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Ten years ago, John Manzo moved from the Greater Toronto Area to Nunavut’s capital city, bringing his passion for dance with him. As a dance instructor and choreographer, Manzo offers private lessons and monthly group classes in Iqaluit. He also DJs and organizes social dances and other entertainment events.
Manzo practises an impressively wide range of dance forms, specializing in Latin, ballroom and Philippine folkloric dances. “I love the history and the culture behind each dance form,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of knowledge on why we’re dancing and how the dance forms came to be, and I have a lot of respect for dance forms … and cultures that they’ve come from and how they’ve evolved.”
His monthly group dance classes are a fun and rewarding experience for residents of Iqaluit, where events and activity options are limited. “It builds a social aspect in the community,” he says. “It’s just a fun way for people to go out and enjoy spending time with each other. It’s great exercise.… It helps build self-confidence.… It’s like an investment in yourself.”
“I think my favourite [dance form] is always going to be salsa,” says Manzo. “I love the musicality of it.… Most of the dance moves can be used even if it’s not salsa music.… It’s so popular that you can just do it wherever you are, wherever you travel to. It’s very lively, upbeat … it can be a good workout.”
He speaks about his first time being taught by a dance instructor, at age 15, when he was one of 18 people performing a cotillion. A cotillion is danced during a debut, a Filipino coming-of-age celebration that marks a young woman turning 18. “I had a really good time with it.… I really love music and being able to move around with the music, being able to dance with other people,… being able to showcase yourself but also your friends. It was pretty exciting,” he recalls.
Manzo has been teaching dance for over 20 years, 10 of which have been in Iqaluit. Outside of group classes, he is hired as a dance instructor and choreographer for a range of purposes, from weddings to fundraisers to musical theatre.
“My original passion in dance was Latin and ballroom because that’s what I was first exposed to, and then, from there, I branched out into different forms. More recently, I’ve developed a love for electronic music,” says Manzo, adding how much freedom there is in dancing to it.
Manzo has enjoyed free-form stage dancing for live music shows at a variety of events and festivals like Burning Man. He is known by a different moniker, Galaxy Cat, when he is stage dancing, DJing or organizing entertainment events, including outdoor dance parties on the tundra. The name Galaxy Cat originated with a glowing Cheshire Cat-inspired costume he wore.
Expanding on his interests and artistic abilities, Manzo was previously in a Latin musical group called Latinos de Niéve. And, many years ago, he appeared as an extra in several films and television series. “One of my favourite ones was Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. I played the classmate of Lindsay Lohan in that one and she was just really fun to talk to.”
Manzo offers two dance form options for his monthly group classes in Iqaluit, with dance forms changing from month to month. Next up, he will be instructing waltz and salsa lessons.
It wasn’t Manzo’s intention to make Iqaluit his home when he arrived there 10 years ago, but he found several reasons to stay and settle in the city. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” he says. “If you go in any direction for 10 minutes, you’re in nature. The northern lights … the sound of the ice in the winter or the crunching of the snow when you’re walking.… And the people are very welcoming.”