HSA activists celebrate their "strength, size and attitude" as part of Big Dance

The Report: September 1998 vol.19 num.2


A dance troupe in Victoria that -celebrates large womensstrength, size and attitude" is proving that you dont need to be young andwaiflike to participate in the dance world.

-Big Dance," founded by performer and choreographer LyndaRaino, is a group of eight large-sized women. The troupe performs modern dance piecesaround the province, and two of the dancers ... Jude Marleau and Susan Richings ...are HSA members.

Marleau is the volunteer program coordinator and a relief counsellor atVictoria Transition House, and Richings is a social worker at Ladysmith Hospital. The twodancers say their repertoire ranges from -outrageous comedy with all of us wearingtutus, to much more serious pieces that really show our abilities as dancers." Theircollection of about twelve pieces incorporates dance theatre, ballet and modern dance.

This fall, four television stations ... the Womens TelevisionNetwork, Vision TV, the Knowledge Network and Saskatchewan Television ... will air aone-hour documentary about Big Dance. Jointly produced by filmmakers Sherry Antonishen ofLost Dog Productions (who also directed) and Hilary Jones-Farrow of May StreetProductions, the documentary will feature interviews with the dancers and footage fromsome of their performances. Exact dates and times have yet to be announced.

Members of Big Dance range in age from 24 to 49. -Most of thedancers in our group are a bit older," explains Marleau. -I think it takes awhile for large women to accept their body shape and feel comfortable enough to dance andperform."

In fact, both Marleau and Richings agree that what makes Big Danceextraordinary is that it celebrates the abilities of large women in a medium thattraditionally places significant emphasis on thinness. For most women who do not have thetypical body shape of a ballerina, the dance world seems like an unwelcoming place.-As a group of women normally shut out of this world, the opportunity we have is justincredible," Marleau says.

Growing up in Prince George, Marleau always wanted to take danceclasses but never had the opportunity. As an adult, she didnt feel comfortablejoining a regular dance class but her apprehension disappeared when she discovered themembers of Big Dance were all shapes and sizes.

Marleau says Big Dance has increased both her confidence and fitnesslevel. -We challenge peoples stereotypes ... both in terms of what largepeople can do and what the dance world looks like."

Richings agrees. She says she didnt feel intimidated when shejoined Big Dance because she was in a room full of her peers. -We all appreciate andadmire women with full figures," she explains.

-Its a wonderful feeling of cohesion and belonging. Whenwere together, its a very special time. Were one unit with a commongoal." Richings says the combination of flexibility, strength and art is what makesdancing such a -mood elevator."

-When you think about what weve shared over the past threeor four years, its incredible," she says. -The hard work, the scary stuff• they come from our experiences together."

While she now enjoys the thrill of performing, Richings didntalways feel this way. In fact, during her first year with Big Dance, she didntperform on stage, fearing she wouldnt know what to do. When she finally took theplunge, Richings says it was -like a duck taking to water."

-There is something magical about being on stage and beingrecognized," she says. -Weve always had very appreciative audiences."

The highlight was their performance at the World Dance Alliance inVancouver one year ago. Big Dance was the only non-professional dance group to perform atthe conference. This year, the troupe has been invited to dance at a conference inPortugal but unfortunately cannot attend due to the cost. In their place, Raino willattend with a video of their performances.

In addition to their involvement in Big Dance, both Marleau andRichings are active members of HSA. Marleau played a key role when HSA organized VictoriaTransition House in December 1997 and is currently a member of their bargaining committee.Richings is both chief steward at Ladysmith Hospital and the district representative forthe Central Vancouver Island Health Region.