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Karen Kaeja: Choreographing ordinary people

A Wink o’Kerrs was choreographed by Karen Kaeja.

Diana Renelli

Choreographed by professionals but performed by local non-dancer residents in the front yards, porches and courtyards of their own homes in Seaton Village, Porch View Dances is a community production involving a tour guide and an audience of roughly 300 people per performance. We spoke to Karen Kaeja, the creator and co-director (with husband Allan Kaeja) of Kaeja d'Dance.

Can you explain how Porch View Dances came into being?

We were having a Kaeja d'Dance staff meeting, which happens in our living room. There are big bay windows in the front. We were in a budget meeting – something that allowed my mind to distract itself a bit. I was looking out the window, and I began to wonder about what went on in the house across the street. I thought about their lives becoming a dance, flooding out the door and onto the front porch and into the front lawn. What if I brought on choreographers that were sensitive to working with people who have their own vocabulary and lives and turned it into dance, through the eyes and aesthetics of a choreographer?

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The homes with children would probably have a fair amount of dancing going on already. Why do kids instinctively dance?

I've only been pregnant twice, but there's a lot of activity that goes on in the belly. Whether I'm in motion or still, that baby is in motion. There is sound in there, not only from my body but the baby's. The heart and all other systems of their body is pulsing. Then they come out, and babies are always moving, but now to music and other external sources.

Kids love to shake, rattle and roll, but somewhere along the way, as they grow up, they lose that joy of dance. Any theories on that?

It's not that way with all cultures. But, yes, I agree with you. Certainly I was brought up in a family and culture where dance was not a regular part of my day-to-day or weekly activity. Also, parents try to get their children to stay still. And it's etiquette in the classroom. Later, children become afraid as young adults, with all the other oddities and awkwardnesses of growing up, and psychologically begin to inhibit themselves. So, it's not an encouraged way to be in everyday life, unless it's an allowable environment. It's a bit sad.

With Porch View Dances, you're expanding that allowable environment, right?

Yes. I have chosen to jump outside the place of reality. I try to move outside of the box and against the grain.

More than that, if we see dance as a metaphor for normal human interaction and relationships, you're putting actual dance back into the choreography of everyday life.

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Totally. I see everything as dance. It could be two people having coffee. There's a small dance going on inside our body all the time. So, at the end of each performance we gather everyone who has witnessed the houses and walked through the whole area and learned anecdotes from the tour guide that brings the audience through the street to see the dances. They all end up in something we call Flock Landing, in a community park. I would say 70 per cent of the audience ends up participating in this 20-minute dance together that is guided by four dancers.

Can you describe what happens?

It's very slow and organic, involving movement that is somewhat meditative, but also exuberant. Everybody literally swarms into it. The people become very comfortable when they watch non-dancers perform. It makes people think, "Hey, I can embody myself too. I can go out there and enjoy the lust for movement." It's just so beautiful to watch.

Porch View Dances runs July 16 to 20 (Wednesday to Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.) PWYC. Audiences led to four dwellings, starting at 92 London St.

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