A joint pilot project between the Centre for Newcomers (CFN) in Calgary and the Alberta Ballet has motivated newcomers to the country to put on their ballet slippers and step into the world of dance.
Last month, 10 girls between the ages of 10 and 13 had the opportunity to train with the Alberta Ballet in Canada. The girls, all immigrants to Canada, spent six weeks with two trainers from the Alberta Ballet and not only learned basic dance technique, but also strengthened their self-confidence, made friends and learned to express themselves.
David Anthony Hohol, communications director at the Centre for Newcomers, said the ballet program is “a way for newcomers to familiarize themselves with new skills, bond with others, form new friendships and settle down in an unfamiliar environment.”
The Centre for Newcomers, based out of Calgary since 1988, offers a variety of programs that support newcomers in transitioning to their new home and community. These programs include settlement services, an English language program, career and job services, peer mentorship and programming for youth. Hohol said the 10 girls who participated in the program were all daughters of parents who use services at the Centre for Newcomers.
Hohol recalled that when CFN was approached by the Alberta Ballet about the ballet program, they jointly arrived at the idea “to give newcomers a space to express themselves, strengthen self-confidence and socialize at a time when they might especially feel vulnerable, anxious or homesick.”.
Olivia Sengl and Taryn Klassen are both instructors with the Alberta Ballet and participated in the pilot project with the Centre for Newcomers. They say the ballet classes were a “beautiful experience” for themselves and the girls who participated.
The Centre for Newcomers hosted the program, turning one of its main halls into a multipurpose room. Sengle said CFN provided program participants with everything they needed for ballet, including hardwood floors and ballet barres that were placed against a wall with mirrors and good lighting. There was also a pianist available who was specially trained to play music for ballet.
Sengl said the girls would watch their reflections in the mirror as instructors helped to position their heads and feet. Classes started with warm-ups and moved into ballet basics such as positioning, galloping and little leaps. The classes also helped the girls improve their posture, build their muscles and improve their sensory skills.
“The energy generated empowered and inspired us,” Sengl said. “I found awareness had set in among the girls, removing their timidity and shyness. By the end of the classes everyone was chatting and communicating.”
Klassen, who is head of the junior school and director of open and provincial programs with the Alberta Ballet School, also taught the group of girls for a few classes. She said watching the girls’ confidence evolve was inspiring.
“To see where they’ve come from, even in such a short period of time, and to see their willingness to try new things was incredible,” Klassen said.
The Centre for Newcomer’s youth program director, Noel Bahliby, said programs at the centre help meet the needs of newcomers. Youth are introduced to new sports that are popular in Canada, including kayaking, Lacrosse and ice skating. He noted that sometimes, youth in the programs can be shy and reserved, but activities like dancing help them open up.
“We saw them wanting to learn. They were shy and timid, and their English was not too good,” Bahliby said. “But the girls found something beautiful, relaxing. And their estrangement from others grew into bonding and close friendship.”
Bahliby said the centre also promotes other forms of dance such as hip-hop and breakdancing, but ballet has been a hit.
When asked about the next ballet training program, Hohol said these recent funding cuts are threatening services and programs at the Centre for Newcomers and that the future of this ballet program remains uncertain.
Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills” early this year. She and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.