Puzzle Pieces and Dance Parties

Variety adds spice to the NaAC portfolio and fosters community with the Calgary arts scene.

A variety show and a dance party class are bridging the gap between disability arts and the Calgary arts scene. In fact, for the National accessArts Centre (NaAC), they’re two pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle.

Five members of the NaAC’s Dance Ensemble—Kathy M. Austin, Meg Ohsada, James Silcock, JorDen Tyson, and Dommix Round —conceptualized a TV variety show called Puzzle Pieces and performed it live at Princess Island Park in September during Calgary Pride.

The NaAC had never attempted the variety show format, but it’s one that Ashley Brodeur, Manager, Performing Arts with the NaAC, says could be a launchpad for more performances like it. 

“We’ve started offering these opportunities to our artists, and our goal is to make them the norm and keep that consistency going,” she says.

And who wouldn’t want to see more performances like the one from Austin Kats—Kathy M. Austin’s drag persona—who belted out her version of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in a Puzzle Pieces musical number? 

“It was awesome to see her bring that personality to life and add that layer of herself to the song,” recalls Ashley, adding that Kathy’s dialogue also included audio description, something she’s been perfecting since the DDD—Dance and Disability Digital project—in 2022. “It’s been wonderful to see Kathy bring those skills to her performances to make them more accessible for everyone.”

Of course, Kathy is just one piece of the entertaining puzzle that came together at Calgary Pride. 

“These five very different artists have an amazing stage presence and a collaborative work ethic,” explains Ashley. “They bring to the stage something that honors their individuality while creating a wonderfully cohesive piece.”

Connecting the Puzzle

In preparation for their Calgary Pride debut, the Puzzle Pieces performers met for a few weeks over the summer in creative residency to write and develop the show. Originality inspired them. 

“We didn’t want to present something that had been done before. We wanted to honor the space that we were performing in,” notes Ashley. With Pride driving their creativity, Ashley says they wove in some ideas from the NaAC’s Queer Accessible Arts Cabaret (QaAC) which included fashion and performance, drag, burlesque, and cabaret to produce a one-of-a-kind crowd-pleaser. “I was backstage, but I could hear everybody cheering and we heard some terrific comments after the show,” she says.

Dance Like Nobody is Watching

There’s another celebration in the works at the NaAC and it’s about having a good time while building confidence. Celebration: Dance Party is a movement class that explores social dance in all its awkward glory. Ashley and NaAC Instructor Chawna co-lead the class which explores Latin styles, line dancing, hip hop, freestyle, and even some great party moves.

But it’s not just about perfecting dance steps, says Ashley. 

“Social dance explores themes of connection, community, personal style, and partnering. There’s so much in social dance that provides freedom of expression. You can learn certain moves, but there’s always leeway to personalize your movement.” 

What’s great about this class is that it wraps with a dance party rather than a dance performance. It’s a good way to appeal to participants who love dancing without the pressure of an audience, and it’s a class the NaAC would like to run more regularly. 

“Social dance can be scary, but it also offers the element of personal expression,” says Ashley. “There are no rules and no boundaries and it’s exciting to see what happens in those classes. Dancing brings people together.” 

Community Connection

Celebration: Dance Party was so well received that Ashley and NaAC Artist Rachel Harding were invited to teach a workshop called Let’s Dance to Celebrate! at the Ups and Downs Teen and Young Adult Conference in September. 

“We can adapt this class to serve whoever is in the room,” explains Ashley. “It was such a beautiful experience to bring that class to a community that we don’t see all the time.”

Over the next year, Ashley says the NaAC looks forward to bringing more performing arts—including music, film, and dance—to new audiences. 

“We’re breaking down boundaries, increasing our visibility and making sure that we’re in the same spaces as every other artist.”

Now that’s one heck of a reason to jump up and dance.


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