DIRECTOR - Miss Coco Murray
Collette 'Coco" Murray is a multi-award winning artist-scholar, cultural arts programmer, dance educator, mentor, arts consultant that is published in dance media and academic journals. Murray's research and projects in education and community engagement centers on cultural arts education, dance studies and culturally-responsive arts programming under this mobile, dance education business. Miss Coco is a Toronto-born of South American heritage with 20 years of experience in the Canadian arts sector. She specializes in diverse Afro-diasporic dance forms in the West Afrikan region, Caribbean Folk and researches on many dance styles. Coco Moko Jumbie is part of her stiltwalking/dance tradition explorations to connect with Caribbean and Western Afrikan cosmologies.
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 dance faculty of Children's Youth & Dance Theatre and taught dance classes in Durham region for four years. Predominately, her artistic work was with young Black girls and women but also with hundreds of students across the GTA. In December 2021, Coco experimented in RBC Episodes for 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. Coco mentored several young, black emerging artists through her dance mentorship and as an established artist with Vibe Arts. While presenting at international conferences and panels, Coco occasionally performs and guest teaches for organizations such as the National Ballet School of Canada.
Murray's advocacy includes equity and diversity in the arts within the dance and education sectors. Currently, Murray leads as Chair of Dance Umbrella of Ontario (DUO) Board of Directors and the National Council member for Canadian Dance Assembly to support provincial and national services for the professional dance sector. For six years, Murray was pivotal in guiding Arts Etobicoke to diversify artistic programming, engage and serve within North Etobicoke (Rexdale), and to work within equity frameworks throughout their organization.
Murray pursues a PhD in Dance Studies with the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University. 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 is the 2023 National Award recipient for Outstanding Leadership in Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion from the National Dance Education Organization, given to an individual who has demonstrated excellence in creating ideas for programs, curriculums, and/or projects that have had a significant impact on their specific field of dance education and who has demonstrated leadership on a national level. Unbeknownst to Murray, she was chosen by and awarded by Urban Alliance for Race Relations with its 2022 Racial Justice Award for Creative Arts for being a changemaker for anti-racism efforts in dance in the province of Ontario. Collette was named the 2022 Women Who Rock Awards for continued work to centralize the importance of cultural arts in dance and education sectors. In 2021, Collette's Griots in Sight was part of Art's Etobicoke's augmented reality project where her dance narratives was overlay of new cultural narratives on pre-historical commissioned murals in Islington Village. This project was selected as a finalist in the inaugural Toronto Artscape Foundation/UrbanLand Institute's Tim Jones Creative Placemaking Award within the Greater Golden Horseshoe region for addressing the anti-Black racism and lack of people of color on commissioned public murals. 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 and making arts accessible. Additional recognition includes being one of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women honorees in 2020 and 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. 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.
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