Manitoba First Nations teens find 'Brotherhood' and escape in hip-hop dance

In the remote community of St. Theresa Point, Man, a love of hip-hop dancing has kept one talented group of teens busy and focused and they hope to inspire others.

'It's somewhere I can go whenever I feel alone,' say 16-year-old Cody Monias

The Brotherhood dance crew is from St. Theresa Point First Nation. They have been dancing together for five years. (Submitted)

In the remote community of St. Theresa Point, Man, a love of hip-hop dancing has kept one talented group of teens busy and focused and they hope to inspire others.

"For me, dancing is an art and it's somewhere I can escape to," said Cody Monias.

St. Theresa Point is in the Island Lake region in northeastern Manitoba, nearly 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and has a population of about 3,000.

Monias, 16, said he's been dancing his whole life.

"But I started taking it seriously four or five years ago," he said.

Monias is part of a 10-person dance crew called Brotherhood that recently gave an unexpected performance at the 10th annual No Stone Unturned concert in Winnipeg's north end. A video of their performance circulating on social media has over 110,000 views.

The Brotherhood dance crew say dancing has kept them out of trouble. 2:02

"When I first started dancing, I was originally just dancing because I was bored," said Monias.

"My friends were dancing too and we decided to dance together and participate in this program called Outside Looking In."

Outside Looking In is a charitable group that offers a high school credit dance program to students in Indigenous communities. If students can fulfil the academic and school attendance requirements, they have an opportunity to fly to Toronto for a two-week dance showcase.

Opportunity to travel

A few members from Brotherhood have been part of the program for four years and have made the trek to Toronto to perform.

Logan Mason has travelled to the city three times now.

"First time I went, I was amazed at how many people there were in Toronto," he said. 

"It's a really good experience. It's really good to meet other people outside of your community."

According to its website, Outside Looking In has been around for 10 years and was started to give Indigenous youth an opportunity to express themselves, and to give Canadians an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous people beyond what they see in the media, through the Toronto performances.

"[OLI] gave me something to do," said Monias.

"I was preoccupied with dancing, so I didn't have a lot of issues. When I'm dancing, that's usually what makes me happy."

The program sends a choreographer to the communities at the beginning of the school year for a week, and tracks the progress of the people involved in the program.

"From there we have to do our best to learn that performance and do our best in school, too," said Monias.

For Monias, Brotherhood is more than just dancing.

"It's somewhere I can go whenever I feel alone."

Healthy activity

Mason, also 16, has been with the Brotherhood dance crew for the past four years. He loves being able to perform in front of other people and is starting to notice the impacts that dancing is having in his community.

"It's had a dramatic effect on how people think and what people want to do with their lives," said Mason.

Thanks to the internet, the Brotherhood dance crew are able to watch and learn from international dance crews and know that there are opportunities out there to turn their passion into a career.

Mason said he knows what challenges the youth face in the fly-in reserve.

It's changing for the better.- Logan Mason

"It's changing for the better," he said. "Every youth is not turning to drugs and alcohol; it's not as frequent anymore."

Over the years, they have noticed younger dance groups starting to form in their community and it's something they are proud to see.

"The messages that we are trying to send is that drug and alcohol abuse is not the way to go," said Monias.

"We want to inspire other people to start dancing and find that escape and mental therapy that you get."

The Brotherhood dance crew are hoping to continue travelling, inspiring and taking their skills to the next level.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1