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NOT A POLITICAL PLAYGROUND Y’ALL: N.A.P.P.Y. DANCE COLLECTIVE AND THE MOVEMENT FOR REPRESENTATION

Updated: Dec 21, 2022


This story was written by Aurora, Music Editor at Afros in Tha City. Aurora is a musician, producer and DJ with a background in photojournalism and music journalism. While not known to be one of Canada’s friendliest cities to be a Black creative, the landscape of Calgary has been steadily changing to include more diversity in the entertainment sector, especially in the last couple of years. However, for racialized artists that have conventionally eurocentrist creative practices (such as contemporary dance), there is still an added barrier of there being little representation, both in studios and on stages. N.A.P.P.Y Dance Collective is a blossoming organization with an ethos aimed to change that.

"N.A.P.P.Y. Dance Collective is an emerging all-Black contemporary dance collective that is committed to emboldening the arts and the spaces they inhabit, exposing them as capable environments for nurturing the pursuits of Black creatives."

N.A.P.P.Y. was started when two undergraduate students met and connected through the University of Calgary Dance program. Tiara Matusin and Cindy Ansah were both studying contemporary dance and trying to figure out what their paths forward looked like in Calgary as Black dancers. The two felt that there was a need for a certain kind of space to be created that didn’t exist previously, and thus N.A.P.P.Y. was born. In their own words, “N.A.P.P.Y. Dance Collective is an emerging all-Black contemporary dance collective that is committed to emboldening the arts and the spaces they inhabit, exposing them as capable environments for nurturing the pursuits of Black creatives. N.A.P.P.Y. is an acronym for Not A Political Playground Y’all. The history of the word “nappy” is tangled in Eurocentric beauty standards that were used to justify painting Black bodies as “lesser than” their white counterparts. The term has historically been used to negatively describe Afro-textured hair as dry, kinky, coarse, and dirty. We plan to confront and reclaim the term to describe that which is unique and beautiful and invite Black creatives to unapologetically embrace their multifaceted selves. Although Black existence is inherently political, we value stylization, individuality and humanity, in hopes of displaying local Black virtuosity, collectivity, and diversity in its many facets and artistic disciplines.


“I love that I’m able to blend different art mediums so effortlessly – such as pop culture, fashion and music, hip hop – and find ways to incorporate those into my artistry, because I understand those things on a cultural level.”

Our vision began with acknowledging our personal lived experiences in response to the media's renewed investment in the Black Lives Matter movement. Reflecting on our dance upbringings, we understood the all-too-common feeling of being the only Black person, and sometimes the only person of color, in the studio. We also recognized that Black contemporary dancers are severely underrepresented in Mohkinstsis/Calgary, not because they don’t exist (an assumption that we aim to debunk), but because of the Eurocentric history of racial discrimination and elitism that pervades professional dance structures.” Though the political climate in Alberta can often seem bleak not just for marginalized individuals, but also for anyone that works as an artist, the freedom to create new spaces and platforms is something that the group cherishes. “I love that I’m able to blend different art mediums so effortlessly – such as pop culture, fashion and music, hip hop – and find ways to incorporate those into my artistry, because I understand those things on a cultural level,” Tiara Matusin says. “I believe this is why I'm so passionate about blending these varying artistic genres in my practice. I didn’t see myself represented in contemporary dance spaces. Contemporary dance has been built on the ideology that contemporary dance is a white space. There are these hard marked boundaries associated with contemporary that conforms to white standards, making it difficult to fully immerse both Black identity and my contemporary dance experience into the contemporary dance community. As I grow and understand connections, art, and self worth I discover how fully capable Black bodies are, given the opportunity, or not. I’ve recently met many other Black creatives in Mohkinstsis, and each day I'm empowered to continue this sometimes lonely and discouraging trek as an emerging artist in the contemporary dance field.” Cindy Ansah, co-founder of N.A.P.P.Y. also feels inspired to continue to build spaces, not just for this generation of creatives, but for future artists. “I am going to take a page from Issa Rae’s book and say that whenever I see Black people in creative spaces you better believe I am rooting for them. My creative engagement spills into the mediums of writing, visual art, film, photography, music, acting and fashion and when I encounter Black people in these fields it is affirming because I want more of us to succeed. The emphasis is on collective power and presence to alter society.

Regarding my encounters in Mohkínstsis (Calgary), Black people were often practicing outside of institutions with a sense of innovation, resourcefulness, and unconditional support. In the absence of the scarcity mentality, I was able to access a multifaceted sense of self. I became immersed in a community of Black creatives that were adamant about removing personal and societal barriers by emphasizing the vitality of Blackness in all its nuance. It is through Black people that I have come to practice unapologetically asserting space with complete trust in my body and my right to be there and the refusal of places that tell me I do not belong.

Reflecting on my dance education and training thus far as a primarily contemporary dance artist, I have almost always been in classes with predominantly white dancers and teachers. The contemporary dance community in Mohkínstsis (Calgary) anecdotally is predominantly white; however, I feel like the pervasive whiteness of contemporary dance is inherently contradictory to the artform. At the core, ‘contemporary’ means ‘present-day’ or ‘current’ and contemporary dance for me manifests as that which translates the current day culture. If we adhere to the notion that ‘contemporary’ refers to the social and cultural conditions of humanity at a given point in time, then contextually Black voices surely would have existed because Black people have always been the moment. That is to say, the notion of ‘whiteness’ as synonymous to ‘contemporary’ due to the conspicuous absence of BIPOC dance artists is a result of a deliberate decision to suppress and oppress.”

“Our plans are to keep innovating the arts and culture scene in Mohkinstsis and to remain open to collaborations and connections that feel natural in order to prioritize Black joy."

Though it began as a creative partnership between Matusin and Ansah, N.A.P.P.Y. has grown to include Christahh Ahh and Mpoe Mogale who work with the collective as dancers and collaborators. The group works together to brainstorm on ways to revolutionize the dance landscape of Calgary. “Our plans are to keep innovating the arts and culture scene in Mohkinstsis and to remain open to collaborations and connections that feel natural in order to prioritize Black joy,” says Ansah. “We aim to cater our future offerings to the needs and desires of the communities with whom we connect in order to continue sharing a diverse scope of Black artistry.” “One of the very few things I love about being a Black artist in Calgary is the opportunity to shine a light on stories that have been buried.” says Mogale. “I love being Black and I love being an artist; however, there really isn't anything glamorous about being a Black artist in Calgary if I am being honest. Companies such as N.A.P.P.Y. change that a little bit more, and I am excited to be in spaces where I can bring my full self to an artistic project.” Ahh agrees, “I’m not sure what Cindy and Tiara have brewing for N.A.P.P.Y but I have told them that anything they want to do in future, they have my full support to whatever extent they’d like me involved. I trust their vision, intention, and respect them as people and artists – I have no hesitations.” Follow N.A.P.P.Y. Dance on Instagram at @nappydance to keep up to date on events and other offerings from this dynamic collective!

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