DIRECTOR - Miss Coco Murray
Collette 'Coco" Murray is an award-winning social entrepreneur, cultural arts programmer, arts educator, mentor, consultant, and writer/researcher in the dance sector. Murray's research and projects in education and community engagement centers on cultural education, the African diaspora and culturally-responsive arts programming under this mobile, dance education business. Miss Coco is a Toronto-born dance artist-scholar of South American heritage. She holds 20 years of experience in the arts sector. She specializes in diverse Afro-diasporic dance forms in the West African region, Caribbean Folk and research on many dance styles. Currently, Murray pursues a PhD in Dance Studies at York University.
Miss Coco's journey began when she performed, apprenticed, and taught recreational dance classes in her childhood neighbourhood with the City of Toronto, Parks and Recreation division. This was a social response to insert cultural dance where it was egregiously absent and bridge a disconnection she had with her multi-ethnic heritage. Murray discussed her entry into dance in Toronto Arts Foundation's impact story for International Dance Day 2021. Murray trained for a few years in COBA's professional apprenticeship training program and performed in their 19th season, Les Rhymes de la Forêt, while serving as an understudy. Murray studies dance forms with master teachers from West Africa, Caribbean, and USA such as M'Bemba Bangoura, Youssouf Koumbassa and Delton Frank. Murray performed for several years among a few Toronto-based dance companies and continues to collaborate with intergenerational artists. Previous affiliations include Caribbean Folk Performers, Ijo Vudu, Caribbean Dance Theatre, Alpha Rhythm Roots, Baro Dunumba, Kobena Aquaa-Harrison, Ronald Taylor Dance and Black Stars Entertainment. Past highlights are working with choreographers Chester Whitmore (LA) and Paulette Brockington in a swing dance performance in the 2012 International Association of Blacks in Dance conference (Toronto); and two performances in the NBA Toronto Raptors half-time show as part of Esie Mensah Creations for Giants of Africa (2015) and the NBA Celebrates Black History Month in 2017.
After 13 years teaching her programs with the City of Toronto, she transitioned to teach in schools and arts organizations such as dance Immersion, Kaleidoscope’s program in Scarbourough Arts and East End Arts. She was sought out for workshops and arts programming by existing performance groups. She previously served as chief choreographer for Ngoma Drum & Dance Ensemble, dance faculty of Children's Youth & Dance Theatre and taught dance classes in Durham region for four years. Predominately, her artistic work is with young Black girls and women but also with hundreds of students across the GTA. In December 2021, Coco experimented in choreographic research and taught classes in a residency at Toronto Dance Theatre, bringing live percussion and Mandinka music-dance systems to train the company's dancers.
Murray was recently recognized for 2022 Racial Justice Award for Creative Arts for being a changemaker anti-racism in dance and 2022 Women Who Rock Awards for continued work to centralize the importance of cultural arts in dance and education sectors. Additional recognition includes being one of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women honorees in 2020, the Canadian Dance Assembly's 2013 recipient of their "I love Community" dance Award. In 2014, she was named a Role Model in the inaugural Black Canadian Awards. Toronto Arts Foundation’s Neighbourhood Arts Network recognized her as the 2019 Community Arts Award recipient for her significant contributions in transforming local communities through art. With support from the Canada, Ontario, and Toronto Arts Councils, Murray is grateful for the funding support for her dance development and arts-based projects she designs.
Murray holds a Master of Education, Specialized Honours BA in Race, Ethnicity & Indigeneity (Summa Cum Laude) and a Certificate in Anti-Racist Research and Practice from York University. Her BA in Sociology was from University of Toronto. Murray's advocacy includes serving on the Board of Directors for Arts Etobicoke, current Vice Chair of Dance Umbrella of Ontario (DUO) board and the National Council for Canadian Dance Assembly to support provincial and national services for the professional dance sector.