Watch as 8 incredible Canadian dancers spread good vibes for International Dance Day
Celebrate with these dancers from across Canada who have been inspiring their communities through the pandemic
Despite studios and stages being closed, dancers and dance teachers have been uplifting their communities and finding fun ways to motivate others through dance.
From outdoor calypso performances in Charlottetown to online voguing classes from Vancouver to viral Bhangra dance videos that have spread joy worldwide, here are 8 dancers across the country who have used dance to help us cope over the last 13 months:
Gurdeep Pandher (Whitehorse)
Gurdeep Pandher's Bhangra dancing videos have become a viral sensation, gaining millions of views and fans across the world. But in March 2021, one video connected profoundly with people: Pandher's celebratory dance on a frozen lake after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination. The video currently has over 3 million views on Twitter.
"This last year brought me to realize the impact of dance and art on others," he shares.
"I have received handwritten letters, cards, drawings, and messages from viewers Canada-wide and beyond, demonstrating the far reach of dance videos. I started realizing that through dance, I am doing a form of social service to positively impact others' lives, and these interactions have changed my relationship with dance."
A message from Gurdeep on International Dance Day:
"I would like to share that from my experiences, I learned that dance is more than just entertainment. It is therapy or healing or something which can be used to reduce stress levels and calm anxiety; therefore, it is so great for good mental health. I would like to encourage people to try dance to be active, stay positive and bring joy to the world."
Here's a dancer Gurdeep wants you to know about:
"Ottawa Valley style Celtic Step dancer Evelyn Rae Mage is a great dancer who also performed with me in my video and this year's annual Bhangra show!"
Brandon Bizzy Owusu (Toronto)
Choreographer and dancer Brandon Bizzy Owusu has performed for artists such as Ariana Grande, Drake, Sean Paul and Paula Abdul, but during the pandemic he's been dedicated to dancing for fans around the world by sharing his skills online. He's been bringing his signature positive energy to his YouTube channel (where he has over 114,000 subscribers) and Instagram, where he's able to instruct dancers from Toronto to Hong Kong.
"I didn't expect there to be as many people as there were," he says about teaching a live soca dance class on Instagram. "It was amazing to see that people from all over the world joined in and were supporting one another [through Instagram live chat]. It was eye-opening to hear how much people needed these classes and how much it helped them with their mental health."
He's also been issuing dance challenges on his TikTok that will keep you smiling, moving and feeling positive. "This last year has changed my relationship with dance by making me see how important this art form is to people's mental and physical health. It is way more than just booking gigs or anything like that — it's more about social connection, personal growth, sense of belonging and, most importantly, an outlet."
A message from Brandon on International Dance Day:
"This past year has been difficult for us all and it has taught us that life is unpredictable. With that being said, I would just like to remind Canadians to always choose to do what uplifts you and makes you happy."
Here's a dancer Brandon wants you to know about:
"Someone who has been a huge influence to myself and many others in the dance community here in Canada would definitely have to be Luther Brown. He is an example of someone who worked hard to get to where he is today. If you don't already know of him I would say to search him up!"
Reequal Smith (Charlottetown)
Since physical studio spaces first closed in March 2020, Raqueel Smith has been teaching online dance classes and staging outdoor performances for the Charlottetown community. "Last year showed me that even in the worst of times, dance kept me optimistic and determined," says Smith. "I have been using the word 'resilient' a lot, which I strongly feel describes me in many ways."
Smith is the founder and artistic director of Oshun Dance Studios, a new dance company based in Charlottetown with the goal of bringing together young female artists of all ethnicities to "find empowerment and to access outlets for creative expression through dance."
"Through the stillness of times, and one of the first times in my life really taking my mental health into full consideration, dance helped me to cope. I danced through online videos, TikTok tutorials and when small gatherings were allowed, I jumped on the opportunity of being a part of festivals and creating my very first showcase due to my love for the stage."
A message from Reequal on International Dance Day:
"Dance is the international language of connecting with others and the world without words. I encourage others to continue to feel inspired in this time either through emotions, a life lesson or by one of your favourite artists. Know that in these times we can still create and find ways to. Let's continue to take risks and face our fears in this virtual world and push our art for others to learn and see."
Here's a dancer Reequal wants you to know about:
"Dawn Ward. She is the leader and choreographer of Holland College Dance Team. We share a lot of similarities with our dance styles and we both are from the Bahamas. But she is a phenomenal educator, choreographer, singer, dancer and actress."
Sabrina Naz Comănescu (Calgary)
Sabrina Naz Comănescu is a quadruple threat performer, choreographer, dance instructor and filmmaker — and she's been putting all of these talents to good use over the last year. To name only a few of the projects that have kept Comănescu busy: performing with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (see their Drive-In performance where dancers performed behind glass to an audience in their cars), choreographing and directing creative videos on Instagram, and directing and choreographing the youth group Diversity Performing Arts Club of Calgary.
"At the core of my relationship with dance, nothing has changed," Comănescu says about the last year. "I love it — can't imagine my life without it. If anything, my heart is just yearning for live performance to come back, for the audience members to take their seats so I can share my love of dance with them!"
"But patience is key. These days, dance is inviting me to experience how strong, versatile and resilient the human body is — how time, whether we're looking at it through tempo or age, is consistently moving forward. My love for it only deepens, and through the ebbs and flows of this generation, it serves as an anchor and a tool to uplift."
A message from Sabrina on International Dance Day:
"This too shall pass! Strengthen your spiritual, physical and mental self every day bit by bit. Because when this all passes, I want to be able to dance with YOU!"
Here's a dancer Sabrina wants you to know about:
"Kimisha Laidley! So groovy! Such an amazing performer. She is FULL OUT! Dancing from the tip of her soul to the tip of her toes. So refreshing to work with and choreograph on. She is also a very caring emerging instructor and choreographer."
Theland Kicknosway (Ottawa, Algonquin Territory)
When powwows paused due to COVID-19 measures, 17-year-old traditional singer and grass and hoop dancer Theland Kicknosway, previously featured on the CBC Arts series The Move, started posting videos online, uplifting people around the world with his performances, teachings and positive messages. Kicknosway, who is Wolf Clan from the Potawatomi and Cree Nation and is a member of Walpole Island, Bkejwanong Territory, is dedicated to sharing Indigenous culture and has amassed a big following on social media — especially on TikTok, where he now has over 394,000 followers.
"Social media has connected us with people from around the globe who have been able to watch and learn about our dances and learn teachings that come with them as well," says Kicknosway. "Numerous comments have said that they appreciate learning one small thing every day, and that makes me feel amazing knowing that more people are able to see our spirituality and educate themselves!"
"Every time I dance is a blessing and throughout this past year, even though we haven't been able to dance with our friends and family, we've adapted well considering the global pandemic we are in. I know my ancestors are proud of us all knowing that we are still honouring them by staying strong and apart. I will continue to dance and remember my ancestors by carrying our culture on to the next generation."
Outside of his dance practice, this summer, Kicknosway will be journeying from Vancouver to Gatineau Park, Quebec on his 7th annual Run/Bike, "Theland's Journey," to raise awareness for MMIWG2S.
A message from Theland on International Dance Day:
"One thing I'd like to share is learn more about the original peoples and the land that you live on. Also, check out a few Indigenous content creators on social media to continue our ongoing relationship of learning and growth as Canadians."
Here's a dancer Theland wants you to know about:
"One other dancer I think we should all know about is my good friend James Jones, otherwise known as 'Notorious Cree' on social media."
Vanesa G.R. Montoya (Montreal)
"Before the pandemic, I was horrible with all that stuff," says Vanesa G.R. Montoya about sharing her creative work on social media. But after March 2020, Montoya made some big moves. She converted a room in her house into a dance studio and invested time into learning how to produce her own dance videos to connect with her audience online, offering free chorographic workshops and ballet classes on Instagram Live and sharing dance videos on her social platforms.
"I find that dance and other art forms have helped many people to deal with the stress, anxiety and depressing aspects of the crisis we've been through with the pandemic," says Montoya. "I would encourage everybody to embrace and enjoy an artistic activity, and if it is dance, even better to stay fit!"
Over the last year, she's choreographed performances for festivals in Toronto and Saint Sauveur, QC, and she also performed in a project that was especially meaningful to her personally: the dance video "Reflexion", produced by Matthew Richardson, supporting Black Lives Matter.
A message from Vanesa on International Dance Day:
"I'd like to thank all the people who are passionate about dance and about arts and also thank all the people that have been acting as benefactors supporting many different artists and artistic institutions through this past year."
"It has been a really difficult time for many artists. Without all that encouragement, support and help, it would have been a lot more difficult to stay hopeful and stay creative while waiting to return on stage."
Here's a dancer Vanesa wants you to know about:
"I consider myself very fortunate to work with very talented and inspiring artists at home, at Les Grands Ballets, but one of my favourites and that holds a special spot in my heart would be my great friend and colleague, Etienne Gagnon-Delorme. He's not just an incredible dancer, but he's also a very talented music producer, and very creative choreographer ... a total gem!"
When the pandemic hit, dancer, choreographer and teacher Anoshinie had her work cut out for her. She learned how to put together a website (it's beautiful!) and moved her dance classes online. Trained in Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance, Anoshinie has been offering online classes and courses, like her four-week Bollywood Fusion Intensive, that you can take in the safety of your own home.
"I make sure to create a space online that feels welcoming, safe and fun for everyone while being real so people can connect to whatever it is that I'm putting out there," says Anoshinie. "With my online classes I try my best to bring my in-studio experience through the same high-energy positive vibes."
Anoshinie also had the opportunity to choreograph a Bollywood dance scene for the TV series The Parker Andersons. "It was meaningful because this was my first time booking this role, and everyone I worked with and met on set made it a very positive and fun experience. Just as I was feeling the lows of the lockdown, I felt very grateful to have this opportunity lift me up!"
A message from Anoshinie on International Dance Day:
"Always remember to be yourself when you dance! Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to be what we think or are told is 'perfect' and along the way we forget to add ourselves and who we are into the dance. Be unique, be authentic, be you and dance like you!"
Here's a dancer Anoshinie wants you to know about:
"Andrew 'Pyro' Chung is a significant leader in the dance community/industry, specifically within street dance. Many people look up to him in the community, not only because of his knowledge and experience but because he is always looking out for everyone as a teacher, mentor and a friend. If he sees the drive, hunger, and potential in you then he'll be the encouraging push and voice in your life!"
Ralph Escamillan (Vancouver)
Ralph Escamillan is a shining light in the Vancouver kiki ballroom scene, and he has continued to brighten up lives with his work online since March 2020. Escamillan is a dancer, choreographer, founder and artistic director of Van Vogue Jam, a non-profit organization that hosts weekly by-donation dance events that are open to all levels, which he has moved online during the pandemic. Escamillan, along with other guest instructors, teaches weekly free/by donation classes, like "vogue femme class," "runway class" and "ultra beginning hands class."
"Growing up with an immigrant mother, having a street dance background and a freelance artist, not being able to have resources and space is not a new story for me ... so the pandemic has only really shifted the type of opportunities I can create/look for," says Escamillan. "I luckily have been afforded with a lot of opportunities during this time, which I cannot say the same for some of my other peers, and [which] has me thinking how to give back and support my community."
For Escamillan, the pandemic has deepened his desire to support and create opportunities for artists of colour in the queer community. "It's made me think about the discrepancies of institutionalized dance forms like ballet, contemporary, modern — and how truly inaccessible these forms are from the BIPOC folks. I've also thought about how these forms have infrastructure to survive this pandemic, while other dance communities, like street dance, don't or have never even been acknowledged in the funding systems and have not been cared for during these times. I have been inspired to find more ways to support artists that do not come from the balletic cannon of dance, and moreover how I can create opportunities to support QTBIPOC artists in Canada."
A message from Ralph on International Dance Day:
"I hope this is a day for you to learn more about the dances close to home, learn about the multitude of beautiful dance communities and people that exist where you live. Please go out, take a risk, learn more, experience more, try more, be more, and [know] that dance doesn't just happen on a stage or in a studio — it's truly everywhere. Dance lives in all of us."
Here's a dancer Ralph wants you to know about:
"I'm personally a new fan of Jessica McMann who is a Cree (Cowessess, SK) musician, contemporary dancer and choreographer."