CARSTAIRS — After some two years of being unable to perform on stage, a group of local dancers was thrilled earlier this summer by an opportunity to not only demonstrate but also develop and improve their abilities.
Dawn’s School of Dance, based out of Carstairs, was able to make arrangements to send 13 dancers between the ages of 8 and 16 down to Nashville, Tenn. for an event at the Grand Ole Opry that was put on by an organization called Dance the Magic.
As the event, which happened July 15-19, featured almost exclusively dancers from across the U.S., the Canadian girls from Carstairs were a unique entry.
“We were the only out-of-country group,” said Mikala McFie, a proud parent, organizer and chaperone.
“It was just such a joy to watch them on stage because the smiles on their faces just lit up the room,” she said. “They were having so much fun.”
More of a talent exhibition featuring instructional dance workshops than a competitive championship, the event is intended “to provide opportunities for dancers to come together, network and participate in some learning,” McFie told the Albertan on Aug. 31.
“Then, they also have an opportunity to put on a production or performative event,” she said. “It’s not so much a competition as much as it’s just a good chance to be able to represent your school and community and get together with dancers from – they could be from all over.”
Dance the Magic has hosted events at numerous other U.S-based locations such as Disneyland in California as well as Disney World in Florida.
“This is their second time that they’ve done Nashville,” said McFie. “The first time was last year, but there was a lot of restrictions. So, this year was the very first big one at Nashville where the girls had an opportunity to dance at the Grand Ole Opry.”
Part of the production the dancers performed involved a cumulative group effort among all the participating dance schools.
“They get sent their portion of the dance like a couple of months before we go down,” McFie explained. “So, they have to learn their part of the choreography that gets sent to them from Dance to Magic.”
Once the dancers from all of the different groups gather for the big event, they then get a chance to combine their efforts for the final show in a culmination of the past couple months of preparation.
“All of these dancers get to dance on stage together and do this bigger show and bigger production, which is actually really fun,” she said. “It’s really neat to see it all come together, from their small little portion to a whole group (effort).”
Additionally, each dance group gets to perform a routine of their choice, she said.
“They also had an opportunity to showcase one of their own dances,” she said, adding the group from Dawn’s School of Dance had over the past year developed and been working on a routine that they previously performed competitively in Alberta.
“We also have an opportunity then to of course watch the other dancers showcase their talents,” which itself can provide an additional source of inspiration, she said.
“It’s always fun to see what other schools are doing and performing and the different talents out there.”
The trip to Nashville was a long time in the making marred with pandemic-related uncertainty along the way.
“We’ve been fundraising for two years for this opportunity,” she said, praising the girls’ commitment to getting involved in bottle and battery drives as well as chocolate sales before going onto express gratitude for the community’s support.
“We were very lucky that we did receive some sponsorship,” she added, also extending appreciation to the Carstairs Elks as well as ATB Financial, whose contributions provided the team with specialized, custom-made uniforms.
“They’re not a uniform that you could ever buy from the store, online or anywhere – they were made specifically just for Dance the Magic, just for us to go to Nashville,” she said. “They looked amazing in their uniforms with their Canada flag.”
In the absence of such support, the trip would more likely than not have been impossible.
“We couldn't have done it without that,” she said. “Community support has been also very outstanding.”
All of the parents, she added, were “over-the-moon proud” not only by the how well the dancers’ represented their community and country but especially their perseverance over the past couple of years.
“We did receive quite a few compliments from the owners of Dance the Magic on just how friendly our girls were and how welcoming they were to everybody else and how they just are open to engage and talk to people,” she said.
And considering the uncertainty last year that made definitively planning details rather difficult, finally returning to the stage was a huge relief.
“It wasn’t without its hardships,” she said. “But definitely worth the reward once you get there.”
Although there were no qualifying events to secure a spot, McFie said there nevertheless was an approval process as there are many teams vying to participate.
“We had to apply to them and be accepted,” she said, adding the group’s featured routine first had to be video recorded and submitted for review and approval to meet the event organizers’ standards.
“These girls weren’t able to compete in their 2020 season, they weren’t able to compete in 2021,” she said. “And so to make it all the way to 2022 and finally be able to compete again, really reminded those girls how much they love this sport, and how much they want to keep doing this.”
Looking ahead, McFie said classes at Dawn’s School of Dance resumed in early September and added the members are “excited now and motivated to carry on and start learning new things.”
Although there were as of the time McFie spoke with the Albertan no specific plans for any upcoming trips in the works, she said the doors of possibility remain wide open.
“The future’s looking bright.”