandelion Dance Company. “With these workshops and with such a limited time to interact with these girls, integrating other art forms has been a great way for them to feel comfortable and confident. For those whom dance is not their most comfortable art form, the other arts provide a means for them to express themselves comfortably. The final product will be the outcome of these multi-arts workshops.”

Workshop 1 emphasized connection and taking risks. The participants stepped out of their comfort zones to dance together, share perspectives, discuss what it means to be a girl in 2017 in Canada, and support each other.

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Workshop 1 – Words shared on the topic of what it means
to be a girl in Canada in 2017 – Photo by Kelsey Walsh


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Workshop 2 – Self-portrait – Nada 15 – Photo by Ludmylla Reis


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Workshop 2 –  Self-Portrait – Nour 13 – Photo by Ludmylla Reis
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Workshop 2- Self-Portrait – Maya 15 – Photo by Kelsey Walsh

In workshop 2 they took powerful self-portraits that have also shed light on how these Canadian girls see themselves. They’re looking to find a way to integrate these photographs into their final performances.

In Workshop 3 explored two themes: dreams and place, the girls worked at bringing both their dreams, and their ideas about ‘where you live and how this impacts you’, onto paper. Two collective collages emerged, maps of sorts, which chart the thoughts of 17 girls when it comes to how they see themselves and how they see the world. Later, on their feet, the girls created frozen pictures representing what they wish for and what they celebrate in the here and now.

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Workshop 3 – I Dream of Being – Photo by Ludmylla Reis
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Workshop 3 – I Dream of Being – Photo by Ludmylla Reis 

The girls used their bodies as puppets, taking turns being the puppet or the puppet master. This exercise allowed participants to illustrate how sometimes they don’t get to be in control of their situation, of what they want or where they live.

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Photo by Ludmylla Reis

“Together we realized that some of us love where we live and some of us feel shame. We discovered that most of us have a thirst for travel. We confirmed that all of us want to make our lives, our neighbourhood, our communities more equal and safe for women.”

In workshop 4 the girls will focus on compiling all that they have explored so far and will begin to create their final performance.“This is an amazing learning opportunity for everyone involved. Every girl taking part has a different background, a unique story, and it’s important that they all have a chance to express their story, their individuality. It is especially important to have the voices of new Canadian girls included in the 150 celebrations. I’m looking forward to seeing the girls take on more agency, and seeing what they create.”Want to see the final outcome of the workshops?

There are two performances happening at the Bayshore Shopping Centre on May 13th at 11:00AM and 2:00PM. Click here for more information.






Baking Bread and Breaking Barriers in Hintonburg


A new theatre and community building project is rising out of the kitchen at the Parkdale Food Centre in Hintonburg under the guidance of THUNK!theatre. This Neighbourhood Arts 150 project entitled bread school is a series of five workshops that invite participants to take part in a group a bread making lesson.

bread school is an extension of our performance bread, which we presented a few years ago at Undercurrents,” explains Geoff McBridde, co-founder of THUNK! Theatre. “I had just started making my own bread I found it to be a kind of transformative process. Karen Balcome and I wanted to find a way to theatrically make bread and involve the audience. Bread itself has a lot of different ties to religion and myth, and the sharing of food figures prominently stories across cultures, so it seemed like a good fit.”

While THUNK!’s original performance centred around the narrative of a brother and sister leaving the neighbourhood and sharing recipes with their neighbours, bread school is unscripted. This performance is about audience participation; the participants become the characters and help write a human recipe of each workshop.

“For each bread making lesson we look at the recipe and the workshop leader, then create a recipe outline around a theme for the day, such as change and transformation. While the bread is baking, the group fills in the ingredients or actions based on their lives and experience in the workshop. The human recipe becomes a living document of the people who took part bread school and will be put on display during the second part of the project, a remounting of bread as The Happening from May 3rd to 5th.”

During these workshop participants don’t only learn to make bread but get the opportunity to connect with members of the community. Each workshop is capped at 12 participants, half of whom are Parkdale Food Centre neighbours and four from the community at large. The collective learning and then creation of the human recipe helps bring these different groups of people together.

Working with Parkdale Food Centre for Neighbourhood Arts 150 has turned out to be a perfect match for THUNK! because the values of the performance are very much in line with those of the organisation.

“We’re learning a lot hanging out at the Parkdale Food Centre. They are really passionate about giving people the resources to eat well and teaching them how to prepare their own food. The community members who use the centre area incredibly curious and they want to learn the skills. It is a really productive partnership because we are learning from and helping each other.”

Throughout the project, THUNK! participants will make a variety of breads with bread makers of diverse backgrounds and bread making levels. In the first two workshops, participants made sourdough with Jo-Ann Laverty from Cake Lab Ottawa, and Feteer Meshaltet with Hala Goname from Ottawa Egyptian Kitchen. Two of the workshops will be led by neighbours of the Parkdale Food Centre, one from Sudan and the other from Afghanistan, who want to develop their leadership skills, and in a third Pam from Bread by Us will show participants how to make sprouted rye bread.

Want to take part in THUNK!theatre’s bread school at the Parkdale Food Centre? Click here to register on Eventbrite (spaces are limited).

Find a Neighbourhood Arts 150 project near you!