“I have been close with Aïcha Bastien N’diaye for many years. Also, a member of the Wendat Nation, we grew up together in Wendake and throughout our lives have collaborated, created and learned together. Most recently, Aïcha was a part of my journey with “If God Had a Boat” – choreographing and performing in the official music video. I admire Aïcha’s beautiful sense of expression, her strength and spirit in using dance and movement as a tool to deconstruct the complexity of humans and their emotions. She uses her art to battle discrimination and stand against hate. I so often call her the Queen of Quebec and she is just that to me – a Queen, an authority, a leader, a powerful Indigenous woman. Thank you for all that you bring to my life and the lives of others, my sister.”
ANYMA x Aïcha Collaboration on “If God Had a Boat”
First of all, for those who don’t know, tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Aïcha Bastien-N’Diaye. I am a dance artist from Quebec, hailing from Wendake (Wendat) and of Guinean descent (Jola). I combine tradition and modernity, physicality and expressivity in a wide variety of genres. Drawing on a wealth of cultures, practices, and aesthetics, I embody a vision of the current dance scene, open to the world and to others. As a content creator, I believe increasing real diverse representation and involving art through social media is a good and accessible way to bring people together and affect change.
I’ve always considered the life of a professional dancer to be highly disciplined with immense commitment to one’s body, mind, spirit – what inspired you to set out on this path in your own life? What continues to motivate you in your artistic practice?
Growing up in an environment where art and culture were omnipresent, and having a father who is a dance artist and musician, I quickly understood that movement was necessary for my own life. I began dance training at the age of 12 years old without thinking it would necessarily grow into a career. The discipline, rigour, and self-sacrifice that this training requires have definitely shaped me into a better human being.
Dance feels good. Dance brings us together. I keep dancing because it creates a better world. Anybody can dance and use dance as a tool to express themselves and heal. I believe that everybody should dance for at least five minutes a day.
It seems as though more and more people engage with your art every day – congratulations on all of your momentum. How are you feeling? Do you see yourself in any particular “stage” of your career right now?
While I am truly grateful for this momentum and the overwhelming support, I make it a point to remain grounded, to anchor myself in my culture and discipline. I do not share my art to achieve fame. I share it in the hopes that a BIPOC teenager will find it and be inspired to be the most authentic version of themselves, to reconnect with their culture, and to express themselves through art.
This currently feels like the dawn of my career. I am part of the upcoming artistic and Indigenous wave, la relève, which I am convinced will have a positive impact on the collective.
What are you loving about your work right now?
I love the introspective aspect of the creation process. I am currently at a challenging stage where I have to constantly question my purpose, what drives me, and if I am doing it for the right reasons. Not only that, but I like having to recenter myself, between my ambition, my authenticity, and the need to have a positive impact on others. Likewise, my work and art ask me to stay truthful and to deeply connect with myself; When my brain lets doubt creep in, my hands always seem to find a way to let the truth come out.
While the industry in which I work makes it hard to say “no” to opportunities and demand better conditions, I find strength and resilience in my movement to clearly set boundaries.
Lastly, I love that my work allows me to connect with amazing human beings with whom I can share and collaborate.
Platforms like TikTok for dance – much like Spotify for musicians – appear to be democratizing the artistic landscape more and more. Where artists that may not be supported by larger commercial entities, have greater opportunity to break out. As a Black, Indigenous woman, do you feel that these platforms are impacting BIPOC creators in a similar way?
Each platform has its own algorithm and features that allow for different content to be consumed and shared. TikTok suggests a universe of possibilities that is considerable and enables the emergence of a sense of community between creators and audiences.
Sharing my content on the platform has been truly refreshing – I get to re-appropriate trends by including cultural elements, and share “raw” and authentic content that is not commonly accessible on the Internet. In other words, TikTok allows me to celebrate my culture the way I wish to.
With this in mind, I aim for my art to outlive the ephemeral essence of social media platforms; If I had to close down my TikTok account, I would want my art to still have a positive impact.
You’ve said before (and it is clearly evident in your work) that you see dance and movement as a means to fight against discrimination. Tell us more about how you see dance as a tool for combating ignorance. For communicating change?
Simply put, my mindset is the following: The body of the viewer understands any message before the brain can even integrate it. With this in mind, dance transcends the barriers of language and ignorance. Dance makes our body vibrate, and with this comes change.
Dance is a medium for change that is current. My dance and movement change as time goes by, as traditional dances evolve, but its core, this bounce, this one feeling, remains.
For young artists hoping to pursue a similar path to your own, what can you tell them about taking their first steps into a career as a professional dancer/choreographer?
If your art no longer inspires you, it is natural and necessary to take a step back to hopefully come back even stronger.
My “What I wished someone told me at the beginning of my career” list:
1. Work on yourself on a daily basis, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Invest in your own health and mental stability.
2. You cannot do it alone. Surround yourself with a strong team and support system who believes in you and your work, but that will also be there to guide you when you drift away from your true self.
3. Culture over Clout. It should never be the other way around.
4. Learn to receive criticism and build on that.
5. Your highest career highs, those times you will cry, feel overjoyed, proud, will most likely not be online.
6. Know your worth. Visibility is not a currency. Don’t be shy, ask for more, not only for yourself but for the next generation to come.
7. Trust your gut. Inspiration is not something that can be forced; It may not come when you most need it, but when it does, there is no place for doubt.
Tell us a bit about the music video that you did with ANYMA for “If God Had a Boat”. The choreography is truly distinct – is there a concept or specific inspiration there?
ANYMA and I grew up together. Seeing her grow has helped me truly understand the choreographic language she wanted to associate with the lyrics of her song. The first time I heard the track was while in the car with ANYMA. At that moment, I felt that it is more than a song, it is an experience. I focused on creating an energy around the movement that was meant to be accessible and authentic.
The goal was to express what ANYMA is all about: an essence that speaks to those who refuse to hear, and that unites rather than divides.
What is coming up for you, Aicha? (Please plug! Let us know what you’re working on!)
I was recently featured in the digital art exhibition “I Really Love This Song” presented by Slow Factory Foundation. My piece “Dance Your Anxiety Away” can be found here.
For the National Indigenous History Month, I have partaken in TikTok Canada’s #LivingStories campaign, which actively aimed to draw awareness to Indigenous cultures, creators, and topics.
I will be performing in Émilie Monet’s upcoming play, Marguerite, produced by ONISHKA Productions. More information about the play can be found here.
Lastly, I have a number of creative projects in the works which you will be able to view and enjoy in the upcoming months. Stay tuned!
If you live in Quebec, we might see each other at a Pow Wow this summer.
Where can people follow your work?
I can be found on Instagram @mynameisaicha and on TikTok @aichella.