by Laurel Lepine, Dance Teacher, Nelson Mandela High School
The music is loud and the feet are pounding the wood in the Dance studio at the Genesis Centre YMCA in the East Calgary community of Saddletowne. Twenty-three young dancers from Nelson Mandela High School are focused and busy rehearsing in preparation to perform at the East Side Dance Festival at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks May 15-17, 2018. Their team captains, three Grade 12 students, Sethu Nair, Inaya Lakhani and Angad Sindhu, have spent hours in front of their bedroom mirrors preparing choreography to teach to their peers at weekly rehearsals.
Many of these dancers have had no formal dance training, but their determination and love of dance pushes them to rehearse, refine and repeat. Nine schools will be participating at this year’s festival including Lester B. Pearson, Forest Lawn and Bishop McNally. The opportunity to receive mentoring and instruction at the Festival from Calgary professional dancers is, for many emerging dancers, a first time experience. The Festival’s driving mandate has been to enrich and develop Dance in the East side of the city where students often do not have access to dance lessons and the professional dance community.
This year, the Festival received the Kaiti Perras “Love of Dance Memorial Fund” allowing the Festival to be even more accessible and affordable to students. What has this meant for Sethu, Inaya and Angad? A chance to participate in last year’s festival ignited their creativity and imagination about choreographing their own dances.
This year, the Mandela dance team, Dance Empire, also benefited from working with visiting guest artist, Joey Braunwarth, a professional Calgary dancer from ILLEFX Dance Company who choreographed the team in an original fusion dance of Swing and Hip Hop for the Festival. In addition, student Sethu has taken up the reins to choreograph a high-paced and complex Hip Hop dance, while Inaya and Angad have created an original and entertaining Bollywood dance.
The result for the students of Nelson Mandela’s Dance Empire is that dance is taking center stage in their lives and inspiring a life-long love of dance - proof that the goal of the East Side Dance Festival is being realized in the NE community of Saddletowne.