At the end of one summer, Dustin Anderson found himself on a boat covered in salmon guts one week, and the very next taking part in a ballet class in Edmonton.
Anderson, also known as the Purple Pirate, is a Vancouver-based performer and entertainer who performs at birthday parties, festivals and schools, dressed in deep purple and accompanied by high-quality audio and lighting. Where he is today is the product of an unusual path, and the content of his performances contain messages and intentions that run significantly deeper and more complex than many children’s performers.
In the mid nineties, Dustin Anderson had one foot in the world of commercial fishing, and one in the world of dance.
He explains that while attending a dance program in Edmonton, he worked summers on a fishing boat in Port Hardy. This was just one part of his non-linear path.
Anderson had a difficult childhood with a violent alcoholic mother, and he eventually moved to Port Hardy to live with his father.
He describes the move to Port Hardy as stabilizing. “I feel Port Hardy has given lots to me,” he says. His journey to where he has landed today has been full of interesting stops, including embracing drama when he was a student at Port Hardy Secondary School, playing the Easter Bunny at the Thunderbird Mall, working as a dancer in Australia, and working in the aforementioned commercial fishing world.
When teaching dance in Port Hardy in the early nineties, he applied to a dance program in Edmonton. The training was all about artistic expression and process. “It transformed my life,” Anderson says of the program. His adventures continued with costume work in Toronto, dancing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and working freelance for dance companies in Vancouver. After meeting a world champion magician on the cruise ship, Anderson was falling asleep one night, and the idea for the Purple Pirate came to him; he is now in his 16th year performing as his sea-faring alter-ego.
A fundamental tenant of Anderson’s approach is challenging a rigid conception of masculinity. When he was working in fishing in between dance school, he experienced some disrespectful comments and attitudes from other fisherman. The idea of what constitutes being a man being a narrow and static entity does not resonate with Anderson, and he believes that by being a positive role model, he can help young boys-and girls-see that they can be different things.
Anderson also hopes to begin a dialogue through a specific performance he gives at schools focused on bullying. The intention with the “Message in a Bottle” performance is to create talking points for educators, and also to incorporate forgiveness into bullying discussions, instead of the “divide and isolate” approach often used.
He also likes to remember that those who bully are probably feeling badly about themselves. “We are born altruistic, we are born kind, we are born helpful and bullies are created,” he says.
The most rewarding parts of Anderson’s career have been moments where young fans really engage, like when a young North Island fan named Emma Wilson gave him a teddy bear in Port Hardy or when kids hug him after a performance.
“It’s when I make a connection with a child.”