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Atlantic Ballet of Canada to launch Indigenous dance program in Moncton this fall

Precious Abygail Dedam, of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church, First Nation) dances during the announcement for the new intercultural Indigenous dance program as The Wabanaki Confederacy drum group provide the music in Moncton, N.B., on Monday June 25, 2024. (The Canadian Press/Ron Ward) Precious Abygail Dedam, of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church, First Nation) dances during the announcement for the new intercultural Indigenous dance program as The Wabanaki Confederacy drum group provide the music in Moncton, N.B., on Monday June 25, 2024. (The Canadian Press/Ron Ward)
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The Atlantic Ballet of Canada is spearheading an Indigenous dance program this fall that will allow eight dancers to train close to their communities and culture.

Nipahtuwet Naka Wespahtuwet Possesom (Paul), who is the director of Atlantic Ballet Indigenous, said there are no professional training programs in Atlantic Canada and that the ballet's initiative is filling an important gap.

The dance training program will be in contemporary style, but also include traditional and ballet, making it a holistic format that will give students access to a wide range of opportunities in their professional careers, he told reporters.

"This will help tell Indigenous stories through contemporary dance."

A news release from the ballet said that the program will teach contemporary style and is rooted in the "world views, cultures, and practice" of the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoq nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy."

On Tuesday, the federal government announced a grant of $400,000 to support the program, and the Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation will put in another $50,000.

The new two-year program that will launch in Moncton, N.B., this fall will accept eight Indigenous dancers in Grade 11.

"It's really important that we had a small number, because, as you know, there's difficulty graduating Indigenous students right now in all of our systems," Possesom said. "So in order for us to support them, we wanted to make sure that we had a small enough number that we could have wraparound supports that they make it all the way through."

In a Canadian first, the program will allow dancers to receive support and training close to their land and families, without having to relocate to other parts of the country.

When he was starting as a dancer, he said he supported himself through gig work, which meant that he didn't have a steady income but this program will help students have a support system so they can concentrate on their careers.

Precious Abygail Dedam, a 26-year-old who teaches dance in the Mi’kmaq community, said setting up the school would revitalize Indigenous culture.

The school will help kick-start careers and put dancers on a professional path, which is "such a beautiful thing," she said.

"To be able to get paid very rightfully for all of the work, all the efforts that they're going to be putting into this ... be recognized for all of the efforts that they are putting ... I find that really awesome."

Dakota Verner from Oromocto First Nations, N.B., will be starting Grade 12 in the fall and hopes to be in the first cohort of the Intercultural Indigenous Dance Program.

"From living on the reserve and becoming a dancer, it made me feel like I was more than just living on the reserve. It made me feel like I was important and I can do stuff, and it makes me feel good as a person," she said.

"I never would have thought I had an opportunity like this before. I thought I was going to have to go be in accounting. That is my dream at the moment, but now I have a next step to be a dancer in my career, and I would love to do this."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2024. 

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