1. The Montreal Scene

Despite financial constraints, the local dance community is prolific and passionate. Montréal is home to over 400 dancers, dozens of companies and a multitude of independent choreographers. There are several professional training programs, a strong network of ongoing and occasional professional classes for continued training and numerous venues where dance is presented. Various organizations offer support services to emerging artists and the arts lobby is well structured and strong.

The Montréal dance community is large, but not overwhelmingly so. It may take a while to get oriented and establish connections, but people in the milieu are generally willing to provide advice and support to newcomers.

1.1 Creators
The contemporary dance trailblazers of the eighties played an important role in establishing Montréal’s current reputation as a dance epicentre. Some of them now head their own companies: Ginette Laurin with O Vertigo, Marie Chouinard with Compagnie Marie Chouinard and Édouard Lock with La La La Human Steps. These three, along with bjm_danse (formerly Les Ballets jazz de Montréal) and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal are the “big 5” companies in the province based on their size, budget and activity. Initially, they all struggled for recognition and financial stability. Today, they present internationally, hire salaried dancers and administrative staff, and operate with annual budgets that reach into the millions.

Montréal is also host to a growing number of mid-sized companies that are anywhere from five to twenty years old. These include Daniel Léveillé Danse, Benoit Lachambre’s Par B.L.eux, José Navas’ Compagnie Flak, Lynda Gaudreau’s Compagnie De Brune, Zab Maboungou’s Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, Roger Sinha’s Sinha Danse and Danièle Desnoyers’ Le Carré des Lombes to name a few. More recent additions to the mid-sized company list are Dave St-Pierre and Rubberbandance Group who have qualified for operating funding within the past two years. Most of these artists started out as independent choreographers who eventually incorporated in order to become eligible for operating grants, among other reasons. Operating funding permits hiring administrative personnel on a full-time basis. The dancers that work with these companies are self-employed and work on a contract-to-contract basis.

There are many choreographers working today who are coined as “independent”, which is defined by an absence of operating funding and permanent administrative structure. These artists can have any number of years of experience, and range from established (Deborah Dunn, Lucie Grégoire) to mid-career (George Stamos, Chanti Wadge) to emerging. Every year, many emerging choreographers begin to ply their craft in Montréal as independents. Some take the traditional route of first working as dancers for several years before delving into choreography. Others may be recent graduates of one of the several professional or university dance programs.

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1.2 Presenters
Presenters can be divided into two general categories: those offering a regular season (usually September to April or May) and are often venue-based; and festivals, occuring yearly or every two years, at the same time of year. There are a half-dozen dance-exclusive presenters in Montréal, and about as many multidisciplinary presenters that include dance in their programming.

Among the season-based dance-focused presenters, Danse Danse/Productions Loma offers a season of national and international established dance talent using high profile venues such as Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts and Centre Pierre-Péladeau. Situated in its own theatre, which is housed in the same building as UQÀM’s dance department, l’Agora de la danse’s season serves predominantly local mid-sized companies and choreographers, but occasionally programs international works. Danse-Cité offers a variety of “formules”, dance creation productions that may be initiated by choreographers, dancers or musicians. Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle offers a full season of dance programming, combining local, national and international productions. Well-known in the emerging dance scene, Tangente packs their season with a four night run nearly every weekend with performances by emerging (often shared evenings), mid-career and established (solo evening) artists. Studio 303, a multidisciplinary work and performance space, fills its season with experimental artists and independent choreographers who present short works on shared programs and longer pieces, occasionally using other venues.

There are some emerging presenters who do not base their programming on a time of year, but organize specific events on a sporadic basis. A few of them, such as Pixel Projects, Wants and Needs danse (Piss in the Pool and Short and Sweet) and La 2e Porte à Gauche, give opportunities mainly to local emerging and mid-career artists.

Multidisciplinary venues that regularly program dance include Usine C, Théâtre La Chapelle, Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI), the Gesù and the neighbourhood-based Maisons de la culture (MDC). Occasionally, dance is presented at a primarily theatrical venue such as Théâtre de Quat’Sous or Théâtre du Rideau Vert.

If Montréal is a city of festivals, dance has its fair share of the market. Held yearly over two weeks during late-May/early-June, Festival TransAmériques (FTA) is international in scope and programs both choreographers and theatre directors. It is distinctly biased towards contemporary hybrid creation, at the confluence of dance and theatre. The OFF.T.A., held at the same time every year as the FTA, programs dance, theatre and hybrid creations. Geared more toward emerging artists, it provides good visibility and opportunities for your work to be seen by visiting presenters. Held every year in early fall, Festival Transatlantique (not to be confused with the FTA) provides many dance performances and film screenings in multiple venues.

Certain multidisciplinary festivals also reliably present dance. The Vue sur la Relève festival offers a performance platform to emerging artists in all performing arts disciplines every April. On the opposite extreme, the Montréal Highlights Festival in February presents a small number of high-profile dance companies. The Escales Improbables, a festival of ‘art without borders’, held every September, occasionally presents site-specific dance pieces in the Old Port.

Learn more about presenting opportunities for emerging artists (festivals, co-presentations, curated presenting, affordable rentals) in our Local Organizations Directory.

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1.3 Contact Events
Various performing arts ‘trade fairs’ exist where presenters converge to shop for shows. Dance companies can pay for a kiosk or the opportunity to perform at the showcase section of these contact events. Every second year, the International Exchange for the Performing Arts (CINARS) attracts a wide range of international presenters. Two similar organizations act on behalf of regional venues in the province of Québec; they are the Réseau indépendant des diffuseurs d’événements artistiques unis (RIDEAU), and the Réseau des organisateurs de spectacles de l’est du Québec (ROSEQ).

Contact events are costly to participate in and are mainly useful to established companies that are ready to tour an evening-length program. Emerging choreographers should nevertheless take note of these events for their inherent learning opportunities as well as the chance to show work at an “off” venue. It may seem confusing, but CINARS runs its own “off” event (with fees and a selection process), which doesn’t mean performances outside their circuit can’t be organized. Most festivals may also be considered contact events as attending presenters often ‘shop’ at off-events or showcases. Parcours Danse, organised by La Danse sur les routes du Québec, is a yearly showcase event where presenters sample the work of Québec choreographers.

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1.4 Arts Lobby
While Québec artists have always had a strong voice in defining their funding needs, few organizations actively take up the role of arts lobbyist. The Regroupement québécois de la danse (RQD) devotes itself to the development of professional dance in Québec and defends the interests of the discipline at the various levels of government. The RQD is a member of the Mouvement pour les arts et les lettres (MAL) which represents eight associations which, in turn, represent 14 000 artists and cultural workers. The MAL and RQD lobby for increased public funding so that artists’ work and life conditions will improve. The Canadian Dance Assembly (CDA) likewise lobbies on a federal level for dance artists across Canada. On a local level, Culture Montréal is a democratic citizen-based movement open to anyone with cultural concerns. Members are professionals and non-professionals interested in promoting and safeguarding the right to culture.

These organizations that fight for more financial support for the arts always need help, and the opportunities to volunteer time or donate money are always appreciated. Giving to your community by getting involved at another level besides your art making can be extremely fulfilling. You serve the dance community in a different way, and it will influence the way you approach the art form.

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1.5 Service Organizations
There are many organizations in Montréal whose primary or secondary goal is to provide support services for dance artists. These organizations will be invaluable resources throughout your professional dance career in Montréal.

Find local organizations, as well as presenters and festivals that program emerging choreographers, and similar organizations across Canada in our Directories section.

As Québec’s professional association for dance artists, the RQD offers a multitude of services. While emerging artists may or may not meet their professional criteria, it is possible and worthwhile to get an associated membership. Benefits include a training subsidy, an apprenticeship program, and a wide range of workshops from bodywork to grant writing. The RQD regularly solicits volunteer help from its members to sit on committees and brainstorm sessions. Again, this can allow you to meet new people and give your input in order to strengthen the services offered. For those whose artistic practice borders on other disciplines, the Québec Interdisciplinary Arts Network (RAIQ or Regroupement des arts interdisciplinaires du Québec) represents interdisciplinary artists and arts organizations, aiming to nurture the development of different interdisciplinary practices through various activities that promote research and experimentation, such as conferences, studies, training and networking events. The English Language Arts Network helps Québec’s English-language artists make connections with one another and to the services (workshops, grants, etc.) available to them through their extensive monthly e-newsletter ‘Elanews’.

Diagramme Gestion culturelle is a management service organization for a limited number of small dance companies annually. They also offer punctual help to independent choreographers for an hourly fee. Services include grant preparation, bookkeeping and all manner of paperwork – governmental or otherwise. Outiller la relève artistique montréalaise (ORAM) is a project initiated by the Forum jeunesse de l’Île de Montréal and the Conseil des arts de Montréal and housed in the former. ORAM works to facilitate artists’ access to financial support and information, their integration into the job market, the transfer of skills between generations and networking. They publish Artère, a website and monthly e-newsletter. Youth Employment Services (YES) is a non-profit community organization that delivers English-language job search and self-employment services to Quebecers. Recognizing the large amount of young artists in Montréal, they have developed a series of services for artists such as career counselling, business coaching and a start-up grant contest. A network of Carrefours jeunesse-emploi offers similar services in French, in particular that of Centre-Sud/Plateau Mont-Royal/Mile-End with services to young artists. The Dancer Transition Resource Centre (DTRC or Centre de ressources et de transition pour danseurs in French) exists to help dancers make necessary transitions into, within and from professional performing careers. Membership gives dancers access to counselling services and re-training grants, awards and bursaries. The DTRC also organizes the on the MOVE/ danse TRANSIT conference, an annual conference for the year’s dance graduates and self-taught dancers, welcoming them into the professional dance community, and offering them the skills, resources and networking opportunities they will need to make an inspired and informed transition into the profession.

The Bibliothèque de la danse is the city’s authoritative dance library, situated in the Maison de la danse Ludmilla Chiriaeff (also housing Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and the École supérieure de ballet contemporain de Montréal). Other organizations have very useful resource centres, including Tangente, the Québec Drama Federation, and Studio 303. Most are available for consultation on-site without a membership fee.

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1.6 Training / Rehearsal
Montréal is host to two university dance programs, as well as many other professional training programs. The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) offers a PhD, a master’s degree, a somatic education diploma and two streams at the bachelor level, teaching and interpretation, with a focus on creation if desired. Concordia University’s bachelor program emphasizes creative process and choreography. For non-university intensive training, the following schools have well reputed training programs: for contemporary dance there is LADMMI, l’école de danse contemporaine, and for ballet there are Ballet Divertimento and the École supérieure de ballet contemporain de Montréal. Each offers a college diploma (DEC or AEC) and/or high school dance/study programs. Collège Montmorency, CEGEP St-Laurent and Collège de Maisonneuve offer a two-year DEC specializing in dance, and Compagnie Nyata Nyata now offers a two-year professional training program in African dance and drumming.

Once you are out of the academic realm and in the work force, you can choose amongst several dance spaces in the city that regularly offer dance training and workshops. On-going drop-in daily technique classes are offered at places like Studio Bizz and other private rehearsal studios, as well as by the RQD, who organizes a 30-week schedule of morning contemporary classes given by a variety of local and international dance professionals. Circuit-Est, Studio 303 and Fleur d’Asphalte, amongst others, offer a series of workshops, intensives and classes (often pre-registration is required) which may cover anything from hula hooping to creative process to contact improvisation. Perfmax is a workout program specifically tailored for athletes, including dancers, and is accessible year-round in Montréal and Laval. As well as a technical challenge, professional classes and workshops provide a forum for dance artists to forge bonds, share information and be seen by choreographers.

There are also opportunities to hone your choreographic talents with the help of mentoring through participation in Montréal Danse’s yearly choreographic workshop, Circuit-Est’s choreographic mentorship or RQD and Studio 303’s periodic creation workshops for emerging choreographers.

Dance training during the summer months is less consistent, but there are still options: TransFormation Danse and O Vertigo’s summer intensive happen on a yearly basis, while other companies and choreographers will offer periodic summer workshops, like Pigeons International did in 2009. There are continued drop-in ballet classes at Studio Bizz, and of course the ever-present yoga, pilates or gym workouts!

The cheapest studio rental in the city is managed by the municipal arts funding body, the Conseil des arts de Montréal (CAM, formerly and commonly referred to as CACUM). Most private studios and spaces offering dance classes also rent out space by the hour. Listings for private studios for short rentals can be found on studio bulletin boards and on the RQD website. You can rent loft spaces monthly, but they are expensive unless shared and often need some amount of refurbishing for dance purposes.

Tips

  • Make friends and get your name and face seen. A lot gets passed on through word of mouth.
  • Volunteer with dance organizations in exchange for free studio time or access to shows.
  • Scan bulletin boards regularly at established spaces for information on shows, classes, auditions and calls for submissions.
  • Join the RQD, CDA, ELAN and subscribe to e-mail newsletters from ELAN and Artère (ORAM).

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