Born in Toronto in 1919 to Italian immigrants, Nancy Lima Dent made a significant contribution to modern dance in and. After ballet classes with Toronto's Rita Warne and, and modern dance studies with Elizabeth Leese, Nancy travelled to New York City to study with modern dance teacher/choreographer Martha Graham, and with African/Caribbean dance artists Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham. Working in the 1940s and 1950s with Toronto's New Dance Theatre and in the 1960s with the Nancy Lima Dent Dance Theatre, she created a body of over thirty dance works many of which commented on social issues such as war and teen violence including Set Your Clock at U235 (1946), That We May Live (1950) and Heroes of Our Time (1952). She presented work at the Canadian Ballet Festivals and various self-produced performances. From 1955-1957, Sudbury's Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union sponsored her establishment of dance schools there and in nearby Garson. She also performed in, choreographed for and helped organize Toronto modern dance festivals in 1960 and 1961. She taught from the mid-1940s to the early-1970s in community centres, colleges and her own school and saw modern dance in Toronto evolve from an often misinterpreted, amateur art form to the professional status it later achieved with companies such as.
On June 26 and 27, 1946, Nancy presented her first choreographic work as part of the Toronto Labor Arts Guild's Summer Festival. Based on a poem by Norman Corwin, Set Your Clock at U235 was the first of several works in that included references to war, such as the effects of the atomic bomb. Corwin's poem was read aloud and acted as accompaniment, along with piano, to Nancy's choreography. An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail wrote, "The mime sustained an undercurrent of feeling which is seldom accomplished by amateur effort." Emil Gartner, conductor for Toronto's Jewish Folk Choir, saw this performance and invited Nancy to join a dance group called the Neo Dance Theatre based at the. Nancy enthusiastically agreed.
During her father's internment, Nancy began ballet classes with Toronto teachers and Boris Volkoff. Warne was known in the 1950s for her Wilderness Ballet Camp held at a site in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula. When Mr. Lima returned home in 1943 he refused to let Nancy continue dance lessons so she made the painful choice of leaving home to pursue a career as an artist.
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From 1941-1943, Nancy's father was interned by the Canadian government as an enemy-alien due to his Italian heritage. The internment of Nancy's father was both a traumatic and a liberating experience for her. On what had been an average day in 1941, Nancy entered the family home to find RCMP officers reading love letters from her boyfriend in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After suffering through this invasion of a young woman's privacy, she and her family had to wait with the RCMP until her father arrived home.
Mr. Lima had immigrated to the United States when he was fifteen years old (c. 1914). Shortly after his arrival he moved to Ottawa where he met his future wife who had grown up in Italy just a few miles from his own home town. The newlyweds moved to Toronto just before Nancy was born and bought a fruit market at Bloor and Bathurst Streets. When the allied forces declared war against Italy, Mr. Lima was the social convenor at the Casa d'Italia, one of the local Italian community clubs. While Lima was not a fascist himself, he may unknowingly have had some fascist associates and was targeted by the RCMP as an enemy alien. He was taken to an internment camp in Petawawa, Ontario -- his family was not told where he was.
After Mr. Lima's internment, life became very harsh for his family. Customers stopped patronizing their fruit store. Neighbours crossed the street to avoid walking on the same side as a Lima. One of the Limas' best customers, the local Catholic church, also stopped making purchases from their store. Nancy spoke to the priest but failing to receive a satisfying answer, she made her stance known by not attending church again. Following the tradition of the time, all the Limas' personal property was in Mr. Lima's name. Nancy's mother scrambled to get power of attorney and had the family assets signed over to her so the government could not confiscate anything. Although born in Canada, Nancy felt persecuted for being of Italian heritage; as a result, she developed an "I'll-show-them" attitude. Despite the trauma of her father's internment, his absence did allow her to pursue her interest in dance and she began taking classes.
In addition to her work at the UJPO, Nancy taught modern dance at the (YWCA). She presented a demonstration of her on February 10, 1948. The Club's twenty-four members showed two group pieces, Late Date and Awakening of Man, and a solo work, Chee Lai, all choreographed by Nancy. Held at the McGill Street Y in downtown Toronto, audience members could also view an art exhibit, and films about dance, music and visual art. In a series of notes regarding her early performances, Nancy wrote to herself, "Awakening of Man ... only 2 rehearsals - more needed to reach core of expression. Sylvia excellent on drums. Exceptionally well-received. Most impressive." Choreographic notes reveal that Awakening of Man was based on the primitive dances Nancy had learned from Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham and eventually evolved into a work titled Dark Cry set to a score by Canadian composer. To see more of Nancy's performance notes from September 1947 to February 1948, click the "Tour" button.
Nancy had expressed an interest in the arts at a very early age. However, her parents would not allow her to attend dance lessons because they equated dance with. Instead, she was sent to the Toronto Conservatory of Music where she studied piano and. Her interest in the other arts never waned, and in 1944 she took on the role of properties manager for the Belmont Theatre Group's production of Watch on the Rhine directed by Corporal Raymond Hamstead of the R.C.A.F. This production raised $76.50 for the Evening Telegram British War Victims' Fund. (Programme Credits below)