Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It moves and breathes in its own vibrant tempo, creating a safe haven for artists of all eccentricities. Dancers of  all genres flock to this city to spread their wings – literally and figuratively – and together they make Toronto an even more beautiful place.

Alena Loboda – Strangers in Toronto

1. What is your earliest memory of dancing?

My earliest prominent memory of dancing is rehearsing the “Fairy of Tenderness” variation from the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” with Elena Dmitrieva at Victoria International Ballet Academy. I was thirteen and this was the first opportunity ever given to me to dance a solo on stage. When she first showed me the variation I felt both happiness and excitement, but also incredible tension, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it! I worried her time with me would end up being a waste and I didn’t know how I was going to live with that… But, she didn’t give me the opportunity to dwell on those thoughts in rehearsal and taught me to just lean into the work full-heartedly. Before I knew it, I was executing steps that were difficult and completely new to me and creating a magical character. It was the beginning of a new understanding of what ballet really was.

2. Could you please share a bit about your dance training and aesthetic?

I began my training in Toronto looking specifically for teachers in the Russian Vaganova Method. I am grateful to all the teachers here in Toronto that worked with me in day-time and evening programs, open classes, summer intensives and private classes and ultimately prepared me for my acceptance into the Perm’ State Choreographic College in Russia at 18. I also did a traineeship at the Kiev State Ballet Institute, and one year at Koltun Ballet Boston. All of these were natural steps in which I looked for maximum exposure to the Vaganova technique and school of artistry and, of course, maximum workload to make up for my late start in ballet (at thirteen).

3. What inspires you as a dancer?

What a difficult question! Many different things… Emotion. Beauty. Story… Different sources inspire me at different times.
My dreams, my surroundings, my poetry will often light the spark of inspiration. Sometimes it’s as simple as a conversation that leaves me with lingering thoughts. Another great one is watching other artists- of any art form- perform or create art. Super inspiring!
Of course my inspiration also comes from my training, repertoire I have performed in the past, and the many, many ballets I have watched.
When it all fails, music is a great fire for rekindling inspiration. Sometimes I listen to the same track over and over again to understand what it needs from me, so to speak.

4. Why does dance matter?

Dance is the possibility to embody any emotion, image, character, or story in a language that anyone has the means to understand. It reminds us that each physical body is an instrument of art. For dancers, it frees the soul and pushes boundaries in both creativity and physical execution. For dance audiences, it provides an escape, it brings energy and inspiration. Dance captivates audiences with human movement that has been pushed past the ordinary and used to create a new world. It teaches us that our tongues and our typing fingers are not the only way to express meaning; and I think this is even more important in the modern world. Finally, dance gives music greater colour and new purpose; and dance expresses culture: modern or ancient, popular or unknown.

5. In your opinion, what is special about the dance scene here in Toronto?

The wide variety of small dance companies and collectives that work in diverse styles from all over the world certainly make the Toronto dance scene special. I am always discovering new dance groups both recreational and professional, and this is exciting and inspiring.

6. What are some things that you’d like to see change/evolve in our dance ecology?

I would like to see wages and overall standards of work improve for professional dancers, teachers, and choreographers. The majority of my colleagues in this city are freelance contract workers or self-employed. Most take on as many different dance projects as they can, including those in another dance style, and are often forced to find non-dance related work in addition, in order to make ends meet. A byproduct of the dance sector’s low wages is that there is an especial lack of support for dancers during time between contracts where continuing to train, create, and rehabilitate is very important to continuing your growth as an artist. Overworked and underpaid artists do not contribute to the dance sector as much as they could, not to mention that many leave the field entirely as a result of these serious issues.
I would also love to see the Lights Dance Festival continue to evolve, expand and inspire other initiatives that allow the creators of the Toronto dance scene to come together.
The Lights Dance Festival gave members of the Toronto dance scene, including myself, the freedom and unprecedented opportunity to put themselves forward and present their unique takes on a unifying theme, in an evening of newly created dance. This is so special and valuable to dance ecology and I truly hope for Lights Dance Festival’s continued growth and success.

7. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I am definitely still figuring that out! I see myself creating, creating, and creating.