Sharing Dance 2017: all the right moves

Canada 150

Canada’s National Ballet School is asking you to show them your moves in 2017—no audition necessary. Are you ready to get down? Let us show you the steps!

Starting in Toronto, Sharing Dance has been uniting communities through movement since 2012, and as a Signature Project of Canada 150 they’re taking the event country-wide. Canada’s National Ballet School is inviting Canadians to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation by learning and performing a choreographed dance in locations across the nation. Chief of External Affairs John Dalrymple explains how Sharing Dance 2017 will be anything but routine.

How did Canada’s National Ballet School start Sharing Dance?

For our 50th anniversary in 2010 we organized a flash mob, which were still trendy then. We had about 300 people learning a routine to a Feist song, but they were coming to our open rehearsals and going home and forgetting the steps, so we created some cheap and cheerful videos to help. We posted them on YouTube so anyone could access them and learn the routine, and suddenly had about 100, 000 views—it really captured people’s imaginations.

Without us knowing, an eighth grade teacher took the videos to her class and taught them the routine. It was so popular with the students that the following year, the principal asked her to teach the entire school the routine. She was able to adapt it to tie into parts of the curriculum—not just physical education, but social studies, language and math. The only reason we weren’t in every classroom before is because we could only be so many places at one time. It was a lightbulb moment, so we said: let’s not just do a one-off flash mob, let’s create online resources that get Canadians engaged in dance.

Sharing Dance unites communities through movement.

How will the 2017 Sharing Dance be different than past years?

Our 50th anniversary was our biggest year, reaching 8 provinces, but in 2017 this movement is happening in every province and territory in Canada. The way we’re approaching the routine is also different; in the past we’d identify one choreographer to create a routine and choose the music, and this year we’re focusing on celebrating the strength that comes from diversity.

How will the routine be choreographed?

There are four choreographers from different geographic and cultural backgrounds - and genders - creating the routine, and they’re each going to work with a youth group from a different part of the country. We want the voice of young people from diverse backgrounds to inform how the story of Canada is told through dance. A fifth choreographer at the ballet school will weave it together as a tapestry, and we’re working with a number of artists to create a new piece of music that speaks to the diversity of Canada artistically. It has everything from a string quartet to an Inuit throat singer and a DJ.

Why did Canada’s National Ballet School feel it was important to be part of Canada’s 150th celebration?

The arts in general has a big role to play in defining and celebrating the kind of country we are. Dance is an important contribution to that conversation because not only does it have all the creative and emotional elements that come with any kind of artistic endeavour, but it also has huge physical health benefits.

Are the health benefits a major draw for participants?

It’s an opportunity for people from all walks of life to get physically engaged in the celebration. If we ask ourselves: “can Canadians be healthier?” it comes down to getting people physically active, and dance is a great way to do that. People who aren’t into organized sports often enjoy dance, and it’s as much exercise as any activity you can do.

John Dalrymple gets down at Sharing Dance (right.)

What are you hoping Canadians take away from the 2017 Sharing Dance experience?

They come away more confident and engaged in their community, and it’s something they want to do again. We’re excited to take what we’ve done in a few areas in Canada and make it available to a much larger group of participants.

In your experience, how difficult will it be for people to learn the routine for 2017?

We work with partners across the country to give people the opportunity to rehearse and practice, and the routines are very accessible. There are modified versions of the routine so if somebody has mobility issues of any kind, they can still participate fully. We’ll have live-streamed rehearsals with world-class instructors; it’s not just “clap your hands and stomp your foot once”—we want people to actually learn and achieve something.

I can speak from personal experience, I have no formal dance background whatsoever, I was an archeologist—so naturally I work at a ballet school now [laughs]. When we started this program a few years ago, I had to hold my nose and dive in. I was a little intimidated, but after the first couple rehearsals, I fell in love with it. Now I’m the first guy up front. The great thing is, it’s all about participating. It’s not really about doing an amazing job, it’s about having fun.

Sharing Dance 2017 will celebrate diversity in Canada.

Sharing Dance will be coming to a location near you in 2017, so dust off your dancing shoes and watch this space for updates.

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