Building a better dance community

It's pretty rare to leave the Yukon in search of gold, but that's exactly what a group of young dancers did this past weekend. That's where you need to go if your looking for High Gold.

It’s pretty rare to leave the Yukon in search of gold, but that’s exactly what a group of young dancers did this past weekend.

That’s where you need to go if your looking for High Gold.

The Extremely Moving Youth dance company took home a number of awards last week at a dance festival in Surrey, BC.

The 36 dancers won 15 High Gold, 20 Gold and two High Silver.

“High Gold”- for those not versed in the intricacies of the dance festival world – is first place. Gold is second, High Silver third, and on down the line past Silver, High Bronze and Bronze.

On top of that, the company received two awards for most outstanding performance, five choreography awards and four most promising awards.

There were a lot of awards being thrown around. But, of the 20 other schools and over 200 students that attended – Extremely Moving took home more than their fair share.

But it wasn’t always that way.

When Andrea Simpson-Fowler grew up in Whitehorse, there was nowhere for her to seriously train and study dance.

At 15 she was forced to head south, leaving behind her friends and family to pursue her interest in dance.

Simpson-Fowler has since returned home to the North and started Leaping Feats, a dance school located in Riverdale.

With more than 500 students, Leaping Feats acts as a sort of farm team for Extremely Moving, which holds fairly competitive auditions every June to fill its 36 spots.

Extremely Moving, now in its 12th year, is a nonprofit organization created to give kids a chance to seriously train and hopefully move on to study dance at the postsecondary level, at university or in a conservatory.

“So the reason the program exists is to insure that dancers have the opportunity to train intensively in Whitehorse,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“They don’t have to leave. They can stay here and live with their families and still have those kinds of opportunities.”

But it’s also a lot of work.

The students study various styles – ballet, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop – and train for two hours every day after school.

The kids have to sign a contract, aren’t allowed to participate in school sports, and have to follow strict commitments and attendance policies.

It was a bit of a fight to get families to commit to 10 hours of training each week, said Simpson-Fowler, whose daughter Grace is in the program.

“A lot of people move here to get away from the rat race, right? They don’t want to over-program their kids.”

Now young Yukon dancers are able to train seriously at home.

The one remaining problem is that there are no festivals in the North.

Festivals are important for a young dancer’s career.

Beyond offering the experience of competition, the festivals are also adjudicated by a group of dance experts.

These adjudicators offer comments and suggestions for each dancer. They can often be tough, but that’s what students need to improve.

Extremely moving used to go to a festival in Grand Prairie, said Simpson-Fowler.

“But we kind of grew out of Grand Prairie and we wanted to go to one that had a higher calibre.”

Vancouver is known for its high level of dance – maybe a little too high for the Yukon dancers, who are relatively inexperienced compared to their competitive peers down south.

But nearby Surrey, BC seemed like it might be doable.

“Definitely the calibre was higher, but we’ve been working really hard the past two years, we’ve had some tremendous guest instructors come up and work with the kids, so they held their own,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“They did really, really well.”

Especially considering that Extremely Moving goes to festivals once every other year. Only 12 of the 36 girls had ever been to a festival before.

They’d like to go every year, but it’s difficult to find the money it takes to send a dance school as far as Surrey.

It cost around $50,000 to get the 36 kids and 10 chaperones down to last weekend’s festival.

It wasn’t just they’re dance skills that set Yukon’s dancers apart from the crowd.

Extremely Moving puts a big emphasis on contributing to their community as well as learning how to choreograph, program manage and teach.

Some of the students work as student teachers and some of the former graduates are starting to come home, to teach and help out the company.

“We do all of these things so that they can help build the community here that I grew up in, which I hated. We’re really on a mission to make it cool.”

If you’d like to see what makes a High Gold dance, Leaping Feats will be holding its Dancing Through Life show at the arts centre on May 26 and 27.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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