Sandy Lake, Pik youth showcase dance moves
Sandy Lake youth Matthew Meekis performs during one of the two shows on May 14 at the Winter Garden Theater.
Mya Anishinabie and Matthew Morriseau of Sandy Lake on stage.
More than 20 youth from four different First Nation communities took part in Outside Looking In (OLI)’s 7th Annual Show in Toronto this past May at the Winter Garden Theater.
The show was the culmination of several months of practice on the youth’s part as well as attending classes each day and getting good grades in order to make it to the show.
“It was awesome,” said OLI founder Tracee Smith. “We had 23 kids between four communities. Every year it gets better and every year it’s different.”
Participants from this year’s OLI show were from Pikangikum, Sandy Lake, Lac La Croix and Wikwemikong.
Pikangikum member Kurri Quill, 20, who has been involved with OLI since 2010, was at this year’s performance in Toronto.
“I wanted to be in the program because I got interested in it, and my brother Alex inspired me when he performed in Toronto in 2009,” Quill said.
Quill said that he had a lot of fun dancing and rehearsing in the program. He and the other youth involved went to Toronto for two weeks to practice as a group before the big performance.
“This year I practiced with the dancers from Sandy Lake and Lac La Croix and Wikwemikong,” Quill said. “We rehearsed in a barn at Tim Horton’s Onondaga Farms.”
Smith said that the youth have been preparing for the Toronto event during the school year, but OLI also required the youth to attend classes and get good grades.
“The kids are easy to get involved,” Smith said. “But the hard part the kids have is that there are requirements. If they want to make it to Toronto, they have to do well in and be in school.”
Smith explained that the youth have to know the dance choreography, and they also have to have good behaviour.
“They have to be a good person,” Smith said. “So they have all these requirements they have to meet.”
Smith said that most of the youth do not make it all the way to Toronto.
“It depends on what challenges they face,” Smith said. She said that the ones who do qualify for Toronto at the end of the school year are the minority of the youth. Smith said that OLI was in each community working with the youth every other week for about three days a week.
“When we’re not there on those off weeks, that’s when the teachers and youth workers step in to work with the kids,” said Smith, who is a member of Missanabie Cree.
This year, OLI did two performances in Toronto in front of around 2,000 people in total.
“We do two shows. A matinee show for the kids from all other Toronto and different reservations,” Smith said. “In the evening, we do a show for the parents, sponsors, donors, families. Two shows in one day, it’s a whirlwind.”
Quill said that being in Toronto was scary for him.
“Being in Toronto was scary for me because it’s a big place and I’m not used to being in a big city and all,” he said. “Still, I had fun there.”
Quill said that he and the other youth went to see a Blue Jays baseball game while in the city. He said the OLI performance left him with a great feeling.
“I didn’t feel nervous at all because I’ve been in the program three times now,” Quill said.
“I felt pumped up while I was dancing on stage. It was amazing.”
Smith said the show was “really good.”
“It was awesome, it was a great show,” Smith said. She explained that she received some positive feedback as well from people who attended the show. The performance is a multimedia show and has a lot of video content - including interviews with the youth as they prepared for the performance and experience different challenges in their communities, like staying in school.
“A lot of people felt emotionally attached (to the youth). They get to see them up close in interviews. And then they see them live, dancing in front of them. “
“A lot of people tell me they cry,” Smith said.
Smith said that the youth tell her they feel proud after the show, and that their parents are proud of them too.
She feels it is important to have a program like OLI to help encourage education and the arts.
“There aren’t enough arts in school,” Smith said. “Aboriginal people are creative and artistic naturally. This really allows the kids to come to school and hear the music pumping and move their bodies to activate their natural talent. These kids are so talented. They get to see what they’re good at.”
Quill said he felt that everyone did a great job in Toronto.
“The show, the whole experience will change who you are and will make a big difference in your life,” Quill said.
Smith said that the program is not just for the youth but for their communities as well. She said that with each year, more parents come out to support their children in the program and help with fundraising.
“It’s not just a program that impacts the kids, it’s expanding to bring a community together and make it, I think, stronger,” Smith said.
Outside Looking In offers a high school accredited program providing the opportunity to youth and their communities to engage in long-term intensive education through dance. In order to attend the main show at the end of the school year in Toronto, youth must fulfill the academic and attendance requirements of the program.
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