The Words of the Duffy Family

Paula Duffy, Modern Dancer and Choreographer

October 2011

Paula Duffy is currently studying contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montreal. For her, art is both a source of and an outlet for, creative energy, and has the potential to serve the community in a powerful way. Paula, shares an apartment with her younger sister, and together they are learning how to cook! She also, takes psychology courses, and is teaching herself Japanese.

Question: Can you tell us what first drew you to this form of dance and why?

The freedom of it.

I've been doing ballet since I was 3 years old. I was introduced to modern dance in high school, and in my college years I choreographed my first contemporary solo.

The freedom of curves and angles instead of the ever-upright and graceful balletic line; the freedom to choose to follow gravity's pull instead of always striving against it; the freedom of a less- codified movement language which opened the door to limitless possibilities of self-expression... All of these things drew me to contemporary dance.

I still love ballet though.

Question: Describe for readers your process, please.

I'm still figuring that one out. I'm actually taking a course called Creative Process as part of my degree.

When I choreograph, my piece starts as a seed -- either a concept, a feeling, or a movement that I want to explore. Sometimes I have an idea of how many people I want, sometimes not.

I try improvising around that seed in a dance studio, or even in my bathroom at home. There's a different feeling to a big empty studio, or a small cluttered bathroom, so the space I work in has a big impact on my creation. Often I'll film my improvs to watch them later; it's easier to move in tune with the moment when you don't have to worry about remembering what you did. Then from these what you did. Then from these improvs, I will build a series of movement phrases. The decisions I make are very intuitive, and I try not to question too much as that usually ends up holding me back.

At that point, if I'm working with other dancers, I will teach them some phrases and, watching them improvise on the theme I had in mind, I might incorporate their movements into new phrases. I'll play around with the order, speed, use of space, and timing of these series of movements and gradually, the seed takes root in something. It's a growing process -- the idea evolves and changes the more I interact with it.

So far I've been working to recorded music; sometimes I add sounds to the track, but I'd really like to try working with a composer for my choreography.

The pressure of a deadline is also a good creative incentive for me!

Question: Where do you take from for inspiration?

It depends. My relationships, music, the subway. Whatever I internalize that needs to get out.

The seed for my next piece is the feeling I experience kinesthetically (in my body) when I repress anger.

Question: What would you say drives you to want to be successful in this field of study?

I don't know if it's a desire for success so much as a fundamental need to express things in a creative way. I've tried to stop dancing (it's difficult to become successful, other careers could provide a more stable income...) but I realized that I couldn't stop, that it was my greatest passion, that in short, I needed to dance in order to be whole.

Something that drives me in dance and choreography is the knowledge that the arts have a huge potential to serve society, whether by providing insightful critique or uplifting inspiration.

I also plan on pursuing dance therapy, and I'm especially motivated by the fact that its healing and transformative power can directly impact people's lives for the better.

Question: Have you studied other dance forms? Which ones?

Ballet, character dance, flamenco. But I want to learn so many others -- capoeira, hip hop, breakdance, social dance, even acrobatics.

Question: How many hours in a week would you say you spend practicing?

Not including summer holidays, right?

During the school year I would say about 20-25 hours a week, and more during show periods.

Question: Can you tell us about the support you have received from family and friends?

My family and friends in general encourage me to pursue what I feel is right. My parents have supported me emotionally as well as financially for years.

I also received support from total strangers during my two years on STF Europe (Special Task Force, a character-development training program). I remember one individual in particular who suggested dance therapy as a way to concretely combine my love of dance with my desire to serve others.

More recently, my husband is spurring me on by challenging me to form concrete plans and deadlines for my projects.

Question: What are your future aspirations where the performing arts are concerned? Any long-term plans?

Nothing concrete for the long-term just yet. My heart is torn between Montreal and Tokyo, where my husband currently lives. For now I need to put all my energy into choreography, and seize as many performance opportunities as possible (i.e., festivals) in order to get my work out there and in the public eye.

Eventually, I want to study at the master's level in dance therapy, and work both as a therapist and a freelance choreographer... Or start my own dance company?

We'll see what the future holds.

Question: What advice would you give to someone with similar aspirations?

Advice that I try to continually give myself: just follow your gut, stay true to it. And don't give up or try things half-heartedly for fear of failure! As the chair of the dance department told me during my audition for the program, when you intuitively follow your passion, things usually work out. That, plus a bit of risk-taking, and a lot of hard work! 

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