Healing Through Dance: Toronto Artist Sheds Light on Sexism and Trauma

Victoria Mata © Photo by Tiffany Hsiung

By Vanessa Grant

When most of us dance, it’s to celebrate at a party or let loose in our living rooms. When Victoria Mata dances, it’s to heal intergenerational trauma, empower young women fleeing domestic violence, and explore the diasporic experience.

Mata is a Venezuelan-Canadian choreographer, director, activist, and expressive arts therapist who has been dancing professionally for over 20 years. Drawing inspiration from her home in Toronto and ancestral roots, her work is influenced by the traditional Afro-Venezuelan genres of the cacao-farming regions her grandfather hails from and the contemporary Canadian dance scene.

Telling stories of women that aren’t commonly told in performance spaces is a major focus of her work. Her characters are often seen standing strong and beautiful against the sexual violence and “machismo” or sexism many women and trans people experience in Latin America.

“On stage, I get to create the world that I want to manifest,” Mata explains. “And in this world, my protagonist has a nude torso that is not sexualized and wears a traditional culoepuya skirt that is connected to the people of Venezuela. The machete she holds is an instrument that can clear paths, but it is also a tool for protection and killing when needed. There’s a warrior entity to her that I feel we all have to carry.”

Through ConSECUENCIAS, an artist network she co-founded that operates in Canada and Latin America, Mata brings dance and filmmaking to women’s shelters, inspiring participants to exhibit and produce their own critical art. Her face lights up when talking about the young women she’s mentored over the years.

“It’s really awesome to see when participants start their own production companies and music labels, become teachers, have kids and reach out to us and say, ‘I want to put my kid in a workshop!’” she says.

Besides equipping young women with the tools to create their own art, Mata also uses expressive arts therapy to support them as they work through trauma. Her clients use collage, clay, painting, movement, song, and more to heal.

“Expressive arts therapy is a field that accesses the power of the imagination. It’s in moving from one art form to another that we connect with the subconscious and gain deeper knowledge about our relationship to other people and experiences of trauma, and then begin to imagine how we want to choose to shift those relationships.”

Mata also uses art to call attention to timely social issues. In Cacao: A Venezuelan Lament, an upcoming theatre work premiering in September, she highlights the exploitation of cacao farmers through the global chocolate trade and the fight to preserve their traditional way of life.

Another frequent theme in Mata’s work is mental health. She investigates grief in Suspended, hanging from a harness in mid-air to recreate the feeling of the world turning upside down when we lose someone or something. She’ll be presenting a version of this work to Toronto audiences this May through Discover Dance, a free lunch-hour series presented by TO Live and Nova Dance that introduces many of the city’s incredible dance artists.

Mata explains that the motivation behind her work isn’t just professional—it’s personal, too. She has a family history of suicide, addiction, and displacement.

“As I learn more about my family’s story, there’s an answer to why I’m doing what I do that is bigger than me. There’s a calling to heal the intergenerational trauma that I feel my body is holding onto. And I have both expressive arts therapy and the world of dance and choreography to heal what my cells carry.”

victoria mata
Victoria Mata © Ana Higuera

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