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Claire ahern

Saint John Swing Dance

King's Square Swing Dance

Recap the story and the project for us, what did you do?

This project was the realization of a dream that had been percolating in my imagination for years; my vision of hosting a dance event in King’s Square manifested into a three-date event series and creative placemaking installation. With much planning and collaboration, I arranged for the events to take place in the picturesque and community-centric venue of King’s Square, ensured we had quality live swing music courtesy of BRIDGE jazz, and undertook marketing and technical aspects of the project. Furthermore, I collaborated with local uptown businesses to craft a unique Saint John vintage-inspired fashion show, brought to life by volunteer models. I mobilized a crew of experienced dancers and empowered a collective of new dancers, teaching an intro swing dance lesson and making space for an intentionally warm, open and welcoming dance floor out of the grounds of King’s Square.

Did you discover that your existing skills contributed to this process and to collaborating? How so?

Absolutely. My open, outgoing nature allowed me to reach out to and connect with the various parties with whom I collaborated. My social connections and personal network proved invaluable with accomplishing key logistical tasks and artistic details, not to mention spreading the word and populating the events. Previous experience with public speaking served me well and made me comfortable behind the mic set, setting my audience at ease as I urged them to explore beyond their comfort zone. My ability to successfully improvise was a valuable asset, in combination with my troubleshooting rationale.

What new skills or capacity did you develop through this process that will help you with similar collaborations in the future?

I learned the value of communicating clearly, and in a timely fashion, and that the sooner information is shared, the better arrangements can be made and solutions agreed upon. I also learned how to teach a beginner swing dance class to a diverse general public, imparting value in a direct and empowering manner, providing keen attention and reaction to the recipients of my instruction. I gained new technological ability, having to learn how to operate equipment I never have before. Most importantly, I learned that while being at the centre of a project, it is imperative to delegate tasks and consequently trust in the abilities of others in order to focus one’s attention on the tasks that can be performed uniquely by one’s self. A huge takeaway is the confidence that I have gained from all of these learnings combined, and the memory and power of a project, not merely accomplished, but achieved with thrilling success.

Has this process contributed to your artistic or professional development? In what ways?

Yes. It has certainly contributed to my artistic development in terms of me seeing myself as just that: as an artist! I used to be a professional musician who also did swing dancing. Now, I am a professional musician and swing dancer. Operating as a dancer in such a leadership role has increased my ability to envision myself continuing to do so in the future, and is a potent antidote to imposter syndrome. Professionally, it has provided me with invaluable community-organizing experience, amazing media content to memorialize and preserve my efforts, and has contributed significantly to the list of tasks I have accomplished in terms of event organizing and creative placemaking in an official capacity. I am also now better connected with my community, and my professional network has thus rightly expanded.

Tell us about the artists you collaborated with.

I worked with the jazz artists of BRIDGE jazz and would absolutely call upon their talents in the future and would happily collaborate again. I also called upon the artistry of some fellow swing dancers, and am always keen to connect with these fine and generous folk. Also, working with Hilary Ladd, a tremendous artist in her own right, has been a highlight!

Were there unexpected results? In the artwork, in the relationships, etc?

I did not expect it to be such a success overall, and specifically in terms of relationships, I am happily surprised at how many friendships and connections were sparked and brought about because of the event. It was an amazing space that fostered such connections to happen, and occur they did! (There are two people who met at the event who went from being strangers to dating and a relationship!) The dancing is unexpected in nature- swing is an improvisatory dance style, therefore every movement was a wonderful surprise. It was a joy to share that with the people of Saint John.

Are you more or less inclined to undertake another cross-sector collaboration after this experience?

YES! I love collaboration, and would definitely be keen to collaborate within or spearhead a cross-sector project again.

Saint John Swing Dance
saint John swing dance
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Saint John Swing Dance
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