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Banner: Canadian Women in Theatre and Dance


Both dance and theatre have been present in Canada since before recorded history. Explorers and settlers to Canada commented on the dances they saw performed by members of the indigenous community. Certain native ceremonies and ritual dramas displayed a very strong sense of theatre and were often used to mark significant events in the life of the community.

Early European settlers in this country staged dance and drama events, often using the staff of their own military and administrative units. From the early 17th century to the mid-18th century, both dance and theatre performances tended to be by amateurs. Tours by visiting professionals in the latter half of the 18th century led to a demand for more such productions and their popularity increased throughout the 19th century. Still, until the middle of the 20th century, it was generally necessary for Canadians to leave the country if they wanted to get professional training or have a career in either field.

Women have played an active role in the creation and performance of dance and drama in Canada. From the classical ballet performances of Karen Kain and Evelyn Hart to the contemporary choreography of Judith Marcuse and Gwen Noah, the seven dance artists profiled on this site provide a sampling of the variety of styles available to dance audiences in Canada today. Their eight colleagues in the acting world demonstrate that the humour of Beatrice Lillie's work can still be found in that of Sandra Shamas and Mary Walsh, albeit with a touch more of the personal and political. Classical and contemporary drama can be found in the work of Shirley Douglas, Andrée Lachapelle and Andrea Ménard, among others.

We hope that the accounts of the lives and careers of these 15 female performers will prompt you to take notice of their work and that of the many other Canadian women in theatre and dance.

Shirley Douglas  Film, Television and Stage Actor; Activist
Evelyn Hart  Principal Dancer, Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Karen Kain  Artistic Director, National Ballet of Canada
Andrée Lachapelle  Actor
Louise Lecavalier  Dancer
Beatrice Lillie  Comedian
Judith Marcuse  Artistic Producer, Choreographer, Dancer, Teacher
Andrea Menard  Singer, Actor, Author
Gwen Noah  Choreographer, Dancer, Teacher
Denise Pelletier  Actor
Crystal Pite  Dancer, Choreographer
Blanche de la Sablonnière  Comedian, Singer, Musician
Sandra Shamas  Comedian
Santee Smith  Dancer, Choreographer, Actor
Mary Walsh  Actor, Playwright, Director, Comedian

Graphical element: Acknowledgements

These biographies were researched and written by the following staff of the Reference and Information Services Division, Library and Archives Canada:

Maria Bélanger, Don Carter, Andrée Côté-Moxon, Francine Falardeau, Amy Fisher, Sara Gladman, Veronica Healy, Catherine Hébert, Phanlert Panaram, Anne Pichora, Risë Segall, Marie-Josée Tolszczuk, Chantal Tremblay, Joni Waiser and Nicole Watier.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose Canadian Culture Online Program (CCOP) made this work possible.