Yukon’s cultural ambassadors bring a fresh style to the Games

Whitehorse isn’t really known as a hip-hop hotbed. But after the Arctic Winter Games, maybe that will change.

Whitehorse isn’t really known as a hip-hop hotbed.

But after the Arctic Winter Games, maybe that will change.

Yukon’s dance contingent at the Games, Leaping Feats, is out to show the rest of the northern world that Whitehorse is nowhere close to the gold-rush-era theme park that seems to define most people’s idea of the Yukon.

And all that poppin’ and lockin’ seems to be working.

“Two thirds of the Yukon is Whitehorse; it’s an urban culture,” said team manager Andrea Simpson-Fowler. “Hip-hop is really big in the communities as well.”

The eight dancers, with help from Simpson-Fowler and Toronto-based break-dancer Roshan Amendra, prepared a 16-minute choreographed routine that received a standing ovation in the theatre at Kenai Central High School on Monday night.

After just two days in Kenai, the Yukon dance group was already creating a buzz.

“I’ve been telling everybody to come out to our show,” said dancer Nick Robinson.

“It’s something they’re going to remember,” added Rob Westberg.

The group started in Simpson-Fowler’s Leaping Feats dance studio, a combination of break-dance crew Groundwork Sessions (Karl Loos, Riley Simpson-Fowler, Rob Westberg and brothers Nick, Ben and Alex Robinson) and hip-hop dancers Jenny Freeman and Melissa Kwok.

The group has been travelling throughout the Yukon performing and teaching for the last two years.

“We’re almost like professionals … we should be getting paid,” said Simpson-Fowler with a laugh.

The crowd erupted as the Yukon group took the stage. It was the dancers’ first chance to display their skills at the Games.

They were the closing act for a two-and-a-half-hour show that featured performers from each contingent at the Games.

The majority of the performers represented more traditional art forms.

Alaska’s Mount Edgecombe boarding school performers brought songs and dances from many First Nation communities across the state.

Northern Alberta’s Fox Lake Drummers shared Northern Cree prayer songs and hand-game drum beats, while the Nunavik-Quebec team gave a highly entertaining throat-singing demonstration.

Yamal’s dancers delighted the audience with several short performances of classic Russian ballet and folk dances.

Greenland shared some traditional tales of the raven through song and dance.

NWT presented an interesting mix of old and new, including Yellowknife rapper Godson’s freestyling wordplay, and the Fort Providence’s traditional Dene drumming.

These cultural teams will spend the week travelling together and performing each night at a different venue on the peninsula.

The Yukon team is hoping for a chance to do some freestyle breakdancing as well as the choreographed routine in the show, or to join forces with some of the other performers for some truly pan-northern creation.

“I’m hoping to build some relationships,” said Simpson-Fowler.

All the time together is bound to create unique artistic mixes.

“You can see similarities with traditional dance,” said Loos. It all comes from the same place.

Kids from vastly different backgrounds are finding they have more in common than anyone expected.

“Nunavik kids recognized some of our moves, from a Missy Elliott video,” said Kwok. “MTV goes everywhere.”

“We were on the bus with the Nunavut girls, and Robbie was beatboxing while they did some throat-singing,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“That was very cool and now they all want to marry him,” she said with a laugh.