Beginning in February 2018, the San Romanoway Revitalization Association team members Arielle Prescod and Stephanie Payne began running the Can-Caribbean Dance Tour project. Arielle worked with 4 youth to develop the summer programming portion of the programming, which consisted of a 6 week dance intensive, and lead 30 youth participants through socially-conscious performing arts workshops that culminated in a community performance in conjunction with their summer camp final community event.
When asked how the idea for the project originated, Arielle said that she had been working with San Romanoway Revitalization Association as a grant writer, but she had a passion and love for dance and was looking for a way to pass that on to the youth. “I wanted to show them how to build their own dance program and engage the younger kids they were working with through dance,” she said.
The dance intensive was organized as a “tour of the Caribbean”, with workshops themed by islands such as Trinidad, Guyana, St. Vincent, and Jamaica. Corresponding activities included Soca choreography workshops, a dancehall workshop, a hip hop workshop St. Vincent style, and more. With the majority of the youth being of Caribbean descent it was a natural fit that the first round of the project would be focused around cultural dances from those regions.
Over the course of the intensive, Arielle and the older youth program leads worked to support the younger youth to build up their skills, but also their confidence, often times encouraging them to co-lead dance sessions with them, and taking on some solo leads. A final workshop was held at the larger end-of-camp celebration, where program participants had the chance to show off their dance moves, inviting parents and elders to join in – which they happily did! “The parents enjoyed it when they saw their kids engaging and wanted to dance with us; even to see the older seniors dance with us at the BBQ was great,” notes Arielle. Though it was a youth program, it certainly had the magic to engage intergenerational learning and sharing.
Arielle notes that the response to the program was extremely positive, with parents and community elders being grateful to the program for highlighting cultural dance. Many of them commented that rarely do programs focus on dances from genres such as Soca or Dancehall. “They thought it was going to be another all hip hop dance program, which we did incorporate, but it wasn’t the main component,” Arielle tells us.
This unique feature has also led to community partners including Yorkwoods Library, Jane and Finch Family Centre, Black Creek Community Health Centre and Regent Park Music School reaching out to Arielle and the young people leading the project to collaborate on workshops with them.
Arielle is currently working with the youth to evaluate the project and analyze the impact it has had on the youth and community at large. She notes that one of the biggest changes it has made was being able to pay the youth dance instructors for coming in to facilitate. “They were very surprised to be paid for their time and their art,” says Arielle.
Although the program received a lot of in kind support from project partners, ArtReach was the only funder of Can-Caribbean Dance Tour. Arielle states that ArtReach funding helped to make everything possible, especially the idea that they could run this project on their own. “Working in that space we are usually told what programming we will be doing, but having the funding from ArtReach gave the youth control on how they spent their summer and what programming we could do,” Arielle says proudly. Youth taking a lead in this kind of decision making is definitely what ArtReach is all about, and this project shows that with a little investment, you can make a lot of change. A personal change for Arielle was improving her project management skills and learning how to be flexible. “Even though the activities weren’t exactly how I had planned it,” she explains, “I was able to keep pushing forward and adjusting my plans.”
The Can-Caribbean Dance Tour is working to expand its programming, hopefully bringing in elements of traditional African dance, expanding the cultural food (which the youth took the lead in preparing), and adding intentional space for self-care practices. We at ArtReach can’t wait to see what this program does in the future.
Learn more about the San Romanoway Revitalization Association here.