The joy of dance

Profile: Dawn Ward-Dames & Joe Dames by Julie Bull

Dawn Ward-Dames and Joe Dames

Hailing from Freeport, Bahamas, Dawn Ward-Dames and Joe Dames are partners in business, in dance, and in life. “We met at a dance studio in Freeport and have been dancing ever since.”

Dawn first came to PEI in 2014 as a student at Holland College. Since then, she has been an active member of the arts and culture scene and welcomed her partner Joe a little while later. 

As leaders of Xclusiv Crew, a hip hop dance group based in Charlottetown, Dawn and Joe are passionate about dance and inclusion. Dawn says, “the power is in bringing various cultures together.” Xclusiv’s motto is “create, motivate, inspire” and those words live in Dawn and Joe’s actions. “We help people feel like they belong.”

Their dedication to and passion for dance was evident throughout our conversation. They believe that dance is for everybody and all bodies. “There is often a misconception that a dancer has to look a certain way or have a certain body type and we want to keep showing people that this isn’t true.”

With a growing dance crew comprised of people with many shapes, sizes and cultural backgrounds, Dawn and Joe are leading the way for inclusive dance. The courage and confidence that these two demonstrate continues to inspire others to be courageous and confident. “Beyond dance, we are building performance artists.” 

Proficient in many dance styles, Dawn and Joe are continuously learning. “We get to learn new styles of dance as new members join the crew and teach us from their backgrounds.” Xclusiv has performed at the Island Fringe Festival, Confederation Centre of the Arts and DiverseCity, to name a few. Dawn and Joe’s individual credits are also vast and impressive, and too long to list here. “Last year we also had the opportunity to perform on the Canada Games stage and that was an incredible experience for us!”

Dawn and Joe both have day jobs outside of dance, but their dynamic dance duo was the emphasis of our conversation. While dance is also the primary focus of their business, it is not the sole focus. They also sell merchandise of their inspiring brand and from time to time, Dawn offers Bahamian baked goods for sale. “A little taste of home goes a long way.”

Dawn and Joe are deeply committed humans with big dreams and even bigger hearts. Their work and their dance are community-oriented, and they are passionate about representation. “Representation matters and we help cultivate safer spaces for people who may not necessarily see themselves represented.” 

Dawn says that “it is important to me to be a voice for people like me in spaces where our voices aren’t generally heard.” As doors open for them, Dawn and Joe eagerly and readily keep the door open for others. “Someone needs to be the person to open the door. If you want something to exist that doesn’t already exist, then you need to make it!” 

Their ambitions and actions are paired with playful and joyful demeaners. “Despite all the hard things happening in the world all around us, we really focus our energy and attention on playfulness and joy.” 

With that optimism in their pocket and their dreams leading the way, Dawn and Joe have their eyes set on big stages like the NBA. “My first love was basketball,” Joe says, “So, it would be really amazing to have the opportunity to dance at an NBA game.” Knowing there may be a few steps between now and the NBA, Dawn and Joe hope to make their way to a variety of local and regional festivals in the seasons to come. Along with these festivals and events, Xclusiv has a big show coming up in April called Project X and details will be released soon. 

Not only did I have the pleasure to meet Dawn and Joe, I also had the great honour of meeting their daughter. She insisted that she sit next to me for the interview which was definitely a highlight! “When things get hard, she [daughter] helps keep us grounded and motivated. And when things are going well, she helps keep us humble and reminds us not to take things for granted.” Their kid has grown up in the dance studio and “the whole Xclusiv crew is like one big extended family to her and to each other.”

Julie Bull, an Inuk (NunatuKavut) researcher and educator, has extensive experience in community-based participatory action research, emphasizing Indigenous perspectives. A champion of social justice, Julie envisions collaborative efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities worldwide. With a focus on research governance and ethics, her work with NunatuKavut has yielded notable publications and presentations.