Young Toronto dancers off to Jamaica

By RON FANFAIR

Members of a Toronto dance troupe will travel to Jamaica on Saturday for the 11th Dance & Child International one-week conference in Kingston.

The Children Dance Theatre’s 12-member group will make its first appearance at the conference which promotes opportunities throughout the world for children and young people to experience dance as creators, performers and spectators, ensures the dance interests of the youths are recognized and developed and provides for the exchange of ideas on dance programs in school and in the community.

“The conference is focused on children who do dance and those who express all elements of life through dance in areas such as social commentary, the secular component of dance and even traditional dance,” said the group’s founder and artistic director, Andrea Douglas. “We are going as a lyrical dance group and we are going to do social commentary.

“I have put together a 20-minute piece, Voices of Urban Reality, which our young people will present. It looks at our people’s experiences here and how our community has to bond together, not only through voice, but through supporting each other to overcome some of the challenges we face in Western society. The children clearly understand what the dance is all about.”

The theme of this year’s conference is Cultures Flex: Unearthing Expressions of the Dancing Child.

The opening ceremony will be held on Sunday afternoon at Emancipation Park and the Toronto dancers will attend Jamaica’s grand gala independence celebrations at the National Stadium next Thursday. The Canadians will also take part in dance classes, workshops and field trips.

York University Department of Dance associate professor, Mary-Elizabeth Manley, encouraged the Children Dance Theatre to send in a proposal for this year’s conference.

“We sent it in but we really did not expect much to come out of it,” said Douglas, a Toronto and District School Board vice-principal who has performed with Jamaica’s National Dance Theatre Company, the Guyana School of Dance and the Caribbean Dance Theatre in Toronto. “It was accepted and the girls have been together for the past month working on the piece they are going to present.

“They are looking forward to the trip and this is a great opportunity for them to interact with other young people from different cultures and countries. It’s also an opportunity for some of them to see and experience the country where some of their parents were born.”

Douglas founded the Children Dance Theatre in September 1993 with the aim of nurturing the dance talent of children over the age of four. The group offers a structured dance program with classes three days a week at the Driftwood Community Centre.

Participants are exposed to several dance forms, including Afro-Caribbean, jazz, modern African, hip hop and classical ballet.

The young dancers – their ages range from seven to 19 – who are going to Jamaica are Brittany Nelson, Imani Reid, Mariah Brooks, Gilisa Roberts, Maliko Peck, Camille Walker, Alexandria Batchelor, Kamilla Manning, Tereka Tyler-Davis, Tamonia Williams and sisters Teidra and Taelor Coleman.

The first Dance & Child international conference was held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1987.

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