British Columbia·Photos

PuSh Festival's Le Grand Continental mass line dance gets amateurs moving

As 70 amateur dancers prepare for Le Grand Continental mass line dance in downtown Vancouver this weekend, we meet the project's choreographer, Sylvain Émard.

Choreographer Sylvain Émard has held public performances using amateur dancers all over the world

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      Some 70 amateur dancers will take over Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Plaza this weekend, to participate in Le Grand Continental, a mass, choreographed line dance.

      Ahead of the unusual public performance, which is part of Vancouver's 2015 PuSh Festival​, we meet the project's choreographer, Sylvain Émard:

      Montreal choreographer Sylvain Émard says he's always been intrigued and obsessed with line dancing. "As a kid, that's the first dance I danced in the basement of the church in my parish. Since then, I kept this interest for the form." 

      When he went on to become a professional dance choreographer, he looked for ways to integrate line dancing into his work. Eventually, he says, he decided to go deeper.

      He created Le Grand Continental as a community project and decided he wanted to work "with the people that you meet in those public spaces, non-dancer people, that do it just for the pleasure."

      Émard describes what audiences will see as "a mix of line dancing and contemporary dance." 

      The first performance took place in 2009 in Montreal, and Émard thought it was very much a part of Montreal culture.

      But when he tried it out in Mexico City, New York, and Portland, Ore. he discovered the passion for dance was universal.

      Amateur dancers 'just glowing'

      He says working with amateurs was a new challenge, because he was dealing with many skill levels. What was really rewarding, he says, "is the fact that you're among those people who are there simply because they love to dance."

      Local dancers kick up their feet at The Roundhouse for Le Grand Continental at the PuSH Festival. (Jennifer Chen)

      Émard says if people are willing to take the time and learn the moves, he will take them on. He aims to represent a cross-section of the city, with all ages, backgrounds and shapes and sizes. 

      As the dancers get to know each other and learn the choreography, Émard sees them gain confidence. There are a lot of moves in the half hour show, and the steps can be quite complex. 

      There's always a stage in the process when the dancers may be questioning whether they can do it, he says, but "as soon as that stage is past, they're just glowing. And actually they feel stronger as a group."

      'I have to be part of this!'

      Peter Cox signed up for the project when he got an email from the PuSh Festival.

      "It's completely outside of what I would normally do and I thought it would be a good challenge, a chance to see how dance productions in a sense are put together."

      He says he feels a bit nervous about the performance, but adds, "We've practised so often now that I'm looking forward to it. Already in a couple of months I've made some good friends."

      Louann McCurdy says as soon as she read about the project she thought, "I have to be part of this!" She took dance lessons when she was a kid, and never imagined she'd be on stage in a real performance.

      "It's a mental challenge. There's a lot of ways to mess up, and we make it through. All of us." She says she feels "crazy excited" about doing the dance in public.

      With a big smile, she adds, "Can't wait, it's going to be great." 

      Le Grand Continental will take place at the Queen Elizabeth Plaza on Saturday, January 23 and Sunday, January 24 at 1 and 4 p.m. PT. It's free, and the performance is rain or shine, so bring your rain gear.

      To hear more about the Le Grand Continental, click on the audio clip labelled: PuSh Festival Dance gets local non-professionals learning moves

      Local dancers rehearsing for Le Grand Continental at the PuSH Festival. (Jennifer Chen)

      About the Author

      Jennifer Chen worked as a radio producer at CBC Vancouver for 14 years. She is relocating to Ottawa and recovering from her road trip.

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