As if singing and dancing wasn’t enough, Jessie was also the proud recipient of her “Dandelion Book of Life”—a collection of photos from her years with Dandelion Dance Company, memories, and wishes from the other dancers. Each dancer, as they “graduate” and move on, receives one of these lovingly and zanily produced albums filled with sayings, photos from performances and trips, and notes from other members of the company.
It is a beautiful reminder of all the wonderful adventures and years with Dandelion and it makes me teary just to look at the cover! It is amazing to me how life-changing experiences can grow out of small opportunities that one says “YES!” to!
Jess first started taking dance classes with Hannah at her Tournesol studio when a friend suggested that Jess would fit right in and thrive there. “Fit right in” is not a phrase we heard overly often with regards to Jess! Given that she loved to dance, and that we had tried myriad dance classes with myriad results, we were uncertain, but willing to give it a go. I called Hannah and talked to her and fell in love! She was energetic, young, creative, and honoured people’s differences and delights. She was not your usual dance teacher, and worked with children’s own natural movements and energy, unleashing what I can only call inspired and inspiring dance that encouraged children to explore and experience their own unique spirits, in relationship to others and the world.
Dandelion, of course, is the lynch pin here. Hannah had encouraged Jessie about 5 years ago to create a dance based on her experience of having Down syndrome. I AM was born, with words by Jessie, music by my wonderful musician/cousin Derek Olive, and choreography by Jessie with input from the other dancers. (For just the lyrics and music I will try to put an audio link in)
What resulted was a wonderful piece about difference and inclusion that just exudes “Jessie.” A hallmark piece that has been performed across Canada and won Jessie a number of different awards, including the Jane Cameron Award for an artist with Down syndrome, a runner up designation in Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under 20 youth awards, and runner up in the arts category of the CAYFO Spirit of the Capital Awards. It also spawned the creation of the Dandelion Dance Company, after a unique performance at an International Symposium on Inclusive Education here in Ottawa, where many of the delegates and participants wanted the girls to come to their communities to perform the work in schools for students, teachers, and administrators. The girls and Hannah realized just how much power they had to create change, and so Hannah got the girls together over the summer to create more pieces about things that they were passionate about.
It was a brilliant run, Dandelion, and for Jessie the brilliance came from her belonging to a group of young women who were silly, fun, diverse, committed, challenged, flippant, and focused . . . all at the same time. It was the BELONGING that was so important and that will be a very difficult thing to replace. And, it was the chance to make a contribution in a way that reflected her own strengths and honoured her own challenges and the gifts that ensue when a community of people who care work around and with those challenges. An inspiration for me, as to how difference is truly gift and grace.
While Jessie is now a Dandelion “graduate,” Dandelion will always remain a large part of who she is and who she becomes.