Course:ARST575K/LIBR539H/Dance Collection Danse Archives

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Dance Collection Danse Archives
Type Community Archives
Focus Canadian Dance Heritage
Location 1303-2 Carlton St

Toronto, Ontario

M5B 1J3

Established 1980s
Founders Miriam Adams

Lawrence Adams

Abbreviation DCD

The Dance Collection Danse (DCD) Archives is a Toronto, Canada based community archives committed to preserving and sharing the Canadian dance story and legacy. DCD is the first project to acknowledge the foundation of dance history in Canada and is the most extensive archives and resource centre for Canada's collective dance heritage. The DCD archives collect source materials that document the dance community's activities and various art forms, including productions and choreography, by recording oral histories and collecting film and video recordings, photographs, artifacts, ephemera, and a myriad of other materials. In addition to being an archives, the DCD organization also encourages ongoing collective performing art initiatives, hosts physical and online exhibits, publishes books and magazines, hosts workshops, and works as a research centre open to the public.[1]


In 1983, former National Ballet of Canada dancers Lawrence and Miriam Adams launched a historic research project dedicated to reconstructing and preserving choreographies created by Canadian dance artists' work in the 1940s and 1950s. The project, which was initially titled ENCORE! ENCORE! began with six Canadian choreographers' works due to the availability of existing records (i.e., notes, film, photographs, music scores) and the original choreographers and/or dancers' availability.[2] These founding artists were: Gweneth Lloyd, Nesta Toumine, Nancy Lima Dent, Françoise Sullivan, Jeanne Renaud, and Boris Volkoff.[3]

As Lawrence and Miriam Adams were both dancers and archivists, they recognized the significance of uncovering and documenting Canada's dance story to ensure these legacies would be remembered and that this history would be accessible and available for research in the future. Their amassing of materials relating to Canada’s dance community falls in line with traditional notions of community archiving, in the sense that community archives are “collections of materials gathered primarily by members of a given community and over whose use community members exercise some level of control.”[4]

With the Laidlaw Foundation's assistance, DCD began gathering information on dancer's choreography and interviewing founding artists. It was an immense task and project to take on, but after three years of research, DCD rented studios and hired dancers to learn the works. DCD also hired three choreographic directors, David Earle, David Adams, and Daniel Jackson, to direct and supervise the reconstruction rehearsals. The rehearsals took seven weeks, including the notation and videotaping of the complete choreographies, and this documentation has set the guiding principle for Canadian choreography. DCD then put on the show, There's Always Been Dance, based on these founding dance performances to exhibit the unique story of Canadian dance. The performance took place at the Canada Pavilion at Vancouver's EXPO '86. The show featured Jackie Burroughs, Vanessa Harwood, and Ricardo Keens Douglas, and the forty-minute production was choreographed by Anna Blewchamp and written and directed by Jim Purdy.[2]

Through this reconstruction work and research, the DCD offices inevitably turned into a repository to store the Canadian dance history, and the Board for the Future Preservation of the Canadian Dance Record outlined a mandate for further collection and preservation initiatives.[2]


DCD collects and preserves the personal and organizational records of dance artists, arts professionals, and the general public.[5]

Their website states: "Dance Collection Danse serves to collect, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit artifacts and archival records that reflect and document the history of dance in Canada and contribute to an understanding of artists, activities, events, institutions, organizations and individuals relevant to the history of dance in Canada."[6] This statement is reflective of the archives existence as a entity that is "less overtly political and more an expression of a shared enthusiasm for the history of a place, occupation or interest," one wherein the collected materials represent "documents, photographs, historical materials and stories that would go untold and unshared if it were not for the individuals who have taken it upon themselves to preserve these histories."[7] While the creation and preservation of community archives are often motivated by a more "political or cultural concern with documenting otherwise under-voiced or less visible communities and challenging the absences and biases in dominant historical narratives," the DCD archives are a repository that emphasize community memory over political activism.[7]

The DCD physical holdings include 500,000 documents consisting of publicity materials, photographs, and personal journals, playbills, correspondence, clippings, scrapbooks, and scores. In addition, the collection includes 7700 oral history interviews (1100 hours), 2000 moving image recordings, 1000 books on dance, 1000 costumes, backdrops, props and artifacts, 1500 posters, prints, paintings and costume designs.[8] Dance archiving, like community archiving more broadly, presents challenges related to unique and idiosyncratic record keeping, a preponderance of ephemera, and the reality that "communities, as groups, do not always express themselves in traditional records formats," as demonstrated by the wealth and variety of materials listed above.[9]

Acquisitions and Donations

Like other community archives, the archives at DCD are largely “the result of active collection and creation rather than accumulation, and include documentary materials, material culture, published works and duplicates, oral histories and audio-visual material, ephemera, clothes, and works of art”[10], however the DCD does still accept donations, a process for which the details are outlined below.

A DCD Collections Committee exists to make decisions about acquisitions into the archives. These decisions are based upon the overarching collections mandate, as well as the following:

  • its relevance to the history of dance in Canada
  • its relevance to other artifacts and records in the collection
  • its condition
  • its exhibit and research potential and
  • Dance Collection Danse's ability to maintain the collection in a safe and secure environment.[6]

These broad qualifications are further narrowed down to specify that priority will be given to archival records and items that are associated with key periods, events, places, organizations, institutions, businesses and individuals.[6] Community archives also have a responsibility with relation to the communities they serve to recognize that "all forms of records can be accommodated within the archives" and acknowledge a "community’s need to write its own history, know its own roots and foster its own traditions," which DCD demonstrates a commitment to through the work of its collections and ongoing efforts, such as oral history projects.[9]

Arrangement and Access

The DCD website reveals that the archives maintain their collections in portfolios, organized according to the name of the donor, artist, or organization. It is stated that they are “currently building a catalogue for each portfolio using the Canadian Integrated Dance Database.” [11] This database is not accessible at this time by the general public, but in the future it aims to help companies and artists archive their materials by providing a “method of cataloguing the varied items found in a dance collection.” This database will serve as a national repository to upload records that can then be accessed worldwide, thereby bringing greater global awareness to Canadian dance heritage.[12]

At this time, the DCD archives offer a browsable inventory that provides brief overviews of the portfolios that make up the collections, and categorizes materials using PC for photocopied items, O for originals and E for electronic archives. The inventory list is a highly useful document that details relevant materials associated with each creator in the archives, the nature and format of those materials, and provides links to appearances of related materials on the DCD website or in DCD magazine.[11]

In terms of providing access, the website states that “in most cases, copies of paper documents, photographs and oral histories can be obtained by users.” Oral histories can only be accessed once recordings have been made available digitally, which can be initiated upon request. Visits to the research centre must be scheduled in advance as space is limited and many materials reside in off-site storage. Digital access to materials is not available through the DCD archives website, with the exception of those materials associated with past exhibitions and the information provided by the inventory list. For firsthand access to these materials, an appointment must be made by contacting the Director of Collections and Research.[13]

Book Collection

The DCD archives book collection amounts to more than 800 books that have been acquired through donation, purchase, or have been published by DCD. The DCD website provides a list compiled by Tal Aronson of the book collection. The items in this collection are not loaned out to patrons, however reference copies are available by appointment. [14]

Oral History Collection

The DCD archives contain over 1100 hours of oral history interviews. The oral history collection began in 1983 with the inception of the institution and the taping of interviews for the ENCORE! ENCORE! reconstruction project. Over time, dance historians have also helped to develop the collection by donating interviews with notable figures in the world of dance.[14] These recordings can be digitized upon request, and must be digitized in order to be accessed by researchers. The process of digitization is ongoing, however many of the oral history recordings can be appreciated through the DCD's virtual exhibitions.[14]

Oral history has been defined as “the interviewing of eye-witness participants in the events of the past for the purposes of historical reconstruction.”[15] Their inclusion in the DCD archives is important as they seek to “include within the historical record the experiences and perspectives of groups of people who might otherwise have been ‘hidden from memory.’”[15] The inclusion of these recordings is a key part of what makes DCD a community-focused endeavour as oral history "remains one of the most common and central components of community archives and community histories."[7] Oral histories are a form of "user-generated content" that enable the voices of individuals and communities to be amplified through a participatory model, and acknowledge that "each document, each collection has a multiplicity of meanings and understandings attached to it, not only by its creators and custodians but also by its users and the communities to which the collections refer and relate."[7] By promoting these interviews and stories, the archives locate expertise in the perspectives of community members and allow for history to be presented in their own words, and "on their own terms."[4]

Biographies of Prominent Creators in the Archives

The archives includes archival portfolios of various dance artists including portfolios for the following: Maud Allan, Kay Armstrong, Cynthia Barrett, Hylda Davies, Evelyn Geary, Saida Gerrard, Leonard Gibson, Hari Krishnan, Gweneth Lloyd, Jean Macpherson, Duncan Noble, Jean-Pierre Perreault, Ola Skanks, Linda Stearns, Menaka Thakkar, and Conchita Triana.

Community Programming and Services

Research and Research Centre Visits

Access to archival materials at the DCD archives is free of charge but requires appointments to be made ahead of time. Contact information and hours of operation can be found on the website. Staff members can also perform research services such as audio duplication, video duplication, photocopies, and photograph scans for a fee, plus hourly labour costs. A list of rates and services can be found through the archive’s services tab.

The DCD typically offers tours of their research centre for groups of up to 30 people but tours must be booked in advance. Rates and contact info can be found on their website.

Archiving Workshops

The DCD hosts an annual archiving workshop, titled The Grassroots Archiving Workshop, hosted by Director of Collections and Research Amy Bowring. The event is held in the DCD Gallery. However, those at the DCD Gallery realize that not all those who may be interested in attending these workshops may be able to travel to Toronto for the event, and therefore the event is also streamed globally. These streaming capabilities "have meant that formation of communities of shared interest ... no longer need to have a physical ‘meeting place’ but often come together online in a virtual environment, frequently bringing together people from very diverse and widely distributed geographic locations."[16] Additional group workshops can be arranged upon request and are part of the DCD’s annual national outreach program.[17]

The Grassroots Archiving Workshop is a continuation of the work of DCD co-founder Lawrence Adams and his book Building Your Legacy. Adams wrote the book in hopes of creating a “reference that demystified the archiving process [as well as a] foundation of best practices for tomorrow’s dance artists.”[17]

Dance Reconstruction

Staff at the DCD are able to assist groups wishing to reconstruct works by providing them with research materials, notation scores, and videos, and by putting groups in contact with original choreographers whenever possible.

To date the DCD has been able to assist in various projects including works by Judy Jarvis for Gina Lori Dance Enterprises and Denise Fujiwara, works for Danny Grossman's Dance Company’s guest artist program, a Nesta Toumine work for the University of Waterloo, and Anna Blewchamp’s reconstruction of Gweneth Lloyd’s 1942 work The Wise Virgins.[18]

These dance reconstructions are a “dynamic  way  in which  communities  creatively  and  collectively  re-envision  the  future  through archival interventions in representations of the shared past.”[19]


Every year, DCD puts on a number of exhibitions, both physical and virtual, drawing largely on their archival holdings and relationships with other archives, galleries, and artists. In addition to putting on exhibits at their own Carlton St. location, DCD also prepares exhibitions for other locations and loans artifacts to various institutions including Toronto’s Market Gallery, Confederation Centre Art Gallery, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives and at the Macdonald Heaslip Walkway of Theatre History for Theatre Museum Canada. Some recent loans include St. James Cathedral Archives & Museum, danceImmersion and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

One of the DCD’s special virtual exhibits is titled: Rocking the Boat: Celebrating Queer Content in Canadian Concert Dance. The virtual exhibit is inspired by the production of the same name, produced by Dance Collection Danse, which was held at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, also in Toronto, from November 22nd through April 1st, 2014. By collaborating with other local community archives as well as private archives, DCD was able to “illuminate an under-documented segment of Canadian dance”[20] and in doing so, allowed those individuals in question to represent themselves with their own voices, bodies, and records in order to help fill the gaps left by mainstream archives, which do not represent the voices of non-elites, the grassroots, or the marginalized.[16]

DCD Labs

DCD has put out a call seeking community input on the development of an open source platform for their digital collection. The call is highly inclusive, inviting input from any community members, be they dancers, information professionals, teachers, tech-enthusiasts, or just those with an interest in the project. Their goal is to connect as many people as possible and facilitate community engagement online through the development of what they call “a groundbreaking approach to archives, how they are used and accessed.”[21]

Dance Community

Although DCD's archives emphasize community memory over political activism, it is significant to point out that "Canada's dance history is filled with remarkable people who took risks and pushed the development of the art form. Dance history reflects moments in our political history, immigration history, military history, social history, feminist history and gay rights. It is an ephemeral art form and requires special care to ensure that the art and the artists are not lost to time."[22]

DCD began by primarily collecting and preserving prominent dancers' choreography; however, DCD now amasses contemporary dance, including various fringe and experimental art forms in the dance community to document Canada's entire dance story. Members of the Canadian dance community often respond to and build on past performances and events within the community. For example, in 2015, Amelia Ehrhardt was commissioned by the Curatorial Collective to create a new work in response to archival documents from 15 Dance Lab, Toronto's hub of experimental dance performance (1974-1980). 15 Dance Lab is a small studio space and arts organization that Miriam and Lawrence Adams founded. In Ehrhardt's performance, they "focused on [the Adamses] failed attempt to create a dance centre at the site of a decommissioned TTC [Toronto Transit Commision] building in Toronto in 1976. As her work recounts, the Adamses had envisioned this space, Studio Place, as a hub open to the Toronto dance community’s research, production and presentation needs. No Context not only asks what it means for dance in Toronto that this infrastructure was never realized, but also explores why we want such a space, what centralization and decentralization mean to a moving medium, and how social and political dynamics of power echo through all these questions."[23]

In a catalogue of the work, No Context, Ehrhardt reflects on the challenges of being a non-majority community and states that, “in comparison to what was happening here 40 years ago, some challenges persist—we still have this struggle with large-scale organizations eating funding and smaller ones struggling to begin.” Ehrhardt is hopeful and goes on to say that “the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the ARts have just announced big (controversial!) measures on this issue and maybe it will make a difference. On the good side of things, I feel that there is less animosity between large organizations and individual artists.”[24]


DCD relies on funding, and "gratefully acknowledges the support of our government funders, foundations, individual donors and the late Nick Laidlaw. Dance Collection Danse extends lasting gratitude for the generous bequests from the Lois Smith, Linda Stearns and Leland Windreich Estates."[25] To see a full list of donors who contributed to the DCD community archive please visit their funding page cited here.[25]


Dance Collection Danse is an archives that works to preserve and maintain Canadian dance heritage through the collection and preservation of the records and artifacts of notable companies, individuals, events, time periods, places, and organizations related to Canadian national dance history. In addition to being a prominent archival repository for the dance community, DCD mounts exhibitions, publishes books and magazines, offers archiving workshops, and provides research and reference services to the community. Through its extensive collections and vast array of materials, the archives demonstrates a commitment to their mission to preserve and share the Canadian dance story for dancers, historians, educators, students, and interested individuals worldwide.


  1. "DCD Archives". Dance Collection Danse. Retrieved 02/05/2020. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "The Beginning". Dance Collection Danse: Hall of Fame. 2020.
  3. "Beginnings: Encore! Encore!". Dance Collection Danse. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Flinn, Andrew; Stevens, Mary; Shepherd, Elizabeth. Missing or empty |title= (help) (2009). "Whose Memories, Whose Archives? Independent Community Archives, Autonomy and the Mainstream". Archival Science. 9: 71–86 – via ProQuest.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. "Mandate". Dance Collection Danse.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Archival Donations". Dance Collection Danse.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Flinn, Andrew (2010). "Independent Community Archives and Community-Generated Content 'Writing, Saving and Sharing our Histories'". Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Vol 16(1): 39–51 – via Sagepub.
  8. "Introduction". Dance Collection Danse.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bastian, Jeanette (2016). "Only Connect: Communities, Archives, and the Making and Keeping of Memory". Provenance, Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists. 33 no. 2: 5–16 – via DigitalCommons@Kennesaw State University.
  10. Flinn, Andrew (2015). Encyclopedia of Archival Science. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 146.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Collections Inventory". Dance Collection Danse.
  12. "Canadian Integrated Dance Database". Dance Collection Danse.
  13. "Research Centre Visits". Dance Collection Danse.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Book and Oral History Collection". Dance Collection Danse.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Perks, Robert; Thomson, Alistair. Missing or empty |title= (help) (2015). The Oral History Reader. London: Routledge. pp. 1–21.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Andrew, Flinn (2007). "Community Histories, Community Archives: Some Opportunities and Challenges". Journal of the Society of Archivists. 28: 151–176 – via Taylor and Francis Online.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Archiving Workshops". Dance Collection Danse.
  18. "Saving the Dances". Dance Collection Dance.
  19. Caswell, Michelle (2017). Inventing New Archival Imaginaries: Theoretical Foundations for Identity-Based Community Archives. California: Litwin Books. pp. 35–55.
  20. "Special Exhibits". Dance Collection Danse.
  21. "Join in - DCD Labs". Dance Collection Danse.
  22. "A Celebration of What We've Done, do, and Plan for the Future". Dance Collection Danse.
  23. Maltais-Bayda, Fabien (May 15, 2017). "Moving in Place". Canadian Art. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  24. "No Context or Studio Place or Decentralize or We Actually Maybe Right Now Have Everything We Need" (PDF). Nomadic Curatorial Collective: 16. Summer 2014. line feed character in |title= at position 49 (help)
  25. 25.0 25.1 "Many Thanks to our Recent Donors". Dance Collection Danse. Retrieved February 9, 2020.