by Florence Leclerc In 2016, Florence Leclerc created the first Grace and Beauty Ensemble in Montreal, Quebec. The goal of this Ensemble was to provide a space for dancers of all levels to experiment and create in an inclusive, inspiring and collaborative setting. After many years of teaching, coaching and choreographing with groups of dancers, Florence was feeling that the full creative and expressive potential of the dancers was not often released in the structure that was proposed in dance troupes. She wanted to offer a special space and enough time to accompany the dancers through a more complete process and to allow them to explore their own internal dynamics and stories to then bring these in a more powerful way into their dance.
To realize this process, it was important for Florence to do this in a collective setting. Through the collective, the power of this approach is multiplied. Not only are the dancers in the group able to clarify and sometimes even heal a part of their own stories, but the final projects are also soothing for the community seeing the performances as they can strongly relate to the chosen themes. Sometimes in dance, words cannot express what we are going through and we are left powerless; moving through it (or seeing people moving through it), is all that is left to us. Florence’s themes are often around deep topics that allow this release.
This type of choreographic work is very important to Florence; she believes our bodies and dance are filled with meaning and sensations that are intrinsically linked to our internal life and our beloved dance style is often represented in a more superficial way. The work done in these Ensembles is one of opening the doors to more meaning and a deeper artistic vision that is rooted in the emotional, psychological and social human experience.
For each project, Florence chooses a theme to explore with the dancers in an individual as well as a collective manner. Dancers vary from one project to another depending on their interest in the current theme. Oriental Dance movements are used as a common vocabulary, but the work is done without being exclusive to this type of aesthetic. The dancers are encouraged to work from inside-out, to connect within themselves with the theme and to explore sensations, dynamics as well as various shapes and forms in their bodies. As a choreographer, Florence is very eager to discover, with the dancers, how to create movements and choreographies that have meaning, that are truly and directly connected to emotional, psychological and social experiences. By working with many dancers over the years, she is observing that this kind of work is building leadership in every participant, this creating a new sense of community within the oriental dance community as well as raising awareness in the larger community around the chosen topics.
The first project, Debout, was showcased on stage at various events in Canada and caught the attention of Kaeshi Chai who invited Florence to perform a remake of this piece with NYC professional and semi-professional dancers for Rakkasah East 2017. Following this experience, Florence traveled with the project in Puerto Rico to work with local dancers on the same theme: ''How are we standing up again after falling?'' It was a heartwarming experience to share the same theme and choreography with different dancers from various backgrounds and cultures and to see the similarities between us all.
VIDEO : Debout - Local Creative Ensemble creation, danced by NYC dancers
Inspired by the possibilities of offering this unique type of experience worldwide, in 2021, Florence decided to create the Grace and Beauty Local Creative Ensemble as well as the Grace and Beauty International Creative Ensemble in 2022. The GBLC is open to dancers who are able to join the rehearsals in Montreal and the GBIC for dancers from all around the world as it is done on Zoom.
How does it work? What is the process?
In the Local Creative Ensemble, dancers commit to a 10-month process where the group meets weekly in the studio over three 10 weeks sessions. Group discussions around the chosen theme are essential to the first phase of the project. Exercises and games are guided by Florence for the dancers to connect and get to know each other to then be able to create in a safe and inspiring setting. The first 10 weeks are mainly exploratory. The second part is where the creation starts and the third part is where everything is put together as a whole, rehearsed, cleaned up and ready to be presented on stage. By the end of this process, the dancers and choreographer are like a family and so many stories have been shared, through words and movements.
In 2021-2022, the theme was around violence and abuse. It was a very powerful group experience as this topic raised many memories, questions and discussions for everybody involved. As this subject can be very delicate, Florence was particularly cautious of building a feeling of community, care and safety within the group. The dancers were amazingly respectful and mature through this process and we could see the result in the quality of exploration and creativity that emerged from it. The team decided to bring this specific project to another level and will be putting together a special event in March 2023, in Montreal, to connect with women's centers and violence victims in a show and arts evening where the audience will be participating in discussions with the Ensemble and the different actors in the field of support to victims. Art exposition, dance performances, conference with a social worker and open discussions will be on the program. Funds will be raised to support victims and information about this important topic and reality will be shared so we can all become better allies.
VIDEO: Seules Ensembles - Local Creative Ensemble :
In the International Creative Ensemble, the process is similar to the Local Ensemble, but is happening only in 2 x 10 weeks, online. The use of breakout rooms on Zoom allows the possibility for dancers to connect in smaller groups or in duets to explore and create together as well as helping each other in their own personal final project. Indeed, the final goal in this Ensemble is to create a solo dance video in which the essence of the group is also shown. From the chosen global theme, Florence guides each dancer through the process of choosing a personal more specific theme to explore for themselves.
For example, this year, the theme was ''Our Bodies' Stories'' and, after brainstorming together on the various stories that are written on our bodies, the dancers explored personal themes such as: Hope, Confidence, Uncertainty, Self-Love, Self-limiting beliefs, etc.
Even though the work is online, the way the project is structured allows for deep work to happen. The quality of movement, the understanding of one's own creativity and expressivity are the aspects that are greatly improved and the most appreciated by the Ensemble's dancers.
VIDEO : Esmée Solo’s from the International Creative Ensemble
It is important for Florence to make this experience as much accessible as possible for dancers in our community, therefore, all levels of dancers are welcomed to join those Ensembles. The group experience, the guidance in various exercises, the discussions, the improvisation, the connections, the creative and the final results are transformative for many dancers taking part in these projects.
Each new project is a journey of empowerment and community fostering and Florence is always humbled to work with open minded dancers who dare to
approach their dance practice through a new light.
Interested in applying for the next Grace and Beauty project for the Local or International Creative Ensemble? Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Known for the graceful precision and the elegance of her movements, Florence Leclerc has been a dancer, choreographer and instructor for over 15 years.
Though also trained in contemporary dance, ballet, social and Latin dances, flamenco, theatre and mime, it is with oriental dance that her creative exploration takes on its full meaning and blossoms.
Melding femininity and the pleasure of movement, oriental dance allowed her to unleash the force of her expression, to unfold the grace and beauty that feed her creative imagination.
Apart from teaching workshops and performing worldwide as well as in Montreal, where she lives and online, Florence is focusing on the creative and innovative aspects of her art, while developing the Grace & Beauty Movement Academy. She is in a constant process of deepening and questioning and views the world around her with an increasingly critical eye through the richness of oriental dance. www.florencedanse.com