DANCING IN DIVERSITY
A Denver native, Caitlin Brozna-Smith meets me to discuss all things dance. Her petite frame and bubbly personality blend well with the mish-mash of characters in the coffee shop, and we begin to engage in fluid conversation discussing everything from figure skating to cultural appropriation.
From the ice to the dance floor, the athletic life of Caitlin Brozna-Smith spans not only genres but also continents. From the ages of 6 to 17, Caitlin competed in national figure skating competitions. These competitions and the training led to her love of dance. Suffering a career-ending injury at 17, she decided to take her love of dancing on ice to dancing on a different surface.
Comparatively, dance is a little less hard on the body than falling on the ice. After months of weekly restorative massage therapy as well as lots of yoga, she strengthened her injured body. Dance on the aging body can be rough. A key to success, according to Caitlin, is to never take a break. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
With this mentality, what words of advice or wisdom would Caitlin impart to a young person aspiring to be a dancer? There has to be a balance between being present in the moment and setting long-term goals. Competitive dance can have lasting effects that many don’t think about. This is hard because when you are young, you are immortal…Also, start rituals, have massage therapy, do yoga, get acupuncture. Take care of your body. I feel like I am in better shape now than in my early twenties because I take better care of myself now.
Moving around the globe feeding a hunger for travel and new experiences, Caitlin discovered a variety of international dance practices. Her current teaching repertoire includes Brazilian Samba, Middle Eastern Belly Dance, and Indian Bollywood. Leading a school that specializes in international dance is tricky territory. Cultural appropriation comes to the forefront. There are many who question lineage.
As a practitioner of Brazilian dance, Caitlin studies not only the actual movements but also the culture. Dance is a universal language and each type of dance is an expression of a culture. To fully interpret and share it, one must be humble and inquisitive so as not to appropriate but rather honor and share. As a teacher, one of her goals is to explain this engagement with, or delving, into another culture. She also works with her world-renowned mentor, Luciana da Silva. Luciana, a Samba Queen and passista, has served as a guide to Caitlin in explaining the cultural nuances of the samba. This has given her movements an authenticity and added grace.
Dance provides Caitlin with a transcendental feeling. It connects both the spirit and the earthly plane. In her school she works to provide both a place for physical movement and for healing. Early in her dance studies, she saw what many call the ugly side of dance, the eating disorders and physical breakdowns. Her studio is made to provide dance for every body. There is no need to be of a certain size or background. She and her colleagues have created a subsector of dance where people can feel really good inside and out. In her own words,
We can have therapy through dance, fitness through dance, expression through dance. If I can let people in Denver know they have a place that is open to everyone to move, that is our goal. A lot of our work is with women who have experienced tragedy. They can reclaim their bodies through movement. It is almost a phoenix process – people rising from the ashes and becoming different people in the process – it is amazing.
Identifying primarily as a choreographer, Caitlin produces all of her shows. She choreographs all the numbers and then scoots backstage to run production, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities. To her, everything grows out of the choreography.
The Denver dance scene benefits from studios like Caitlin’s. It offers an international experience comprised of those who build one another up and work to celebrate movement. To experience this transcendental process, consider a class at Caitlin’s Colorado Blvd and Mississippi studio, Bella Diva Dance.
W. Celeste Davis Stragand: Published author, showcased artist and Denver transplant, W. Celeste Davis Stragand is not new to the art world. Her passion for delving into the root of existence and movement will challenge and praise both choreographers and the audience. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Celeste holds two bachelor of arts degrees, one in Chemistry and the other in English. She is also a graduate of Naropa University holding a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A former national slam team poet, Celeste is a graduate of the Downtown Denver Partnership Leadership Program and sits on the American Institute of Architects Colorado board. Her passion and enthusiasm for the kinetic arts will frolic and frenzy through the upcoming season of performances with many hopes for an encore!