Just like abstract art, Contemporary Dance isn’t something that is going to appeal to everyone.
“Contemporary dance is hard for people. It’s a challenge for an audience. It’s never going to have the same audience as a Broadway musical that has a lot of mass appeal. It won’t even have the same kind of audience as ballet. I think it can be baffling to people. It’s a bit of an acquired taste and you don’t know what you’re going to get,” says Kate Franklin.
The North Bay native, who now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia has made a career out of this art form. So much so, that Franklin has been recognized for her work with one of the top prizes that can be won as a contemporary dancer.
“It’s a theatre award called the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Female Performance in the Dance Division,” says Franklin.
“That was so cool because there aren’t many moments like that in contemporary dance where you get to feel like you’re at the Oscars where you go up on stage and accept the award and be recognized. At that point I had been working so hard for so long and it was very unexpected but super meaningful to me.”
The award came from a piece Franklin had worked on in 2013.
“It was a solo called Gotta go Church made by Valerie Calum and there was something about the place that me and Val were both in, in our lives and the way we came together, the intensity of what we wanted to work on. It was very magical and meaningful and we kind of poured our hearts into it and the resulting piece is just something I’m super proud of. Working with Val, on that piece and what came out of it was really powerful.”
It put a cherry on top of a lot of years of hard work for Franklin who thought for the longest time that ballet was her true calling.
“I’ve had amazing family support all along and they put me in the Barbara Treleaven School of Dance when I was five years old in 1985. I did ballet and I loved it and I continued that for a long time,” says Franklin.
“When I was 10, I took it to the next level and went into the Performers Youth Dance Company which is a special segment of that school for those who really want to do this as a full-time thing. I was taught tap, ballet, jazz, musical theatre and we would also go to competitions. We did competitions in North Bay and the region, but we also travelled to the United States, we even did a little tour in Spain. I was a 12-year-old going to Spain with my dance group and I remember just being so into it and being very excited about everything that had to do with dance.”
Franklin says dancing became her life and it was the only thing she wanted to do and at the age of 13 she enrolled in the Quinte Ballet School of Canada in Belleville. After feeling homesick for the first few weeks she says, “Somehow, I stuck it out, I told my parents that I could do this. I knew I had to be there. That was the way to become a professional dancer.”
It was five years of her life that was heavily focused on ballet for Franklin (four high school years plus OAC) and she says after graduating, that’s when she had to start looking at auditioning and finding paying gigs. That took her to New York City and parts of Europe but no matter where she went, she couldn’t find a full-time spot. “Nothing was working out; I wasn’t getting accepted anywhere and it was dawning on me that I was going to have to branch out and expand my dance portfolio,” says Franklin.
That brought Franklin to British Columbia where she found a student apprenticeship position with Ballet B.C. “I wasn’t one of the actual hired dancers, but it was eye-opening and super inspiring to see what a real workday is like for a dancer at a professional level. I had a chat with the people who ran that company at the end of the year, and they said they liked me but just didn’t have a position for me. So, I regrouped and went and did another student apprenticeship at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and that’s where something pivotal happened,” says Franklin.
“I was 20 years old at this point and once every few days we’d have a contemporary class and I noticed that I was starting to watch the clock in ballet class. And that wasn’t right. If this was something I wanted to do, I should not have been sitting there waiting for that to be over. I thought of throwing in the towel and going to university and doing something different. But I was also having a lot of fun at those contemporary classes we would get every few days and that was the only signal I needed and I decided I was going to go back to Vancouver and get better training as a contemporary dancer and take open professional classes.”
Franklin says that was the turning point where she transitioned away from ballet, something she had worked at for her whole life up to that point, and refocus on contemporary dance.
“I was still going to carry that foundation and all those skills I had and learned in ballet, but it takes a different skill set to do contemporary dance. We’ll do a lot of different things, we’ll roll on the floor, women will lift up men, it’s more wide open and there’s a lot of improvisation that happens,” says Franklin. “It can really be all sorts of different things and I’m so glad I found my way to this art form. Since I was about 22, I have been fully independent. I do a lot of contract work where I’ll do a few weeks with one choreographer, and then a month with a small company. I perform locally, I’ll tour, I’ll do some of my own choreography that gets used by schools or professionals.”
Right now, Franklin has her plate fully immersed in the world of contemporary dance as she is an educator, performer, choreographer, administration assistant, mentors students and is involved in creating new pieces, touring (pre-COVID), and dance film.
“I’ve been involved in more dance film shoots in the past six months than I have been in the past 10 years. We haven’t been able to go on stage, so people have just said ‘ok let's go outside to the beach and shoot something’. It’s a very resilient community and I think we have to stay involved in our practice no matter what,” says Franklin.
It hasn’t been an easy road, but it is one that has been full of lessons and personal achievements that kept Franklin on this track to success.
“It’s what I have invested most of my time and passion over the course of my whole life. I’ve been doing this professionally for about 20 years and there have been a lot of points where there were gaps in my employment as a dancer. I’ve had to walk dogs, babysit kids, I was a server and I worked at the Toronto Library and I became a Yoga teacher in 2008 and I taught that for ten years,” says Franklin.
“Through all that I realized that if you want to make this as a career you still have to get up and do your training and stay ready because you don't know when your next opportunity is going to come and I think that staying involved in the way I have in the community has really paid off. I was training, going to shows, volunteering for shows for my friends and there are so many different pathways that open up when you do that.”
Watch Valerie Calam/Company Vice Versa. "Gotta Go Church" below.