Toiling away in obscurity seems to have its benefits.
For Yukon dance groups Extremely Moving and Groundwork Sessions, who turned heads last week at the Standing Ovation Dance Festival in Grande Prairie, Alberta — hailing from the territory became synonymous with being unique and inspiring.
For one thing, they had boys.
The five breakdancers from Groundwork were among the only males at the festival, and they were a hit, earning a gold in the hip-hop category with their athletic poppin’ and lockin’, high flying flips and dizzying spins.
“They were even signing autographs,” said Extremely Moving dancer Mellisa Kwok with a laugh on Wednesday at Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks in Riverdale.
“We signed like… two,” said Groundworks’ Riley Simpson-Fowler.
Any star treatment took a backseat to the work being done by the dancers at the festival, as more than 1,000 dancers from schools in northern Alberta, BC and Yukon converged at Grande Prairie Regional College for five days of judged performances.
The 18 members of Extremely Moving danced for adjudicators in various solos, duets and groups, in ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop styles.
With no break-dance category, Groundwork Sessions performed in the hip-hop division.
“Those other schools are really competitive,” said trip co-ordinator and dance teacher Andrea Simpson-Fowler.
“When we go back I wouldn’t be surprised see them break dancing.”
Even in the more traditional disciplines, the Yukon contingent had a unique approach.
“We do a lot of our own creative work – a lot of those schools have professionals choreograph for them,” said Simpson-Fowler.
“We saw like 50 dances and they were all the same,” said Kwok, who added that even the visual style of many groups was quite uniform.
“We looked a lot different. They could tell we were from the Yukon just by looking at us.”
The dancers agreed that being so isolated in Whitehorse is a big factor, and the fact that they only attend the Grande Prairie festival every other year only adds to that.
It’s not a total vacuum though.
Simpson-Fowler added that she brings in guest instructors from Toronto or Vancouver to give her students fresh ideas and motivation, and some local dancers head to open classes at the Harbour Dance centre in Vancouver when they can.
The main reason for travelling to the Festival is to get some outside perspective on where these dancers are at, how they stack up against the dancers from the south.
Because of the expense of chartering a bus, and staying in a hotel for five days, it’s only feasible for the dancers to attend every other year.
“We’d like to go every year if we could,” said Simpson-Fowler.
“It’s a huge learning experience,” she added. “I’m extremely proud of them. It’s the best we’ve done and it’s very validating.”
The 23 Yukon dancers combined for four platinum awards, 13 golds, four silver and a bronze.
More importantly, according to Simpson-Fowler, the dancers were also recognized with honours: four most outstandings (awarded to the highest score), three most promising mentions, and three $125 dance class scholarship wins.
They also took a choreography award in jazz.
For some graduating dancers, including Kwok and Jenny Freeman, and Groundwork’s Nick Robinson — this is the last chance they have to attend the Festival.
“We’ve been three times at this is the best we’ve done,” said Kwok.
Members of both dance groups also teach at Leaping Feats, and for their younger students, getting good enough to attend the festival is a long-term goal to work towards.
Now that the dancers are done with the festival, they’re looking ahead to their year-end recitals in July.
Both Extremely Moving and Groundwork Sessions are performing at the Yukon Arts Centre on July 9 and 10 – the groups will reprise Sisters Aurora, the original Yukon musical featuring local hip hop mc Kelvin Smoler.
Groundwork Sessions is also applying for grants to start a summer teaching/outreach program for youth in the territory. They are also trying to raise money to attend their first break dance battle, the Ashes2Ashes Bboy championships in Portland, Oregon.
They are available for gigs.