History of Ontario Secondary DANCEFEST

Starting with WHAT’s HAPPENING NOW… 

The fall of 2020 brought ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and compelled the Board members of Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST to realign the delivery of their programming.  When the pandemic forced the cancellation of the live OSSDF2020 event in May at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, refunds were written for student participant fees and termination/ deferral of professional contracts were required.  We retained School Registration fees to cover financial commitments; created a small virtual event over the dates planned for OSSDF2020 to engage youth during isolation; and offered schools registration credit towards OSSDF2021. 

Education and, more specifically, the performing arts, have never been faced with such a sudden, total and mind-numbing reality and OSSDF wanted to ensure that dance remained present and vital in education. At the beginning of the new school year, the first steps were to adapt and expand support for teachers by releasing exciting dance artist workshops virtually with accompanying lesson plans for immediate use bi-weekly. These educational resources were distributed FREE until October 30th and then again during lockdowns.  We continue to track Workshop Teacher Request Forms and by March 1st, 2021, 263 requests were submitted by 77 educators and shared with 5,046 students from 29 Ontario school boards. Additionally, drama, physical education and elementary teachers requested OSSDF resources.  To meet demands for elementary, we offered two FREE live zoom teacher workshops, one February 3rd and the other March 3rd on the Creative Process for all teachers led by Annemarie Cabri and OSSDF VP, Deb Kapp, respectively. 

OSSDF’s transformation from an annual live 4-day event to a virtual format for May 25th – 28th, 2021 is essential due to the continued length of the pandemic.  Students will submit pre-recorded performances of their original dance choreography to share with adjudicators and then, be prepared by our media specialists to be presented via our website with password protected links to respect privacy protocols. 

DANCEFEST has always provided a unique opportunity where students with passion for dance, many of whom cannot afford private training, are able to perform in a supportive, encouraging environment. Dancers may have formal training; however, few have choreographed. We honour the artistry, cultural expression, and acceptance shared by these wonderful, active and creative students and are proud of the confidence gained in their mental and physical wellbeing. Through dedication and progressive thinking, OSSDF has been fortunate to collaborate with professional dance artists to reduce their fees and bring dance virtually into classrooms/homes.  Dance, always a creative form of expression, is even more essential during challenging times for the physical and mental health benefits it offers.  However, financial support to upgrade our website, hire dance artists, and subsidize students is imperative to continue with our ambitious goal which includes 10 months of programming, educational resources, and a virtual event to support educators and students.  Currently, OSSDF is awaiting a grant application to Ontario Trillium Foundation and are looking into other fundraising sources such as sponsors to support us with these endeavours.


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, dance teachers from 9 schools from between North Bay and Windsor attended the first DANCEFEST event held at Bluevale Collegiate in Waterloo from May 22nd - 23rd, 2003. 125 very excited students brought their original dance choreography and performances to share with like-minded students to celebrate the creative artistry of dance.

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. 

From 2003 – 2012, DANCEFEST was hosted by dedicated teachers from schools in: North Bay, Barrie, Windsor, Chatham and Waterloo.  In 2013, it was held at the River Run in Guelph due to the political “work to rule” action within education; and, in 2014 and 2015, it was held in Niagara Falls at the Scotiabank Convention Centre where teachers and dancers enjoyed a wonderful theatre space with raked audience seating; excellent workshop spaces; and, a large banquet hall to celebrate the dance artistry of our participants. 

In February, 2015, Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST incorporated as a not-for-profit organization 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. OSSDF moved away from the school venues and into larger convention centres to accommodate the growing numbers of schools.

In November 2015, we were very fortunate to partner with St. Clair College in Windsor.  Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST 2016 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 were very pleased with the opportunities this partnership provided over the next 4 years for our intermediate and secondary dancers and the knowledge of post-secondary performing arts programs and careers that were available to our participants.  OSSDF 2017 was held March 23rd–26th; OSSDF 2018 - March 22nd-25th; and OSSDF 2019 - March 21st-24th with the support of Centre for the Arts General Manager, Joe D’Angelo, and Event Coordinator, Christina Frye.  In addition, we continue to value our relationship with DANCE ONTARIO and Windsor and Region Dance for the support they provide our teachers and dancers. 


In 2019, OSSDF hosted over 550 individuals from 22 schools who gathered to dance on the Chrysler Theatre stage at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor.  Peer support and Adjudicators empowered the young dancers and choreographers and 30+ workshops were offered that varied in style and cultural foundation taught by inspiring, professional and diverse dance artists, educators and alumni.  In addition, participants learned about post-secondary arts programming and community-based dance organizations enabling them to plan a future that includes dance.  The 4-day event concluded with a celebratory banquet, an Artistry Showcase of favourite entries from each school and performances by dance artist professionals and alumni to inspire the continued efforts of the students to dance.  

Unknown to us, OSSDF2019 would be the last time we would gather together, in person, to celebrate the dance artform.  And, we believe, it may be a longer time before we can come together again, in person, to celebrate dance.  That said, “the OSSDF Mission is to provide an educational forum for dance students and educators as they develop an appreciation for the art form of dance through collaborative dance creation, performance, and workshops.”  Therefore, similar to those who demonstrate hope and encouragement as they dance in their yards, paint murals, sing or hit pots and pans together, OSSDF will do everything we can to support our teachers. 

It is the plan of OSSDF to incorporate the virtual adaptation into future years; however, it cannot replace the in-person DANCEFEST experience. The future, we hope, will include expanding virtual resources and replacing the province-wide yearly experience with smaller regional events to enable additional schools from more remote areas of the province and their students to access OSSDF’s incredible dance experience.  In addition, we want to increase BIPOC dance artists to authentically exemplify world dance styles to further represent all students in our schools. 

Moving forward, our focus on creative solutions will help to make Ontario Secondary School DANCEFEST a sustainable celebration of the Arts. 

Respectfully submitted,
Laurel Brown (she/her)
Educate.  Encourage.  Inspire. 
SAVE THE DATES: MAY 25th-28th, 2021OSSDF 2021 VIRTUAL Event - LET'S dis-DANCE! 

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May 25 - 28, 2021


Laurel Brown, OSSDF President: 519-588-7290

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