New Brunswick dancers work to create a vibrant dance scene for adults

When Sam Black decided he wanted to become a professional dancer, he saw no choice but to leave New Brunswick.

“I knew I wanted to continue dancing, and I knew there weren’t a lot of options for school. [here],” he said.

Black, originally from Fredericton, began taking dance lessons at the age of three. After high school, he packed his bags and headed to Toronto to attend Randolph College for Performing Arts. Black graduated from the Performing Arts program in 2017 and went on to audition and book commercial concerts, including a role in Disney’s Zombies 2.

“If I [stayed], I don’t know if I would have grown up the same as a dancer or a performer, ”he said.

New Brunswick dancers say there are few local opportunities for adults who want to practice various genres of dance, with most studios focusing on children’s classes.

Black, who specializes in contemporary dance, was training in New York City just before the pandemic hit in March 2020. He has been in New Brunswick since, but hopes to return one day.

Black says he doesn’t think it’s impossible to have a dancing career in New Brunswick, but a city like Toronto or New York can offer a new perspective on dance.

Since leaving Fredericton and studying performing arts in Toronto, Black has starred in Disney’s Zombies 2. (Disney)

“If you’re from here and that’s all you know, it’s really telling to go somewhere else to see what other dancers are like and learn that way.”

Look up and down for adult classes

After spending nine years in Toronto and frequenting drop-in studios that offer classes in everything from hip hop to heels to reggaeton, Samantha Shea wanted to continue dancing in Fredericton, but couldn’t find anything. for her.

“When I came back from Toronto, I looked up and down for places that offered adult classes,” she said.

Students attend a jazz funk dance class at Jungle House in Fredericton. (Nojoud Al Mallees)

The lack of opportunities prompted Shea to start running high heel and jazz funk classes all over town. After finding success, Shea was approached by another local dancer, Brittany Wassef, to open a walk-in studio that would offer classes like the ones she took in Toronto.

Jungle House Dance Co. has been in Fredericton for two years, offering classes in genres ranging from hip hop to Kpop. The lessons are mainly intended for adult beginners.

“The dance scene in Toronto is so solid. I was really challenged there,” said Shea. “The only thing I wanted to do differently with Jungle House was to make it a very welcoming experience for people who think, ‘Oh, I can’t dance.'”

Dance as an art form

Shelby Harnish began taking hip hop and jazz lessons at age three and competed in dance as a teenager in Fredericton. However, as she got older, she said her options were getting limited.

“When I finished my competitive years, there really wasn’t much on the table. In New Brunswick, we are absolutely lacking in opportunities for anyone above high school age to pursue any type of dance, ”she said.

When Harnish decided to return to dancing as an adult, she began taking lessons from Shea. It was there that she developed her love for the heel genre and was inspired to start her own dance company, Out of My Shel.

Shelby Harnish, front, founder of Out of My Shel, leads a dance workshop at Blank Space. (Shelby Harnish)

Harnish offers classes and workshops as well as private sessions for dancers for individuals and groups. Its goal is to eventually provide opportunities for dancers interested in performing and to increase the visibility of dance as an art form in Fredericton, said Shea.

“Dance should be considered an art in our city. There must be as many opportunities for the dancers as for any other artist in New Brunswick.

While there might not be as many places to go locally to grow up as an adult dancer, Shea said the pandemic has provided more opportunities to virtually learn from skilled dancers elsewhere.

“It’s something that’s available online – the opportunity to teach and learn from so many different people all over the world. It’s a huge bonus.”

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