These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Amalia Schelhorn taught Victoria, B.C., to dance to protect old-growth. This one-time National Ballet of Canada soloist helped bring media attention to the call to end old-growth logging in British Columbia by choreographing and organizing community dance protests.

Tell us about this work.

In the spring of 2021, I went to visit the Fairy Creek blockades. My awe for the ancient forests was matched by horror at all the clearcuts. I asked the activists what they needed and they told me they needed publicity. I thought, “I can do that.”

I know the media likes visual and performing arts and, as a dancer and teacher, I had good networks. I choreographed and taped a dance to Bruce Cockburn’s If a Tree Falls and contacted everyone I could think of. I got permission to use the lawn of the legislative buildings, found a sound person and a videographer, notified the media, held Zoom rehearsals… Three days later, 40 people, young and old, showed up to Dance for the Ancient Forests.

We were very successful in attracting media attention because it was a novel and visually compelling protest.

Since then, I have created another dance to a rewritten version of Stop In the Name of Love, which has been performed in multiple United for Old Growth flash mobs around the city, mostly in shopping malls. Many of the dancers are seniors from Elders for Ancient Trees and from Greater Victoria Acting Together. We have fun and so do the people watching. Once again, the media has picked up these protests.

Salmon dance at the old-growth rally. Photo submitted by Mya Van Woudenberg

Amalia Schelhorn teaches communities to dance to save old-growth forests. #ClimateAction #ClimateSolutions

I am very pleased that the British Columbia government, in partnership with Ottawa and First Nations, has just announced a commitment of $1 billion for conservation, including the protection of old-growth trees.

It is very satisfying to know we played a small part.

Tell us about moving from being a climate-conscious individual to working in the community.

As a dancer and mother, it was easy to understand the importance of taking care of one’s personal environment, the body, and, by extension, the natural world. I wanted to act beyond personal lifestyle choices but couldn’t see my way in. I couldn’t see a connection between activism and the art form in which I had invested so much. My experiences at Fairy Creek have changed my view of the role of arts in advocacy. Art makes messages accessible and palatable. It builds community and fosters hope.

On the last of many trips to Fairy Creek that summer, I got arrested. I was with a group challenging a controversial “exclusion zone” that the RCMP had set up along a public road, far from where the logging was happening. My trial took an entire day. I was astonished to see the number of resources it required, with the time of the judge, the court reporters, the sheriff, two government lawyers and my own lawyer. The judge agreed that I had been arrested inappropriately. My decision to plead not guilty was easy because I did not believe I had broken the injunction. I was not interfering with industry. My trial was significant in that it set a precedent for other cases to be dropped.

A friend from church suggested that I become involved in Greater Victoria Acting Together, which brings civil society groups together to work on shared priorities, one of which is protecting old-growth. I also work with Elders for Ancient Trees, which has gathered older people to stand up for this precious resource. I am hopeful that change is coming, but we have to act together to make it happen fast enough.

Tell us about your dance career.

When I was 15, I began attending the National Ballet School in Toronto. I joined the National Ballet of Canada and eventually became a first soloist. Later, my husband and I moved to British Columbia to raise our family. Now I teach ballet, choreograph and still perform occasionally.

Community dances to protect old-growth trees. Photo by Mya Van Woudenberg, Sierra
Club BC.

Do you miss it?

I loved being a professional dancer but I was in search of meaning. I am so happy to have discovered that my knowledge and talents can help to make a better world.

What would you like to say to young people?

I want young people to know they can make a difference. Their choices matter, and whatever they cultivate in themselves has a place in creating the world we want to see.

How about older readers?

Don’t wait to join a group until you know what role you can play. The group will pull that out of you.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

I really appreciate the opportunity to express what is so meaningful to me. That is a gift.