Dance, theatre and music 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, theatre and music 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 these fields.
Women have played an active role in the creation and performance of dance, music 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 dance artists profiled on this site provide a sampling of the variety of styles available to dance audiences in Canada today. Their 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. In the field of music we have benefited from the work of singer/songwriters such as La Bolduc (Mary Travers), folklorist Helen Creighton and composer Barbara Pentland.
We hope that the accounts of the lives and careers of these female performers and composers will prompt you to take notice of their work and that of the many other Canadian women in the performing arts.
Women in Canadian Music