Robin Poitras, CM, dancer, teacher, choreographer, administrator (born 1958 in Regina, SK). Robin Poitras is the co-founder and artistic and managing director of Regina-based New Dance Horizons. It is one of Canada’s most successful and groundbreaking contemporary dance organizations. It has played a crucial role in the development of contemporary dance in Saskatchewan since the mid-1980s. Poitras has received a YWCA Women of Distinction Award for the Arts, as well as lifetime achievement awards from the Regina Mayor’s Arts and Business Awards and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2021.
Early Life and Family
Robin Poitras (née Wiens) is the second of six children born to architect Clifford Wiens and educator and ceramicist Patricia Wiens. Poitras grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, and began dancing at a very early age, often on her front lawn and occasionally with her father accompanying on the fiddle or mandolin. The Wiens children enjoyed music, dance and art, and visited galleries and powwows with their parents. Poitras has credited her parents’ influence and her artistic upbringing as key to her developing her unique interdisciplinary approach to dance and art in general. As a child, she learned to play the cello, though she always wanted to be a dancer above all else.
Poitras trained in dance therapy at York University in the late 1970s. During this time, she would come home to Regina in the summers and work as a playground supervisor. She also performed with Regina Modern Dance Works. Poitras completed a BFA (special honours) in dance at York University in 1982. She then continued her studies in Zurich, Switzerland; at the American Center for Art and Culture in Paris, France; at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; in Winnipeg and in Montreal.
Poitras began her professional dancing career in 1984. After completing her studies, she returned to Regina where she met and married artist Edward Poitras. The two have since divorced.
Robin Poitras has performed internationally as a professional and highly sought-after dancer. Her original work has been performed in her native Saskatchewan and throughout Canada, in addition to Mexico, France, Germany, Mongolia and Spain.
New Dance Horizons
Deciding to stay in Regina, Poitras’s training in dance therapy led her to dance education and then into creation. In 1986, she formed New Dance Horizons with Dianne Fraser, whom she had met years earlier at Regina Modern Dance Works. Poitras continues to serve as artistic and managing director of the non-profit, which functions as both a dance production company and a dance instruction centre. For a while, New Dance Horizons held the distinction of being the only professional dance company in Saskatchewan.
The company’s mandate is to foster the development, production, creation and presentation of contemporary dance and related performing arts in Saskatchewan. Since its inception, New Dance Horizons has focused on three interrelated strands: performance presentation; learning and teaching; and creation and production. This latter aspect is pursued by Rouge-gorge (French for robin), a project-based dance company dedicated to the celebration of Poitras’s original work and the visual arts of Edward Poitras. It produces original dance and performance works by the two long-time collaborators.
New Dance Horizons has played a crucial role in the development of contemporary dance in Saskatchewan since the mid-1980s. It has produced original stage shows and showcased international performers. A core component of New Dance Horizons’ values and mission is to provide new, innovative and challenging dance opportunities and encounters for people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of interest. It is arguably one of Canada’s most successful and groundbreaking contemporary dance organizations.
Awards and Distinctions
Robin Poitras’s contributions to the arts in Saskatchewan have kept her in the province’s cultural spotlight for much of her adult life. She has received numerous awards and distinctions throughout her career. In 2004, she was awarded a YWCA Women of Distinction Award for the Arts. In 2006, she received the Regina Mayor’s Arts and Business Award for Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, she was awarded the Saskatchewan Arts Board’s Lieutenant Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award. Poitras was made a Member of the Order of Canada in December 2021 for “for her creative contributions to contemporary dance in Canada, and for her leadership as artistic director of New Dance Horizons.”