History of Ontario Secondary DANCEFEST

The idea of having “something similar to the SEARS Drama Festival for dancers” sprang from a seed that was planted during the DANCE Additional Qualification course offered by York University during the winter of 2002.  The course was taught by Widdifield Secondary School teacher (North Bay), Jocelyn Bell, at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts in Toronto and included a Research Inquiry component.  Teachers present included: Anne Marie Bennedict, Southampton; Laurel Brown, Waterloo; Tabatha DeBruyn, Kitchener; Tara Duffy, Chatham/Toronto; Melissa Lolarga, Windsor; Lois Paquette, Brantford; Lesa Jenner, Stratford; and others.

Upon completion of the AQ course, teachers from nine schools brought a total of 125 secondary students to the first event DANCEFEST at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo from May 22nd – 23rd, 2003.  The event was organized and hosted by BCI teacher, Laurel Brown and the students of her Grade 11 Dance course: Meghan Brown, Karly Descoteaux, Ashley Hill, Dan Huras, Katie Knowlton, Natasha Nancoff, Josh O’Hagan, Katie Rempel, Mike Schatz, Liene Thadara and Anita Velanoff.  The attending schools were:  Bluevale Collegiate Institute, Waterloo; Chatham-Kent Secondary School, Chatham; Eastwood Collegiate Institute, Kitchener; Forest Heights Collegiate Institute, Kitchener; Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School, Mississauga; St. Michael’s Catholic Secondary School, Stratford; St. Thomas of Villanova, Windsor; Ursuline Collegiate “The Pines”, Chatham; and, Widdifield Secondary School, North Bay.

Over the years, DANCEFEST has grown and persisted even through the challenge during the “work to rule” action in 2013 when Scott Kufske provided a venue for the schools at Terpsichore Dance Celebration that was held at the River Run Theatre in Guelph.  For two more years, we co-produced the event with Scott; however, we changed our venue to from the secondary school facilities of the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls where we enjoyed a wonderful theatre space with raked audience seating; excellent workshop spaces; and, a large banquet hall.

In February, 2015, Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST incorporated as a Not-for-Profit business with legal assistance from Les Protopapas, of Protopapas and Spielberg, of Kitchener, and Shelley Wickenheiser, CPA, CA of Wickenheiser Tax Advisory Professional Corporation of Elora.  A Board of Directors was formed with the DANCEFEST Committee members:  Jocelyn Bell-Summerby; Laurel Brown; Melissa Lolarga Chiandussi; Tara Duffy; Debra Kapp; and, Michelle Hillier.  In October, Melanie Randall joined the OSSDF Board as our secretary.

In November 2015, we were very fortunate to partner with St. Clair College in Windsor.  Our Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST2016 event was held at St. Clair College – Centre for the Arts from Tuesday, May 24th until Friday, May 27th, 2016 with support from Katherine Kaszas, Artistic Director of St. Clair College’s Performing Arts Programmes and the Dance Faculty:  Melissa Williams, Kristyn Wiklanski, Katie Mecher Williams (Modern) and Ann Marie Pilon-Gerdun (Ballet).  We are pleased with the opportunities this partnership provides our intermediate and secondary dancers and the knowledge of post-secondary performing arts programs and careers that will be available to our participants.  Furthermore, we value our relationship with DANCE ONTARIO for the support and resources they provide.  

Later OSSDF events returned to the usual Thursday–Sunday schedule – after discussion with Katherine Kaszas, Director of the St. Clair College Musical Theatre program and Centre for the Arts General Manager, Joe D’Angelo, and March 23rd – 26th was booked for OSSDF2017 and March 22nd - 25th for OSSDF2018.  The OSSDF Board of Directors will continue at the present time to book this time period annually for ease of future planning and organization for teachers and participants.

To update, the board members of Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST are currently submitting grant applications for expansion plans to reach out to all areas of the province outside GTA and offer one day regional dance celebrations for schools who do not have the financial means to attend this provincial event at this time.  These one day events will include sharing students’ original choreography in the morning; dance workshops with dance artists and leaders in the afternoon; and, an evening showcase that will be shared with the school community and include dances from the morning; the collaborative dances created in the workshops in the afternoon; and, performances by dance artists and/or workshop leaders.

To conclude, DANCEFEST has enjoyed many exciting and special moments over the years.  One, for me, was when one of my Grade 11 dance students who helped organize the very first DANCEFEST in 2003 brought secondary students, twelve (12) years later, from Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, Kitchener.  I was so proud to have Katie Knowlton attend with her dancers in 2014 as their teacher/coach.  Furthermore, OSSDF Past Vice-President, Jocelyn Bell, has shared similar excitement when a student she brought in 2003, Amber McLay, attended DANCEFEST in 2012 as an Adjudicator and Workshop Leader and today, she teaches at Widdifield Secondary School with her mentor.  Regardless of the specific details, there are lots of stories of success and inspiration that share DANCEFEST as the common denominator.  Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST is a fantastic event and a wonderful opportunity for our secondary and intermediate dancers.  We look forward to many more years of celebrating dance and the original choreography of our intermediate and senior students, and the many wonderful memories that our participants take away from this amazing event.

We hope that you will continue to enjoy our website developed by the Infinidiv Corporation, a Toronto Web Design Agency, following the initial development by OSSDF Past Communication Director, Allison Campbell from General Amherst High School and her Tech team:  Noah Campbell, Max Calhoun, Jared Capaldi and Elizabeth Wiese.

Yours, in Dance,
Laurel Brown, OSSDF President

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St. Clair College - Centre for the Arts
201 Riverside Drive West,
Windsor, ON
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Laurel Brown, OSSDF President: 519-588-7290

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