Chris Wilson plays an important role in NBS’ Sharing Dance programs, but not as a dancer (although that may change). Chris, along with his partner Ken Hoffman, supports the program’s assessment and developmental evaluation needs and regularly travels to Toronto from his home in Ottawa to consult on these needs.
In Ottawa, however, Chris wears another hat, acting as Vice-President of the Board of the Social Planning Council of Ottawa (SPCO). There, he’s actively involved in the Council’s mandate of supporting the activities of 16 different ethno-cultural groups in Ottawa and fostering coalitions among the different groups – cross-pollination if you will. One of the SPCO’s strategic priorities is to increase inclusion. And one of their programs, Creating Community for Isolated Ethno-Cultural Seniors, highlights the critical role of grass-roots ethno-cultural groups in supporting seniors’ well-being.
When Chris began working with Sharing Dance Canada, he believed the dance activity would be a perfect fit for the SPCO’s ethnic and seniors’ groups. He introduced the SPCO Executive Director, Dianne Urquhart to NBS staff and then on a trip to Ottawa the two groups found a place for 2017 Sharing Dance choreography in the SPCO’s programing as an activity intended to bridge cultural divisions of language and customs.
Sybil Braganza, who acts as SPCO’s Coordinator for Creating Community for Isolated Ethno-Cultural Seniors told us, “a number of our ethno-cultural senior groups thought the Sharing Dance choreography would be a great activity as dance is a universal language and provide an excellent form of exercise”.
Given that the group was made up of seniors from a range of cultural groups, NBS invited Marie-Michelle Darveau, a dance teacher from The School of Dance to provide the group with instruction for the seated version of Sharing Dance. She taught several sessions with them but it wasn’t long before Sybil and other dancers felt comfortable using the videos and decided to do the full, standing version. Additional rehearsals and help came from their own fitness instructor, Lisa, who modified the dance to make it easier for the seniors to follow. The participants found that dance brought them together, their stamina improved and they felt more connected to each other and their community. There was no sense of competition as everyone worked at their own pace, helping each other learn the moves through laughter.
In late May, dancers from several of the SPCO’s ethno-cultural groups were the star attraction for the SPCO’s Annual General Meeting. These seniors did their routines in culturally appropriate costumes and demonstrated their shared sense of belonging to a community that is home to so many cultures.
This shared sense of belonging was underscored again on Canada Day. On arriving at the newly reopened National Arts Centre in Ottawa on July 1, NBS staff were thrilled to see the SPCO dancers, all proudly wearing their blue Sharing Dance T-shirts. These were eagerly exchanged for red (Canada Day!) ones and they wasted no time in joining the rehearsal being led by Roger Sinha, one of the four Sharing Dance 2017 choreographers.
Katherine KyungJa Song, one of dancers who joined the celebrations in the National Arts Centre said she was honoured to be included in the celebration of Canada’s 150th
and was proud to participate. She says, “in spite of our rawness in the art of ballet, gathering and practicing together with the other ethnic groups made us feel oneness in Canada.”
“Diversity in Canada,” she said, “makes a beautiful tapestry with different colors, threads, tastes, flavors from many different cultures. Seniors still have lots of things to offer to the country of ours, Canada and Sharing Dance helped harmonize many people from different backgrounds to contribute together for the same purpose, celebrating the Birthday of Canada.”
Chris attended the performance, taking photos of the SPCO dancers. He said it was “a great programmatic success” and is looking to expand Sharing Dance with other groups across Ottawa next year. “We hope that next year, there will be many more dancers to contribute to Sharing Dance Day in Ottawa.” Chris, on the other hand, is moving to Victoria, BC where he’s looking forward to seeing if he can encourage new Sharing Dance groups there.