By Sarah Fellows, Outreach and Events Assistant
From August 5th-7th, Amos Waites Park was transformed by local artists who came together to create a socially distant outdoor space for free community dance classes.
Co-produced by Katya Kuznetsova and Kate Nankervis, the Dance Together Festival offers free open-air dance workshops and events that celebrate positive and accessible dance experiences for people of all ages, abilities, and experience levels. This year, the festival transformed Mimico Square in Amos Waites Park into a vibrant interactive dance floor mural, designed with physical distancing in mind. The workshops included Vernacular Jazz, Afro Cuban, Soca, Flamenco, Salsa, and African Dance.
Local artists (@artistvictoriaday@woodenphoenix@email@example.com@dancetogetherfestival, @katherosdancer, @natalieveryb, @the.sarah.az, @clairebrowneart) worked to design the colourful and socially distant mural and dance floor in the park. The bright teals, pinks, yellows, and purples of the mural marked the dance area from the rest of the park, and allowed patrons to find an empty and socially distant circle to be able to dance together safely as a community.
The Dance Together Festival began in the early evening sunshine of August in Toronto. The Amos Waites community could not resist the welcoming, open, and excited energy of the event, its artists, and its teachers. Each time a workshop began, the community would trickle towards the dance mural and join the fun. People stopped walking on the streets with their families and watched the classes, they danced on the sidewalks and in the grass, and they leaped into the mural to join in. The power and joy of dance was palpable in the park, as the public came together in laughter, excitement, surprise, and happiness as they began dancing along with the instructor and other participants.
On August 5th, the Dance Together Festival kicked off its festivities at 6pm with its first classes: Flamenco and Salsa. Patrons, as well as myself, were entranced by the intricacies of Flamenco and the formation of hand flowers taught by Sofí Gudiño (@sofidances). My favourite part of the class was learning three different styles of clapping, which I plan on using at the rest of the Arts in the Parks events this summer! Following this workshop was a high energy Salsa class taught by Yordan GM (@yordance86) that had every participant looking like a salsa expert! The Master of Ceremonies, Shakkoi Hibbert (@needsomekoi), was also a wonderful, bright, and welcoming addition to the festival. She not only MC’d the event, but also performed poetry from her book of poems: The Poetic Transitions from a Hot Head to a Conscious Queen. Shakkoi’s poetry performances were incredible, and she captured all of our attention.
On August 6th, Dance Together Festival continued in the August sun with workshops on Afro Cuban and Soca. I had to join in the fun by day two, after watching the joy of the community on the first day of the festival. I joined the Afro Cuban class with the Amos Waites community, as we learned how to shimmy and step in accordance with the beautiful rhythms and music of the workshop. Our instructor Dailyn Martinez (@shumdesalsa) even graced us with a small performance at the end of the workshop as she danced around our circles and into the center of the mural.
Next up was the spectacular Soca class taught by Jaz Fairy J (@jazfairyj). As Jaz stated during the workshop: “Soca is medicine,” speaking to the healing qualities of dance amidst the exhaustion of daily life within the constraints of living in a capitalist world. The participants absolutely adored Soca, learning the dance routine with beautiful open arms (literally!). They even performed the routine four (!) times at the end of the class. The music for this workshop was also so joyful and full of energy and light.
August 7th was sadly the final day of the wonderful Dance Together Festival. Throughout the past three days, we had so many community members stop by and ask if these dance classes would happen every week from now on, and how they could join in! We had to be the bearers of bad news as the event was ending, but we also encouraged everyone to join in if they could! On the third and final night of the festival, the last dance classes included Swing/ Veracular Jazz and West African Dance. The Jazz class was taught by Hannah Bild-Enkin (@torontolindyhop); she had such a great energy with the community as a whole, as she would ask participants to pair up and dance together throughout the class. West African Dance was taught by Coco Murray (@misscocomurray), and was another highlight of the festival. Throughout the class, Coco brought together multiple step formations which she choreographed beautifully at the end of the class.
After over a year of COVID and pandemic triggered isolation, exhaustion, fear, and anxiety, I believe we are all in need of the healing qualities of community and dance. The Dance Together Festival brought to the forefront the need for community gatherings and collective happiness through the simple act of dancing. It was clear to see the joy that the festival brought to the Amos Waites community on the faces of each smiling participant within the dance class, or seated outside the mural as audience members enjoying the show.
It was so heartwarming to watch children, adults, and elders join in the dance classes to learn from Dance Together’s teachers. To be able to share the cultures of Soca, Afro Cuban, Salsa, Flamenco, West African Dance, and Vernacular Jazz with the community was such a beautiful thing to witness and become a part of through dance.
We can remember the collectivity of the Dance Together Festival with the colorful mural that will be in place until October in Amos Waites park. I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be going back to dance in those circles before the mural disappears!