When dancers, Antoinelle Leibel and Kirsti Bennett decided to start a competitive dance festival, they wanted it to be “light-hearted” and “fun,” which was exactly how this past weekend of dance competitions, hosted at Stettler’s Performing Arts Centre (PAC) were.
From Friday to Sunday, March 31 to April 2, dancers of various skill levels and genres came together from Camrose, Blackfalds, Irma and Wainwright, Rimbey, Wetaskiwin, Drumheller, Oyen and Stettler and area to have fun and dance away.
“We started Sparkle Dance Festival after years of dreaming that we would one day do so,” said Antoinelle Leibel, one of the festival directors. “As kids, we grew up dancing at festivals and they were always so fun and light-hearted. As dance instructors in adulthood, we felt festivals were becoming less fun and more competitive, and geared towards the big city studios.”
It is this that made the festival directors decide to just jump in and make their dream a reality.
In their first year, they held one two-day event in Olds, now in their fourth year, they are hosting five events running a total of 13 days in Olds, Stettler, Red Deer and Camrose. “The response from studios has been overwhelming and we were able to expand our events with much support from the dance community in Alberta,” Kristi Bennett said. “Word of mouth has been the biggest factor in our growth; we strive to create and offer top-notch events that leave lasting positive impressions on our participants, and that is the biggest business builder we can possibly ask for.”
Speaking about how the landscape of dance has changed over the years, both directors said that dance has evolved a great deal since their own studio days.
“Like any art form, it’s always growing, changing, developing. New styles and disciplines of dance are always emerging over the horizon and it’s incredible to experience,” Leibel commented. “One of the biggest changes we’ve notice is the level and caliber of dancing; advanced steps that we learned in our high school years are now being executed by middle grade school dancers – it’s exciting to see the development of skills and technique as dance continues to grow.”
According to the dance directors, Leibel and Bennett, the festival is for the kids, because they want the dancers of today to create and have memories that last longer than medals.
“It’s about the performance, not the podium,” Bennett explained. “We hope we instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in every single dancer we meet; and offer them something that they can carry with them for years to come.”
Rhonda Gillrie of Stettler’s Danceology studio said that she was happy about how the festival went.
“I am very pleased that my dancers showed proper decorum, applauding for those in rehearsal hall, commenting when they liked costumes and routines, and working really hard within their solos and group routines,” Gillrie noted.
After taking a break from classes during Spring Break, Gillrie has been worried about their return, not to classes but to the competition stage.
“But it didn’t take long for the Danceology dancers to get their heads in the game,” Gillrie commented, laughing. “I was once again overwhelmed with the care of each other my dancers showed – the older ones taking care of the younger ones, the younger ones looking up to the older ones.”
“Dinner Anyone,” a ballet routine from Danceology was the top ballet mark of the festival and according to Gillrie, Danceology performers held their own walking off the stage with the plaque about 50 per cent of the time.
“It was great to see fellow studio owners and dance teachers chatting back stage and offering each other support,” Gillrie added. “All in all, the dancers did what they like to do, perform, and perform well. What is better than that?”