Dance program encourages Iqaluit kids to excel in school
‘I just feel like I'm more into school now because I get to dance,’ says Grade 11 student
Jaydin Nungaq, a Grade 11 student at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, says he used to struggle with academics but a hip-hop dance program has helped motivate him to excel in school.
"I just became more productive with my work than ever," he said. "I just feel like I'm more into school now because I get to dance."
Nungaq is one of the participants in Outside Looking In, a non-profit dance program for Indigenous youth across Canada. It's the second year the program has run in Iqaluit and Nungaq says it's making a difference.
"It has influenced me to become such an inspiring person to more people my age," he said. "It builds self-determination, independence, and generosity."
Students in the program have to maintain a minimum grade point average and attendance in academic and dance classes. Since the charitable organization launched in 2007, it claims more than 96 per cent of the youth involved have graduated high school.
"You've got to motivate yourself," said Grade 11 student Daniela Calamayan, another participant in the program who helped choreograph a performance for Black History Month. "If [students] really want to dance, they've got to step it up."
If they meet the requirements, students get to travel to Toronto for two weeks in the spring for a dance camp. Then they get to perform on stage at Meridian Hall, formerly known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, which can seat over 3,000 people.
"Toronto was unforgettable. It was phenomenal," Nungaq said of his experience last year.
"It was pretty awesome because we all had the energy and we all enjoyed it so much," Calamayan added.
Lael Kronick is a teacher and volunteer for the program but she said in this case she's more like a student because the youth are the experts and leaders.
"It's been so wonderful to watch them emerge as artists in their own right and leaders and instructors and mentors and supporters of each other," she said.
These kids are more ready to take advantage of other opportunities because they see what they're capable of and see more of what's out there.- Lael Kronick, teacher at Inuksuk High School
"[It] lifts the mood in the school often because you just have this group of joyful kids moving to music and laughing together and like being silly and some of them have really come out of their shell."
Kronick said along with supporting each other in dance, students also now talk more openly about academics and encourage each other to go to class and do well in school.
"I think all of these kids are more ready to take advantage of other opportunities because they see what they're capable of and see more of what's out there."
She said students are also connecting with their community and hope to collaborate more with local artists and incorporate cultural elements like drum dancing into their performances. They're also planning on commissioning a local seamstress to make costumes that reflect Inuit design for this year's showcase in Toronto.
But Kronick said funding the program can be a challenge as they want to keep it accessible but travel to and from Iqaluit is expensive, along with other costs.
"We have a lot of community support in it as people are learning about the program," she said. "We have more people interested in donating I think. So we're open to ideas, we're always trying different things."
Written by Emily Blake based on reporting by Jackie McKay