Dancing from the Inside/Out

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesday at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed internationally acclaimed Canadian dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis to give a lecture called “Dancing from the Inside/Out”.

The John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke Dance Department co-hosted the event, in which Gillis discussed her experiences with dance throughout her life, including her career as a dancer and her role as a teacher of conflict resolution through movement. Gillis also talked about her dance company, the Margie Gillis Foundation.

Gillis grew up in an extraordinarily athletic family with two Olympic skiers as parents and a brother in the National Hockey League (NHL). At age 8, she experienced a nervous breakdown due to multiple unexpected changes in her personal life. To overcome this challenging time, Gillis learned to reintegrate herself from the inside, out. She turned to dance as a form of expression. Dance taught Gillis to move “through” life’s obstacles with both physical and emotional dexterity.


Margie Gillis quote




From being the first artist to bring modern dance to China in 1979 after the Cultural Revolution to performing in tours all over the globe, Gillis has gained a unique perspective of the world. She sees dance as a universal form of communication, and is fascinated by the “limits of language,” yet the “clarity of physicality”. Gillis said, “I’m not really precious about [my identity], including my name,” and emphasized that she cares more about fluidity, community, and understanding.



All of Gillis’ work is “based on notions of health,” including both physical and mental health. Gillis’ mentorship in conflict resolution has changed many lives for the better. Gillis believes that “dance is devalued in many of the cultures of our society,” and she has experienced the strong transformative power of movement first-hand. Gillis has seen dance used as a method to bridge communities, heal trauma, and embrace character. She encourages others to interpret dance in a way that works best for them, and stated, “I find people miraculous, absolutely miraculous in their strategies… their challenges become their areas of strength.”