Dianne Montgomery is a Toronto-based tap dancer, choreographer, and composer who will present the world premiere of her commissioned work 'Softly Losing, Softly Gaining' which she has choreographed and composed. Her work will be performed at Meridian Hall, on October 6-8 as part of Fall for Dance North Festival. The show was to have first premiered in 2020 and then in 2021.
She considers performing her work on these evenings an honour and joy to be supported amid such powerful offerings. Given so much change over the last two-plus pandemic years, Dianne is appreciative of feeling respected and included by the Fall for Dance North team as she senses they want the best for and from the performers.
What struck me the most about our conversation was Dianne’s frankness in sharing her vulnerability as an artist. She feels quite an emotional attachment to the premiere of ‘Softly Losing, Softly Gaining’ as she sensitively compares it to the intimate act of giving birth to her work. Finding that vulnerability requires and encourages her sense of self and soul, particularly in the experiences of the last two years. Montgomery feels a deeply renewed sense of responsibility to bring heightened senses and awareness of her work to audiences, especially to those who may have felt a sense of isolation during this time.
When I inquired where Dianne completed her studies in tap dance, I learned something that I hadn’t realized about the art form. It is not just a three-to-six-week lesson twice a week with a recital at the end. Tap isn’t structurally built in a way where there is a particular school where to study tap for three or four years.
For Dianne: “Tap takes years and years and years of concentrated study and training, and it never really stops. A tap dancer doesn’t have a start and end date as there is always exploring and finding. Becoming technically proficient is a forever job. The beginning students study intermediate steps; the intermediate students study advanced steps, advanced students work to be professional and professionals study beginning steps. It’s cyclical in nature.”
She has performed, taught, and presented her choreography across North America and Europe. She toured the world for two years with Canadian singer-songwriter FEIST as a tap dancer and shadow puppeteer, also performing on Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
As a professional artist, Dianne finds the world of dance intriguing. For her, there’s still so much to explore, learn and find in the expression and the connection to the history of the art. There’s a connection to each other in the world of dance, which is always exciting to discover. There’s a passion for dance, and there’s also the sheer joy of kinetic movement. Words sometimes cannot do justice to the art of dance like sauteed mushrooms and butter. (Writer’s note: I like that analogy)
One of the elements Dianne most appreciates is that of community with artists connecting with each other. There’s something profoundly healing in moving bodies together. In her case, there’s something profoundly healing about keeping time together as a tap dancer. Bonding and pro-social behaviour are captured in the world of tap dance, and Dianne considers it motivating to continue doing tap dance because it has a net positive effect socially:
“Tap dancing is profoundly powerful in its self-study ability to connect and heal. It requires a level of focus…discipline and commitment…it has lessons in it no matter what people may think…if you don’t tap dance or have had lessons then you don’t understand the richness of the form that you carry wherever. Tap teaches you how to fall and how to get back up. It teaches you perseverance and humility and boy does that lesson come back again and again.”
When it comes to the art of dance and performance, I think specifically of those husbands, boyfriends, and partners who might not hold any interest in dance and who may have been dragged to the theatre by their significant other. How can tap win over an audience when they walk into a theatre?
Dianne recognizes that dance will not be to everyone’s taste within an audience, but it is her genuine hope that as dancers, and people who place work on the stage in front of audiences, it is their job to be as authentic and to be as present in the moment. The artists are generous as they are trying to make a connection to the very generous folks who have shown up:
“We as artists don’t take that very lightly, not at all.” Montgomery firmly avows. “People who take their time, their money, their precious resources and come and spend an evening with us. As someone who creates for stage work, I take that responsibility super, super seriously.”
Dianne invites ALL audience members to see a dance show with open authenticity, which can be very disarming. Hopefully, if the dancers and artists are lifting the moment on the stage then the audience should be feeling that lift. If we’re on the stage feeling constricted, then the audience should be feeling constricted. This is the goal for all live shows, and yes, it can go astray if egos are involved as that builds barriers and creates a kind of different performative rather than experiential.
And how is Dianne feeling about this gradual return to live performance with Covid still hovering and hanging in the air?
Even before she began to address the question, Dianne acknowledges the incredible very real loss that so many have experienced whether it be loved ones, lost livelihoods, homes, partners, friends, family, or senses of self-regarding mental health. The picture has not been good for many.
Coming out of Covid, Montgomery likens it to a two-year hiatus, but within this hiatus there was a huge opportunity to deepen the practice of dance if you could or were able to spend time on it. Throughout the pandemic, a lot of artists had to move into other kinds of work to survive during this time. A lot of dance classes and work shifted to Zoom and other online platforms, and there were challenges regarding the time lagging in Zoom which was difficult to manage.
Dianne stated that dance artists got on the best they could with what they had. There were little silver linings, however. Virtual classes had the advantage of being global in connection, so Dianne was teaching classes that had folks from Germany, the UK, all parts of the US and all over Canada. These students began to know each other, and they may not have been able to make these connections had they not been in the Zoom room together.
For tap classes, yes, Dianne once again said the artists did the best they could given what they had, but the beautiful quality of the art of tap dance needs to be heard live through the ear and not through a computer or television screen. So much was learned about online classes and all the artists involved learned so much about humility.
And what’s next for Dianne once ‘Softly Losing, Softly Gaining’ is complete at Fall for Dance?
Dianne calls herself in process all the time. This is something she believes will be forever. She plans to continue working and to continue evolving as an artist and bring kindness into the equation of her work as she continues to learn while encouraging those around her to discover who they are and how they relate to what’s bigger than us.
A final statement she told me about artists made me laugh: “Every night I quit and every morning I get back up and put my shoes on again.” How often I’m sure all of us have felt about doing this and yet we get back up and go again?
To learn more about Fall for Dance North, visit www.ffdn.com.