Karen Kaeja, co-founder and creator of dance company Kaeja d’Dance, always knew that non-verbal communication was going to play an important part in her life. Kaeja didn’t start dancing until age 18, when she entered the dance therapy program at York University which quickly transitioned into performance, but she says she was drawn to the idea of movement as a form of communication at a young age.
“I was always shy, and my way of communicating was not through words. I felt very comfortable with the idea of using the body as an expression,” Kaeja says.
After moving to Montreal and New York to pursue dance as a career, Kaeja moved back to Toronto permanently when she married her partner Allen Kaeja and the couple began to develop Kaeja d’Dance.
In the beginning, Kaeja said she mostly worked as her husband’s muse, helping develop his bigger works and focusing on smaller creations of her own. But now, both Kaeja and her husband choreograph and work on their own projects.
The pair has toured globally as dancers and choreographers. Their company has been commissioned to choreograph new works by groups such as The Edge in the U.K., Guelph Dance Festival, Ballet Jorgen Canada, BoucharDanse, and the Chimera Project.
One of the focuses of Kaeja d’Dance is to invite non-professional dancers to be part of the performances.
“The audience gets to witness their neighbours or people who are just like them who are not dancers engaging in the culture of performance art,” Kaeja says.
This philosophy of inclusion is a vital part of all of the company’s performances and choreography because Kaeja believes that dance should be for everyone.
“It’s important to be able to engage with people of all abilities because we are all human, we are all superior human beings that need to be witnessed and valued.”
All of this is evident in the upcoming Porch View Dances, a community-wide project that Kaeja conceived and initiated seven years ago.
“We hire choreographers and we match them with non-dancing families or inhabitants of a dwelling or people that want to come together,” Kaeja explains.
Each group of professionals and non-professionals will perform on a different porch within Seaton village this year, and the audience is guided from porch to porch. Porch View Dances will be held from July 18 to July 22.
Kaeja is also working on a long-term project engaging non-dancers with professional dancers through open workshops that will result in a 2020 performance.
And she is creating a new work for the live art performance component at the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair from July 6 to 8 in Nathan Phillips Square.