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Decidedly Jazz Danceworks celebrates its 30th anniversary

Founding trio connected through the University of Calgary

Before Decidedly Jazz Danceworks: a 1980 photograph with the Mainstage Dance group including DJD founding member Hannah Stilwell (front right) and Michèle Moss (front left). This performance was choreographed by Vicki Adams Willis - not pictured. Clipping from The Gauntlet courtesy of Michèle Moss

For Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, it all started at the University of Calgary.

“Hannah Stilwell and I were students at the U of C. We both registered for a dance class that Vicki Adams Willis was teaching,” says Michèle Moss, who is now an assistant professor in the division of Dance in the School of Creative and Performing Arts.

“We worked together on several projects during our time on campus, such as Mainstage Dance,” recalls Moss.

The collaborations evolved and the trio decided to form a company. At first, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) was a part-time project. “Everyone shuffled their schedules around so we could rehearse in the afternoons and evenings and make this work,” says Moss.

Their first performance included a duet choreographed by Willis on Moss and Stilwell called Dancers in Love, after which DJD’s 30th anniversary production is named.

“Curiously, using real, traditional, jazz music in jazz dance work was very unique,” says Moss. “With the many musicians that were around on campus, we had the opportunity to learn about the work.”

Moss believes it’s still like that today. “The Decidedly Jazz dancers are passionate about jazz dance and music. They understand the music. That is a very important piece.”

After 30 years, the connections with the University of Calgary are still going strong, whether it is through students, faculty or alumni. “To celebrate the 30-year anniversary, we have performed DJD pieces in this year’s Dance Montage and Mainstage,” says Moss.

The anniversary celebrations culminate in the Dancers in Love production, which runs from March 28 – April 6 at Theatre Junction Grand. Curated by DJD’s artistic director Kimberley Cooper, the show will feature some of Willis’ great duets and works from other choreographies accompanied by a live jazz band.