Sharing Dance is making Canada happy, one step at a time

There is an excited buzz in a small studio – filled with Grade 4 students from a nearby public school — at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) in Toronto. They are bursting with energy and anticipation as they prepare for their weekly session learning this year’s Sharing Dance routine with a teacher from NBS.

By the end of their class, the children are glowing, both because of the sweat they’ve earned from their hard work, and because of the sheer sense of accomplishment they feel, having learned — and mastered — yet another part of the routine.

There is, without doubt, something magical about dance. Sharing Dance, a NBS initiative, will bring that magic to the entire country in time for Canada’s 150 anniversary in 2017. The idea behind it is simple: Bring the joy of dance to Canadians of all ages and fitness levels and watch them thrive.

This year’s Sharing Dance routine is choreographed by Gadfly: Apolonia & Ofilio to the song Hideaway by Kiesza.

Want to learn the routine in time for Sharing Dance Day? You can do so easily by watching the videos at the Sharing Dance website. And if you’re in Toronto or Winnipeg on May 24, head to Yonge-Dundas Square or Memorial Park to join in the fun.

With a new routine each year — divided into parts and taught step-by-step (literally) — the initiative offers Canadians the opportunity to learn and enjoy the choreography and music of Canadian talent in preparation for Sharing Dance Day, which this year happens on Sunday, May 24. It’s the culmination of all the hard work in rehearsals as well as a fundraising opportunity for participants to raise money for select charities as they might in a run or a bike race.

Laurel Toto, the Junior School Manager and Community Engagement Co-Manager at Canada’s National Ballet School, describes Sharing Dance as an opportunity to help people “enjoy the arts and to realize that the arts have also a health benefit. You don’t have to just do sports or go to the gym. If you participate once a week in a dance class, you get tremendous health benefits out of that.”

Participants include young and old dancers, both experienced and new. Classrooms of school children in downtown Toronto have weekly sessions to learn the routine. Plus, anyone can participate from the comfort of their own home by watching and learning the routine online.

Dance is a valuable way for children to develop physical literacy. It can be especially important for those children who shy away from organized sports. According to Toto, “I think for some students they love sports and they’ll get involved [in sports]. For some students, sports is not their medium. They’re not interested in team sports. So, we’re working with PHE Canada and one of the things we’re trying to figure out is, how can dance address physical literacy if the students aren’t doing formalized sports.”

As Sharing Dance grows, so, too, will the resources surrounding the initiative. There is currently a plan to create — in collaboration with partners PHE Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet — lesson plans for school teachers so they can use dance as a way to help their students develop physical literacy. As Toto points out, when creating routines, teachers can take elements of fundamental movement skills like dodging and throwing and incorporate them as elements of dance.

What Toto notices when watching Sharing Dance rehearsals with children from the local schools is that “even the most reticent are still moving parts of their body and learning how to do all these things that we hope will carry on to their life.” If Sharing Dance is able to bring fundamental movement skills to children who might not otherwise be learning them, the initiative will be a huge success.

Dance has been shown to improve balance, gait, and posture in people with Parkinson’s Disease, so Sharing Dance also works closely with people with Parkinson’s, and has a separate seated choreography to make this year’s dance routine accessible to all.

The initiative offers so much to so many. Most of all, as Toto says, dance “makes you happy.” And that happiness, without a doubt, is the very best reason for Sharing Dance.

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