Vancouver-based dance artist Justine A. Chambers, pictured here with her son, Max, is presenting a series of dance workshops inspired by her grandmother, Delores Hutchinson, at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. (Photo courtesy Josh Hite)

Dance moves passed down through the generations

Vancouver dancer Justine A. Chambers leading workshops at Nanaimo Art Gallery this week

For the past few months, Vancouver-based dance artist Justine A. Chambers has been on the phone with her 90-year-old grandmother Delores Hutchinson discussing the dance moves of her youth.

Hutchinson grew up dancing in the ballrooms of Chicago’s South Side, and through their conversations Chambers recorded her grandmother’s descriptions of those dances and Hutchinson mailed her granddaughter a 48-song playlist stretching from Duke Ellington to Earth Wind and Fire.

Those songs are on display as part of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Across the Table, which explores collaborative works of art that demonstrate intergenerational learning. From May 15 to 18, Chambers will be at the NAG to put that music in motion with a series of dance workshops.

In the sessions, Chambers will work with participants to create new soul line dances that draw from Hutchinson’s dance moves.

“When you do line dancing, in my experience, you just jump in and you try to follow along and you learn by doing…” Chambers said, later adding, “It’s also this way of being really present in the moment and joining together with other people and also having other people hold you up. Because as you’re figuring out these movements it’s a way for you to rely on other people in a really uncomplicated way.”

More than creating new dances, Chambers said the workshops are about “holding my grandmother’s body in time and space.”

“She’s 90, she’s not going to live forever, even though that pains me to say that out loud,” she said. “So I just thought maybe this was the way for me to keep her sort of alive in other peoples’ bodies.”

Chambers said she’s hoping Hutchinson can make a guest appearance via Skype.

“But she’s very strong and if we’re doing something not right, she’ll be sure to say it,” Chambers said with a laugh.

WHAT’S ON … Justine A. Chambers dance workshops at the Nanaimo Art Gallery from May 15 to 18 from 3 to 4 p.m.

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