Sabrina Comanescu and Kaja Irwin, Family of Jazz | Photo: Noel Bégin

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks

By Meghan Power

Over the last 39 years Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ (DJD) reputation as a professional jazz dance company has grown locally, nationally, and internationally in the dance community. Primarily known as a jazz dance company, they also run Calgary’s largest recreational dance school with thousands of participants of all ages and abilities taking classes in a variety of genres.

Their newly renovated building, architecturally designed with dance in mind, is a growing community hub for many different dance groups and individual artists in Calgary. They also offer training for aspiring professional jazz dancers, outreach for inner-city schools, educational programming, and a dance program for people living with Parkinson’s.  


Every year, DJD relies on operating grants to support their dance programs and performances year-round. As part of the 2022 operating grant received from Calgary Arts Development (CADA), DJD was able to run three important programs that helped the company continue to develop artistically and connect with audiences despite the disruption of the pandemic. 


Dance on Film offered opportunities for dancers to continue working through and coming out of the pandemic: “Working with film was transformative,” explains Artistic Director, Kim Cooper. “There are things you can do in film that you can’t do on stage, allowing our dancers to play and use their imagination. Working with film also exposes new audiences to our work through platforms like the Calgary International Film Festival and other international dance film festivals.”  


DJD’s Dance Drive-in, offers audiences a fun alternative to a traditional cinematic drive-in and equally dramatic! “Our uniquely designed performance space, the breezeway, features a floor-to-ceiling, glass façade that allows us to put on performances that people can watch from the outside. Or in this case, from the comfort of their car,” says Cooper. 


Also, in 2022, DJD presented their first on stage, public performance since the start of the pandemic — a celebratory piece called Family of Jazz. “We invited guest choreographers Brandi Coleman, Melanie George and Lisa Latouche to join me in creating a new show filled with energy and joy to welcome audiences back into our theatre for live performances. The show featured a seven-piece jazz ensemble comprised of Albertan musicians including vocalist Karimah. It was an exciting moment for everyone to be performing live on stage, again. Unfortunately, we were forced to close the show early due to Covid outbreaks.” 


Funding from granting organizations like CADA has made it possible to keep programs running and to support dancers and staff through the pandemic. Kim Cooper feels strongly that the seeds they were able to plant over the past few years are now paying off: “We’ve been invited to one of the most prestigious dance festivals in North America, Jacob’s Pillow and we’re also in negotiations with the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) and Festival Arts Saint Sauveur (Quebec) as part of our commitment to invest in national touring. Being adaptable and continuing to explore, create, and share our work has allowed us to keep imagining the possibilities. Dance on Film and Family of Jazz are two incredible examples of how we’ve been able to raise our profile internationally — despite the challenging pandemic years.”