Why I Dance: Margie Gillis

May 31, 2012

Margie Gillis has sustained a solo career for more than 35 years and shows no signs of stopping. This Montreal-based dancer/choreographer, known for her long, flowing hair as much as for her ability to wring the human condition and all its vulnerabilities from her cathartic movement, has choreographed over a hundred solo performances since her first show in Vancouver in 1975.

Gillis’ popularity isn’t limited to Canada. In 1979, she traveled to China to introduce modern dance, and she’s toured Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. She’s been a guest artist with companies in the U.S. like Paul Taylor Dance Company and MOMIX. Last year Gillis was awarded a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. When not touring with her latest creation,
Thread/Filatures, and other works, Gillis is teaching her own “dancing from the inside out” method of choreography and performance. This month she performs at the DansEncore Festival in Quebec, and in July she gives a free outdoor performance in Park Lafontaine, Montreal. 


Like many dancers, I was reported to be dancing in the womb. That dancing continued through my entrance into the world and until this moment. For me, dance is like breath. It just is.

I have always danced and was sent to formal class from age 3 to 12. I had suffered a nervous breakdown that became debilitating and I needed to release, not control, my emotions. I found that exploring freedom in dance allowed me that healing. Dance also tempered an impatient and demanding mind. In dance, I could create, invent, experience, and test-run all manner of questions and curiosities. I could enter into the mystery and redeem deep aspects of understanding of both the world and of myself.

At 18, I had a dream, an epiphany: I realized I needed to share my dance with others. I wanted the work to be raw and natural, and I knew that while I could ask that of myself, it could be a vulnerable and frightening place for others. I began to create and perform solos. I thought these dances would fail to connect or interest others, but indeed they touched people in a profound way, giving me the courage to continue on my unorthodox path.

I have always been functionally dyslexic. I cannot count to save my life; instead I became fascinated with perceptions of time and how one could elongate or shorten the experience of any given unit of time. I became enamored with the ritual, the performance, and communication of dance. I enjoy partnering with, and learning from my varied worldwide audiences.

Though I have often danced “alone,” many teachers, friends, dancers, students, administrators, audience members, and family have supported and inspired me. As does my beloved home city Montreal; my province, Quebec; and my country, Canada.

I am deeply grateful to be part of a wonderful world community. I love to be in the audience, and I love to be onstage. 

I believe that dance will be essential to the new world paradigms. We must reattach our intellect to our bodies, our own piece of nature. Through the use and valuing of experiential wisdom, we can learn to respect the nature we are and the world we live on and in. We can and will remember how truly interconnected we are and how to create a thriving, not dying, world.

I dance to be living within the depth of the miracle of who we are. I dance to bring my living total consciousness into attunement with the source of what it is, and what it can be, to be human.

My late brother, Christopher Gillis, who performed with Paul Taylor for 18 years, said that dance is the litmus test of who we are. Indeed dance engages all of who we are—intellect, emotion, spirituality, and physicality—and it does not lie.

I dance because I am tireless in my curiosity of the miracle of who we are in motion. I love how the interior landscape can manifest in this piece of nature that we are, this body. I love the revealing, the creative, and the transformative. I value the depth and possibility of healing communication.

I dance because not everything has yet been discovered, and I am indeed alive.


Photo by Julie Perreault, Courtesy Gillis.