“Mr. Zoot Suit,” a dance performance that featured Melanie Minty along with Peter and Linda McCreath, won first place in the over-30 adult division during the 2018 Surrey Festival of Dance, at Surrey Arts Centre. (Contributed photo: Thomas Schmitz)

Column on the arts

MINTY: March offers a month of dance in Surrey, including the start of one big festival

In Newton, ‘Alabama Story’ will be naked-staged this month, too

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

Dance is big business. The direct economic impact of culture (which includes dance, music and the performing arts) is 10 times that of the sports sector, according to a report published by Dance Ontario in 2016. While I couldn’t find any exact statistics on which economy, or anything more recent, this stat should point us in the right direction that, yes, dance is big business. It is a positive economic and cultural enhancement to our community.

There has been a traditional North American bias that discourages boys taking up dance. You know why, and I know why, but we are emerging into a world where we can – and should – put our prejudices in our pocket and just dance – any age, any style, any culture. This month we celebrate dance.

Surrey is home to some seriously good dance training, and local dancers have brought international attention. These groups include Brotherhood, world champions more than once and a stand-out on the World of Dance competition, and Pacificaires, two-time international champions. Steel School of Irish Dance now has 12 dancers qualified for the 2019 world championships. There’s more, of course. I’m just getting started. But you get the idea.

Competitions are certainly a method of achieving notice on the world stage. Dance competitions are increasing and it is an odd weekend that does not have some type of dance competition locally. Most are U.S. imports, but you know my heart is with Surrey Festival of Dance, which starts at the end of March.

The 2019 festival (surreyfestival.com) has an increase in participants over last year. With more than $60,000 in bursaries and scholarship awarded annually, the SFD promotes and invests in our Surrey dance culture. Registration fees have helped the SFD to award more than $1.5 million in bursaries and scholarships in just the past 20 of their 53 years.

Yes, it is a competition. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, you spend a kabillion hours perfecting routines and pay out a ransom for costumes. Then you get three minutes on stage, and maybe a trophy. Or maybe tears are the end result. Ah yes, there is nothing like competition.

Not every dance school in Surrey enters the Surrey festival, but even so, this festival remains one of the largest in North America among those that take place in a single venue (Surrey Arts Centre). Some American competitions claim to be the biggest, but they tour all over the U.S. and Canada, and honestly your registration fees don’t really come back to benefit out local community. Just sayin’.

Personally, I have been part of the Surrey Festival of Dance for almost as long as I have been writing this column – more than 30 years. My first years were as a “dance mom” and volunteer, and more lately as a competitor. True story. SFD has an adult section, which originally was created for the “Chippendads” from Dance West. Yes, dance dads. Brave souls. This year the adult section is showcased on April 4, 6 p.m. start on the arts centre’s main stage – just in case you are curious.

At Newton Cultural Centre, Naked Stage Productions Society has Alabama Story up next in another “reader’s theatre” performance. This is an easy way to get acquainted with live theatre, and doesn’t involve a huge outlay of time and money for the organizers. The actors sit on a “naked” stage (no sets, decoration or that sort of thing) and read the script. Of course, there is some rehearsal time and a director to coach the actors through the script.

It is remarkably entertaining, and fun to follow. Alabama Story, written by Kenneth Jones, will be naked-staged on March 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., and on March 24 at 2 p.m. Newton Cultural Centre is ideal for this type of presentation with its “black box” studio theatre, which can accommodate 100 spectators. Tickets ($10/$12) can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com and at the door. Show details are posted at nakedstage.net: “A simple children’s book called The Rabbits Wedding, in which a white rabbit marries a black rabbit, becomes the seed of social and political controversy in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama. Based on actual events, many themes in the story still resonate today.”

Um, yes. This column is supposed to be all about dance, right? Well, just so happens that three of the background people who operate Naked Stage will also be at the SFD adult competition. Peter and Linda McCreath are in my tap class, and Pat Trimble will be there with groups from The Vaudevillians. Small world, this world of dance.

Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. Email: melminty@telus.net.

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