This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Canada’s National Ballet School has announced that its Leadership, Empowerment, Action, Dance (LEAD) program for young women is expanding to more regions across the country.
Thanks to new funding from Sport Canada’s Sport Support Program, two new regional dance workshops will operate in Halifax and Winnipeg, hosted by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and Halifax Dance with the support of local organizations and community leaders. These workshops are due to start in February 2022.
The program, which was previously only held in Toronto, is a free three-day workshop for women-identifying, genderqueer and Two-Spirit people from age 16 to 25 that aims to teach leadership skills and physical literacy through dance.
Ashleigh Powell, teacher and head of community dance programs at Canada’s National Ballet School, said the funding also contributes to the wider conversation that dance, like sports, has a unique role in empowering young women to be confident in their bodies.
“Of their body as an expressive tool, as a communication tool simultaneously while we’re having these discussions about what does it mean to be a woman leader,” said Powell.
Since it began in 2018, the workshop has prioritized inviting young dancers from diverse lived experiences and abilities to participate and form connections with other young women.
As ballet has historically been inaccessible for and excluded those from marginalized communities, Powell said the program is actively working on having the right role models in the space, delivering the programming.
“A lot of it is about finding the right resources who have the right expertise to support the programming,” said Powell, also noting that they give participants the opportunity to provide feedback about the workshop after it’s done.
In the new regional model, the program plans to continue to recruit local organizations as partners in an effort to build relationships with marginalized, rural and Indigenous communities that bring their own dance forms to the workshop.
A new addition to the program is the one-week national summit that will bring dancers from all three regional workshops to meet and collaborate in Toronto during the summer.
Powell said that the three-day model doesn’t typically allow for a longer peer-to-peer engagement, but the summit will be a way to foster those relationships after the workshop is over.
To increase accessibility, young women who join the summit or workshop in Toronto from other regions can apply to have their travelling expenses covered by the ballet school.
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the LEAD workshop is prepared to welcome a new group of young people who love to dance and are open to learning how to improve.
“We’ll just keep moving with the needs of the young women who join us. Because no one is one thing,” said Powell. “No one is just a woman; everyone brings an intersection of identities to this [space] and in these beautiful lived realities that they’re sharing with us.”